Utility pole blight a concern for wetlands


The San Dieguito Wetlands Restoration Project is an $86 million investment of private funds that will result in a beautiful new natural landscape and habitat, one that can be viewed up close on a segment of the Coast to Crest Trail. People have even purchased planks to make up the boardwalk that will bring them into the wetlands, becoming a small piece of preservation history.

But some are worrying that after all that work to preserve such an important swatch of land, people will get out on that trail and take in too much of an eyeful of overhead utility pole blight. In just a half a mile stretch along Via de la Valle, which is considered one of the primary view sheds of the project, there are 33 such poles.

And there’s about to be more.

San Diego Gas and Electric is in the process of re-routing a transmission and distribution line out of the lagoon area and onto the Via de la Valle. It wasn’t until the restoration got under way that they realized a significant mistake in planning, that several poles were going to be underwater when the project was completed. To solve the problem, SDG&E will relocate 10 wooden and steel poles to Via de la Valle between San Andreas Drive and Santa Fe Downs. Those 10 poles will add to the existing 33 for a total of 43.

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board heard a presentation at their June 10 meeting from Bruce Liska, a concerned citizen trying to enlist support in a plan to clean up the overhead utility line “mess” over by the wetlands project.

Liska is a Rancho Santa Fe resident and a member of the San Dieguito Planning Group who in the past worked with San Diego Gas and Electric mostly in transmission lines. Liska and the planning group’s proposal is to underground these lines. If undergrounding funds cannot be allocated from the city, their alternate proposal is to consolidate all existing wires and cables onto SDG&E’s 10 new poles, eliminating 33.

“Undergrounding or at a minimum relocation of the utility poles should be the highest priority,” said Liska. “There’s still time over the next two years to act before this wonderful lagoon project is completed.”

Undergrounding the lines is not a new idea. Several years ago, Southern California Edison, who is performing the restoration as a mitigation project, made a proposal that the city utilize underground utility allotment to get the bulk of these lines out of sight. The offer was declined.

The San Dieguito Planning Group and the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority have written letters to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and to the city to garner support for undergrounding. Liska said City Council President Scott Peters said he was not willing to allocate the funds and Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said she would look into trying to locate some funds.

What makes the undergrounding difficult is that it will be incredibly expensive. Liska estimates that to underground the lines in the half-mile stretch will come with a price tag of $10 to $15 million, causing some jaws to drop on the planning board.

Going with the low-cost alternative of relocating the poles is not a bad plan B, Liska said.

Jan Fuchs, a member of the Carmel Valley planning board’s regional subcommittee said that they have also written numerous letters about the power lines

“This one slipped through the cracks,” Fuchs said, “that the restoration would include undergrounding of the power lines. This is the first possible solution we have.”

Carmel Valley Community Planning Board member Ken Farinsky had concerns about the proposal, as the proposed Via de la Valle widening will likely mean the poles will have to move anyway. Fuchs said in the past, the board has pushed for any project that widens that road deal with the power line issue.

One resident in the audience said she’d like to see them work up a stronger argument than that poles create visual clutter. Such as if the wooden poles were a fire risk.

Liska said that while some of the wooden poles are rotted and other poles lean, he doesn’t believe they pose a danger.

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board took an active role in the wetlands restoration project and was interested in the San Dieguito Planning Group’s proposal. The board planned to take a position on the proposal, most likely one of support, at next month’s meeting on July 8.