Sunset undergrounding assessment: What’s the formula?


For the last two years, a group of individuals has worked hard on the issue of fairness for Del Mar’s overhead-to-underground conversion of utilities. We studied different assessment formulas used in other jurisdictions and we met with Del Mar city personnel, consultants, citizens and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

A comparative analysis of Del Mar’s formula had not previously been done for neighborhoods such as ours, so we compared Del Mar’s formula with three other assessment formulas applied to a common sample of 49 contiguous lots comprising a third of Sunset District. Our studies showed that Del Mar’s method is not a benefit-based method as required by state law, but rather, for our neighborhoods it is a cost-based method that is expressly disallowed by state law (California Constitution, Article 13D).

Both the Del Mar city engineer and the assessment engineer agreed that Del Mar’s existing method should be revised for our neighborhoods. (See the minutes of the Del Mar City Council meeting of April 20, 2009.)

The assessment engineer reworked the formula for Sunset District, and the revised formula was presented to property owners on July 29.

Unfortunately, the formula as presented was unclear and vague.

It is now more than a month since the July 29 presentation, and we have not been able to get any official, definitive, written description of the new formula for Sunset District. This has blocked our intended efforts to test the new formula on our original sample of 49 properties in a timely manner well before the vote.

The assessment engineer’s slide presentation contained an illustrative calculation for a fictitious example consisting of three adjacent lots. But the presentation was incomplete for the crucial slide that was intended to explain the new method. Even without understanding his new formula, we can directly observe his final results in this illustrative example based on the new formula, and compare these results with his earlier results using the existing Del Mar formula.

In this way we see, using the assessment engineer’s own results, that the new method is equally as unfair and often even more unfair than the existing Del Mar method. The new formula results in high assessments for some people who get little or no view benefit while others get a huge benefit without paying a fair share. It makes no sense for Sunset District to replace an existing unfair method with another unfair method!

The solution is simple: Adopt one of the fair formulas that have been suggested.

Don Smith is a Del Mar resident.