Five SDG&E poles to go underground in Rancho Santa Fe

Overhead poles in Rancho Santa Fe.
(Karen Billing)

Utility poles will be going underground in the Rancho Santa Fe community. Starting this week, SDG&E is starting work on removing poles located on El Camino Del Norte between Loma Alegre and Flores De Oro.

“We will be removing five overhead poles as part of a circuit upgrade project,” said Denice Menard, SDG&E communications manager. “This will improve system reliability, public safety and reduce the impact of future public safety shut-offs.”

Public safety shut-offs have become a new preventative measure to protect against wildfire during extreme weather conditions. Last year, power was shut off to more than 24,400 customers in San Diego County including Rancho Santa Fe during October’s potentially dangerous Santa Ana winds.

The El Camino Del Norte undergrounding work began on Feb. 17 and is anticipated to take three to four months to complete. Traffic will be reduced to one lane in the working areas between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

At the Feb. 6 Rancho Santa Fe Association meeting, Manager Christy Whalen updated the board about the project that she said is a very exciting development—Whalen and the Association have been working to establish better lines of communication with SDG&E over the past two years.

In 2018, the Association and Rancho Santa Fe residents pushed back against SDG&E’s plans to replace 70 wooden overhead utility poles in the community with fire-resistant steel poles—over 200 people signed a petition to oppose the new poles and advocate for installing lines underground in the interest of fire safety as well as the aesthetics of the historic community. The Association even considered a possible injunction against the project.

Last year, the second phase of the pole replacement project saw SDG&E replace an additional 57 overhead utility poles. Again, the Association requested that undergrounding be considered due to potential fire threat. A SDG&E spokesperson said as undergrounding utilities is more expensive, they prioritize areas in higher risk threat areas that get higher winds more frequently. Rancho Santa Fe is not considered part of the high fire risk district map that was put together by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2017, however, as the board pointed out, Rancho Santa Fe is considered enough of a high fire risk area that insurance companies have taken many homes out of their coverage grids due to wildfire concerns.

Undergrounding utilities continues to be an Association priority and, as Whalen reported, the Association has made progress as they applied to and have been accepted onto San Diego County’s priority list for undergrounding projects. Whalen said in their funding request, they focused on the entryways into Rancho Santa Fe with a request to underground 15 poles on Linea Del Cielo. Whalen noted it is a long-term solution— anticipated fund availability will occur in approximately seven years.