Repeals Preliminary Ordinance & Settles with Region’s Investor Owned Utilities
Renewing its commitment to public safety and fire prevention, the City of Laguna Beach will consider advancing new policy and funding solutions to remove utility poles and underground wires citywide at its upcoming October 24th City Council meeting. The City Council agenda item can be viewed at this link
http://lagunabeachcity.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=3&event_id=254&meta_id=54919 . In addition to considering a portfolio of solutions, the City Council will also consider repealing its preliminary undergrounding ordinance, opting to settle expensive litigation initiated by regional utilities and pursue more cost-effective options.
A recent Los Angeles Times feature exposed how power lines and electrical equipment are a leading cause of wildfires in California.
“Laguna knows all too well about the devastation caused by wildfires and my heart goes out to all those whose lives were changed in an instant by the massive fires in Northern California,” said Councilmember Bob Whalen. "Reading that these fires may have been sparked by overhead utility lines and equipment once again sends an urgent message – in high risk fire zones above ground utilities are a grave danger. Our residents in Laguna live every day with the threat of destruction from fires sparked by power lines and transformers. The utility companies have refused to help expedite undergrounding leaving us no choice but to ask our community to support a local funding plan. We must get this done to protect lives and property."
On Tuesday, the City Council will discuss and potentially vote on the following recommended actions:
Approve and authorize the purchase of California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Rule 20A undergrounding credits from Rancho Santa Margarita and Indian Wells at $0.55 on the dollar;
Direct staff to use $3 million in available funds and up to $4 million in Measure LL, Street Lighting and Rule 20A funds available during the next two fiscal years for undergrounding of utilities along highest priority evacuation routes;
Direct staff to continue to investigate other funding opportunities and present to the City Council in the near future; and
Repeal the city’s ordinance designed to reduce severe fire risk and utility pole related traffic accidents by requiring utility companies to underground all new and replacement utility infrastructure.
The City passed an ordinance in March 2017 designed to reduce severe fire risk and utility pole related traffic accidents by requiring utility companies to underground all new and replacement utility infrastructure. In response to the ordinance, Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) filed lawsuits against the City to prevent enactment of the ordinance. Faced with the threat of a long and expensive litigation process, the City Council has reached a settlement agreement with the two utilities and will consider repealing the ordinance while continuing to pursue more cost-effective alternatives.
“We strongly believe the utilities should step up and share in the cost of undergrounding their dangerous wires and we’re disappointed they sued our City in an attempt to avoid paying. However, slogging through costly litigation for years isn’t going to solve the problem in a timely manner. We’re focused on identifying funding options and directing resources as soon as possible to underground these dangerous utility wires,” said Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman.
The settlement commits the utilities to work with the City to review safety concerns and existing overhead electric systems and discuss opportunities to reduce fire risk. It also allows for the advancement of Rule 20A funds for up to five years for city initiated undergrounding projects. SCE has agreed to develop preliminary designs for undergrounding of electric facilities along Laguna Canyon Road in 12 months, and SDG&E agreed to advance the City initial funding for engineering and design costs for undergrounding projects that take place within the next five years.
The City Council agreed that fighting a long legal battle would not serve the community’s best interest – not when the threat to public safety is imminent. In the last 10 years, downed utility lines have caused at least five significant fires, and 58 vehicles have collided with utility poles on Laguna Canyon Road. With millions of visitors each year and only two evacuation roads leading out of the city, the next disaster could be more devastating than the last.