Del Mar moves forward with utility undergrounding plans

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

After years of deliberations, on Aug. 5 the Del Mar City Council launched the initial phase of a project to put all the city’s utility poles underground, projected to cost $32-42 million.

Phase 1, which includes the design of two of seven project blocks mapped out by the city, will cost $440,000 this fiscal year and $1.8 million in fiscal year 2020-21. Funding will come from Measure Q, a 1% sales tax that generates approximately $2.8 million per year.

One of the blocks, located in an eastern portion of the city south of the fairgrounds, is a fire-risk zone identified as X1A. It has 69 poles with 10,251 feet of linear wires. The other block, labeled as 1A, located on a southern portion of the city near the shore, has 55 poles with 6,096 feet of wire. The project will include a total of approximately 69,000 linear feet throughout the city, according to city staff.

After designs are complete, the city will consider construction bids. Construction will likely begin during the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to city staff. The total cost of completing both blocks is approximately $10 million, based on the city’s estimate.

“We’re gaining knowledge that we can use for planning,” Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland said. “If the costs come in higher, we can say, OK, we’ve got a design but we’re not going to do the construction at the rate we thought we would, we are now going to do the construction in stages. So this is that first hump.”

The council voted 3-0 to approve the project, with Mayor Dave Druker and Deputy Mayor Ellie Haviland recusing themselves. According to the city attorney, all five council members were in possible violation of state conflict of interest laws based on the proximity of their properties to the areas where work will be completed. To proceed with the vote, she advised that two randomly selected council members recuse themselves, leaving a quorum of three that minimizes the conflict of interest. After drawing slips of paper, council members Dwight Worden, Sherryl Parks and Gaasterland were selected to proceed with the agenda item, and that trio will represent the council on all future votes to select blocks for the undergrounding project.

Since he will no longer be part of the council discussions and voting on the project, Druker, who had been serving as a council liaison to the Undergrounding Project Advisory Committee, ceded the position to Worden.

In April, a $52 million estimate provided by Lee & Ro, a consultant hired by the city led the council to postpone the first phase of the project. A different consultant, Utility Specialists, provided a $26 million estimate in 2016. Undergrounding Project Advisory Committee members provided a $32-42 million estimate after reviewing the costs of design and construction to complete the project.

“If we’re comfortable with the $32-42 million range to get the whole thing done, which I am, based on the work you guys have done, then it’s a question of, OK, how do we take the cautious first step?” Worden said. “If you want to go forward with this, in the $32-42 million range, this is the logical step.”

One of the city’s next steps will be revising the draft Project Delivery Plan to plan its next steps.