Ann Gardner | Via Latina
|Photo Art Olson
Plans to underground utilities for almost 450 homes in Del Mar will continue as planned after the City Council rejected a request signed by 44 residents to replace the assessment engineer and revise the method for assessing costs to individual properties. The Council, with Council members Hilliard and Earnest recused due to a conflict of interest, said they would not risk delaying the project to make changes in the assessment method, but would consider “tweaking” or making adjustments on individual properties after the assessment engineer made his report to the Council. They also agreed to consider the petitioners’ request to extend the time allowed residents to obtain private financing, if the project were approved.
A standing room only crowd attended the September 14 Council meeting, many to support the petition drawn up by residents, calling themselves the Sunshine Neighbors, from the North Hills and Sunset undergrounding districts. The group said they did not want to delay the undergrounding project, but felt the current method did not give enough value to improved ocean views, causing residents with the most footage of utility lines on their property to pay more than their fair share.
Petitioners were particularly disappointed when the assessment engineer gave 99 percent of the properties in one district the same view factor, negating entirely, in their opinion, the value of improved views. One speaker said the engineer had simply not done his job. “It is a cop out.” There was no need for paying an outside, independent assessment engineer for this kind of result, he said. Art Olson, a resident in the North Hills District, compared the results to a “bar room survey” where decisions are made without leaving the bar.
Undergrounding coordinators Garry Shirts and Sharon Hilliard and others in the audience disagreed. They emphasized that bids coming in for the work were up to 50% lower than the costs for earlier undergrounding projects and that it was important for residents to wait for the actual assessment figures to come in and then make up their minds. “We want to bring this to a vote based on good information, not speculative data,” Shirts said. “If we stop now, we will kill the project.”
The Council noted that undergrounding was one of the main priorities in the Del Mar 2020 Plan and that it was important to take advantage of the lower construction bids. Mayor Crawford reported that the City Clerk had received 56 letters of which 53 urge the Council to proceed without delay. The Council did, however, direct the assessment engineer, Ernesto Aguilar, of PBS&J to review the Sunshine Neighbors alternative assessment method and to include that information in his report to the community and the Council later this month. City staff expects construction to begin in March 2010 if the project is approved by residents in the two districts.
Assessment maps can be viewed on Del Mar’s website under Public Announcements.
related article: Sunshine Savings