February 2010 home page


Assessments Under Stress
Art Olson | Avenida Primavera


Illustration Art Olson


Update  February 2 

The North Hills assessments have been slightly modified, because a few properties have been "adjusted" for view benefit factor and the Sunset District assessments and view benefit maps are now available. 

New Draft Assessments for North Hills:

North Hills Area 1 view benefit map:

North Hills Area 2 view benefit map:

North Hills Area 3 view benefit map

In addition the Sunset District view benefit map is located at:

and the Sunset District Draft Assessments are now available at:

Draft assessments for the North Hills Undergrounding District were sent out to property owners on January 15, followed the next day by a postcard with a correction regarding the estimated yearly costs if funded by a bond issue. The average cost per property, not including bond financing costs, is $21,853. Individual assessments range from $2,581 to $118,683. About 1/3 of the 321 assessments are in the $15,000 to $20,000 range and about ¼ are in the $20,000 to $25,000 range. Over $220,000 of the total North Hills assessment of $7,533,935 is on City owned property. Although the bond rates and financing costs would not be set until after the district is formed, it is estimated that individual total costs for a 30 year bond would be about 2.4 times the actual assessed cost.

Two workshops were held on January 19th to answer both general and specific questions about the North Hills assessments. About 50 residents in total attended, a majority expressing some concerns about the assessment process, financing or the method of assessment for their particular property. A number of people were dismayed over the burden of the costs. Ann Dempsey, a long-time resident stated that if the assessment district were formed she would be forced to sell her house, since she could not bear her property’s yearly costs. Vernon Scott commented that corner lots, such as his, carried an unfair burden compared to his neighbors and that undergrounding provides no special benefit to any given property. He called for spreading the costs equally among the property owners of the district. Assessment engineer, Ernesto Aquilar responded that such a scheme “would not pass.” When queried later about the meaning of his response, he explained that equal costs for all members of an assessment district would not be allowed under the law, since Proposition 218 specifies that assessments must be made based upon individual benefit. Other attendees raised concerns that the “view benefit factors” for all but 3 of the 321 properties were identically assessed as having no “scenic view” benefit from line removal, while they perceived significant differences between properties.

Some of those present at the workshop said they would work hard to organize a “vote no” campaign, because of the burden that the unexpectedly high undergrounding costs would put on neighbors in these difficult economic times. A few attendees were residents of the Sunset undergrounding district, which is expected to receive their assessments in early February. Don Smith, a vocal opponent of the current assessment methodology, stated that most people that he talked to in his district are not in favor of the current undergrounding plan. The two Sunset district coordinators, Greg Fehr and Tom McCarthy were also present, and were more optimistic about the success of their undergrounding efforts.

For the assessment district to be formed, ballots will be sent out to all property owners in a process termed “majority protest,” meaning that if 50% +1 of the returned ballots weighted by assessment amount vote against forming the district, the undergrounding effort will not proceed. Brooke Eisenberg-Pike asked if the City, which has the highest assessment cost and thus the largest weighted vote, would be submitting a ballot. Assistant City Manager, Mark Delin, stated that the issue had not yet been decided, and that the decision was up to the City Council. Eisenberg-Pike pointed out that there would be a conflict of interest for the City to vote, and urged that the Council abstain from including the city property as part of the tally.

A report and public hearing on the draft assessments for North Hills is scheduled for the February 2 City Council meeting followed by an approval hearing later that month.


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