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Overhead Down
Terry Gaasterland | City Councilmember

Del Mar has 67,752 linear feet of overhead wires throughout the City strung along 612 poles with 184 transformers. The majority of private homes already have underground connections to this overhead system – just 542 homes have private overhead lateral lines. With new revenues from Measure Q at nearly $3 million per year, Del Mar has the opportunity to move the overhead wires underground.

Del Mar’s Undergrounding Project Advisory Committee (UPAC) of nine residents faces critical questions: What does an undergrounding project cost TODAY? What are the logistics? What is SDG&E’s role? Is there a sensible way to define “blocks” based on “grids” throughout Del Mar? What is the best starting point? With wildfire safety as highest priority, how do we then move forward based on density and public benefit?

Before we can commit to undergrounding throughout the City, we need to know expected costs and timing. So UPAC created a Peer Review subcommittee to solicit and compare cost estimates from two sources, Lee & Ro (LR, the City’s current 2019 undergrounding consultant) and Utility Specialists (US, the City’s consultant in 2016 for Measure Q, and the company that oversaw the public Camino Del Mar undergrounding several years ago).

With numbers just in, UPAC’s Peer Review will crunch, consider, and compare. The new estimates for the City’s part of the project range from $32.9 million to $38.4 million, in today’s dollars. At just over $8000 each on average, the 542 private overhead laterals would cost private owners another $4.5 million to undergroud. The telecom companies will incur additional costs of their own, perhaps as much as $4 million. UPAC will bring recommendations to Council later this summer.

Meanwhile, Del Mar residents can start asking – Are we ready for a 12-year project funded by Measure Q revenues (“pay as we go”)? Do we want to incur debt and go faster? What if a neighborhood wants to share costs and accelerate their block? How will the 542 private overhead re-connections happen?

Sometimes a concrete example helps understand scope. Let’s consider a Stratford-alley project that finished in mid-June. This anonymous alley south of 6th St had two poles, 300 feet of overhead wires, one transformer, and 5 overhead connections to private residences. The $40,000 transformer plus trenching down the alley, conduit, pulling wires, adding equipment, reconnections, removing poles, and digging laterals to five houses with new boxes added up to just under $200,000.

Bottom line from this example: At $700 per linear foot, twelve homes enjoy newly open views, two with no more poles gracing the front door. And many folks from the neighborhood now walk down the alley every day to watch the sunset, walk their dogs, jog on the bluffs, and enjoy the more open ocean view.
If all goes well, we can accomplish this throughout Del Mar.


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