By Richard Earnest
Mayor, Del Mar
This coming Monday and Tuesday we will find out if the residents in the North Hills and Sunset undergrounding districts want to proceed.
Approximately three years after the successful completion and the celebration of the removal of the "last pole" in the Ocean View-Pines Utility Undergrounding District, the steering committee for the North Hills Utility Undergrounding District came to council with a petition signed by three-quarters of the property owners interested in undergrounding the utilities in their neighborhoods. Later an adjoining group of neighbors came to council asking that it take the legal steps to form another assessment district. Calling themselves the "Sunset" District, they made it clear that their neighborhood was interested in getting rid of their utility poles too.
These resident-requested assessment districts have moved forward through the varying steps necessary to form legal assessment districts. They included getting quotes from the utility companies and contractors, negotiating lower costs, verifying information and applying the assessment formula methodology to the 321 properties in North Hills and the 145 properties in Sunset.
While this was happening, the U.S. economy took a nose-dive,
creating unanticipated financial stress causing many residents to question the timing of this project. While the economy is showing signs of recovery, there remain legitimate concerns around the funding aspects of this endeavor.
With the reality of the tabulation of the assessment ballots looming next week, some feel that the process is pitting neighbor against neighbor and that the council should not have moved forward to the formal vote. However, throwing out more than four years of work on the part of the community groups also must be considered.
On Monday the voting process will end and on Tuesday the tabulation will reveal how the majority of the affected property owners feel about assessing themselves in order to place their utility lines underground. The council will be considering both the weighted vote of the assessment tabulation and the total number of owners and how they voted. If a majority of the assessed valuation vote against the formation, then the process will stop there. If a majority supports the formation, then the council will have to decide whether to go forward in forming the assessment districts.
State law narrowly circumscribes the process the city is following. Let's hope that at the conclusion of next week's process, all of our residents can move forward knowing that we did indeed follow the democratic process and gave people their choice.