Undergrounding Power Poles: What’s Stopping You?


Who pays for utilities like sewer, electricity, water, and telephone, and infrastructure like local roads? Most urban and suburban homeowners have never had to think about this since their neighborhood was built by large developers. If they think about it at all, they might think the utilities pay to build out their own infrastructure, but that isn’t correct.

The person who paid or pays for access to such infrastructure is you, the homeowner, in the sense that your house price reflects the cost to initially build these utilities and roads. To be more precise, the initial subdivision developer paid to build the neighborhood streets, the storm drains, and all the typical underground utilities like power and water. These utilities are then deeded, or given, to the utilities like SDG&E and AT&T to maintain and keep in working order.

What this means is that if you want to add a new utility that doesn’t currently exist around you, like natural gas, you would have to pay to build a gas main extension near your home.

Similarly with power poles. While newer areas of RSF have undergrounded electrical lines, many areas do not. If you do not like the overhead power poles near you, you can pay to underground them. There is a stretch along Ramblas De Las Flores where a property owner did just that. Slightly more ambitiously, you can get all your neighbors along a street to help pay to underground a route.

Eight years ago, the Association worked with the Community Services District (the folks that maintain our sewer lines) to allow RSF homeowners to put an undergrounding project to a vote of affected homeowners. If the homeowners in a fairly small area voted to proceed, then the cost would be assessed on everyone’s property taxes over a 20 year period (or paid up front as an individual option).

More information about this process is located on my web site here: http://myrsf.net/electrical.php

Soon after this process was put together, two areas tried to underground their power poles. One succeeded, the other did not due to lack of votes. These are expensive projects, and they don’t give you much new functionality, so the value proposition isn’t as obvious as, say, broadband Internet, or even sewer or natural gas.

This topic has come up again recently due to SDG&E’s power pole replacement project (SDG&E’s FAQ on this project: http://myrsf.net/sdgefaq.php).

Some people think that SDG&E should underground existing circuits instead of installing new metal poles. Almost by law, they can’t do that without having the affected homeowners pay for the undergrounding. Installing new metal poles is far cheaper than undergrounding, so forcing all of SDG&E ratepayers to pay for RSF property owner’s undergrounding wouldn’t be the best optics to put it mildly.

Having the Association pay for undergrounding probably wouldn’t work either. It is doubtful whether you could get 50% of all homeowners to agree to pay extra dues for such a project (since many areas already have underground power).

The only true viable solution is to band together with your neighbors and do it yourself. After all, what’s stopping you?