April 2010 home page

  To Bury or Not to Bury
Art Olson | Avenida Primavera


Community Connections Caught in the Crossfire in Undergrounding Battle

Photo Art Olson

As the ballots go out on April 26 to decide the fate of the North Hills and Sunset undergrounding projects, the battle for the hearts and lines of those who will be affected grows more intense. Several efforts have surfaced within the community to persuade property owners to vote one way or the other on the formation of the two assessment districts. Arguments pro and con revolve around a plethora of issues, including whether motivations are primarily aesthetics or fire-safety, utility reliability versus time to repair, and whether new technologies such as fiber-optic broadband and home-based energy sources will obsolete the proposed projects before they are paid for.

It is clear, however, that the central issue is the cost of the undergrounding and its affordability. The average assessment per property is in the range of $22,000, bond-financing rates are at 7% or above, and additional up-front individual connection costs can range from $2,000 to over $10,000. In the current economic climate many residents are weighing these costs against other more pressing expenditures. A number of long time residents, including those on fixed incomes, face a significant increase in the cost of remaining in their homes. While foes of the current undergrounding projects argue that forming assessment districts will drive those residents from our community, the proponents point to the Community Support Fund (CSF), which is being established, as a mechanism to help those in financial need.

Ironically, Del Mar Community Connections, a non-profit whose mission is to enable seniors in the community to live independently, appears to be caught in the crossfire of this debate. In following its mission, the DMCC board decided to help administer the Community Support Fund, which has a broader goal of helping seniors with any city-mandated property costs that may arise. In addition to potential undergrounding assessments, required replacement of shake roofs and tree removal for fire protection are examples of such costs. Since monies donated to the CSF would be dispersed in the forms of low interest loans, the fund itself would be restored when those costs are recovered from the sale of the property, and be available to loan for other mandated costs. A DMCC CSF committee was formed to establish policies and procedures for the fund, set criteria for eligibility, and oversee its legal and financial administration. The costs of administering the fund are to come from donations to the fund itself and not from Community Connections, and CSF fundraising is separate from DMCC. Since the motivation to initiate the fund came from the undergrounding proponents, who are now actively soliciting financial pledges, it is perceived by a number of undergrounding opponents that the CSF is primarily a mechanism to win votes for establishing the assessment district by eliminating any moral dilemma that some might feel in putting their neighbors at financial risk. At a recent DMCC board meeting Brooke Eisenberg-Pike faulted DMCC for working against the best interests of Del Mar’s senior citizens by agreeing to administer the fund, and requested that they withdraw from that role. The board decided to retain their role in the CSF, but stated strongly that DMCC is neutral on the issue of undergrounding, and is hoping that whatever the outcome of the assessment district vote, the fund will be available to help Del Mar seniors in the years ahead.

A CSF pledge solicitation letter sent out in March gives potential donors the option of earmarking their donation for undergrounding in North Hills, Sunset or both. Since pledges won’t be collected unless the assessment vote passes, the actual value of the fund remains unknown. With regard to DMCC’s broader view of the fund, the question still remains as to whether those who pledge money to help with undergrounding costs would do likewise to assist those in need with other city mandated property expenses that they may face in the future.



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