In March, over 200 Rancho Santa Fe residents signed a petition to stop SDG&E from installing 120 permanent overhead steel poles within the Covenant and the Rancho Santa Fe Association board, which also opposed the project, announced that it would pursue its legal options.
At the April 5 board meeting, RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen reported that the Association did meet with a law firm that specializes in utilities and found that SDG&E has all of the proper approvals and permits, is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review, and that the community’s historical designation does have an impact.
In light of the Association’s desire to work with SDG&E on future pole placements, Whalen said they were advised that a lawsuit may be counterproductive at this time.
“This is a frustrating project for this board and for this staff,” RSF Association President Fred Wasserman said. “It’s a difficult problem. I wish I had good news for you, but I don’t.”
SDG&E began work in January on the installation of 120 new overhead utility poles in the community, replacing 70 wooden poles with fire-resistant steel. The current work is the second phase of a three-phase project to enhance reliability, improve fire safety and convert the system from 4 kV to 12 kV.
Phase one included improvements to the substation on Via de la Valle, which is ongoing and phase two is expected to be complete by the end of August. Phase three is comprised of about 110 new poles, including the replacement of roughly 50 wooden poles. According to SDG&E, phase three is still in the design phase and the schedule is yet to be determined.
Whalen said they continue to work with SDG&E and the county on identifying funding that might be available to deal with future undergrounding of poles, as well as getting rid of abandoned and excess utility poles in the community. While a total inventory hasn’t been completed, Whalen estimates there could be more than 2,000 abandoned poles.
SDG&E has estimated that the cost of undergrounding all overhead facilities in the Covenant would be in excess of $300 million.
Last week, SDG&E completed its helicopter operations in the current phase—nine of the 70 poles had to be installed by helicopter due to challenging terrain or sensitive species.
Whalen said, unfortunately, they did not keep to their estimated outage times due to the work and last week about 130 homes were without power until late evening, some until midnight. Additionally, about 30 homes had to be evacuated during helicopter operations due to Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
“A lot of members were inconvenienced,” Whalen said.
In the second phase of replacing 50 poles, seven will be installed via helicopter.
Information on SDG&E’s project can be found at bit.ly/2q9U0HW
The toll-free project number is 1-877-210-5821 or email SDG&E Public Affairs Manager Joe Gabaldon at firstname.lastname@example.org.