The Rancho Santa Fe Post

Building Community Infrastructure

I was talking to someone in the ranch the other day who was lamenting that she didn't have natural gas near her house. I did a quick search on my probably inaccurate and incomplete map of RSF natural gas lines, and it turns out there is a gas main just a few houses down from hers.

It is "common knowledge" that infrastructure in Rancho Santa Fe is poor. No sewer, no gas, poor Internet, bad cell service. But that's only half true at best.

You can indeed get each one of these useful services, and this article will attempt to show you how.

Natural Gas

Wow. For this article I just calculated how much my natural gas costs at my house versus propane delivered to my ranch. Per unit of energy, propane today costs 3.5 times as much as natural gas. If my gas bill was $300/month, my propane bill would have been $1,050/month. So that’s a pretty compelling reason to switch right there! Natural gas is also safer (it is lighter than air, so it doesn't accumulate if there is a leak, propane is heavier than air, so it accumulates), cleaner, and just more convenient (no routine heavy delivery trucks).

The first step is to find out how close a natural gas main is to your house. My incomplete and probably inaccurate map is located here (http://myrsf.net/gas.php). You can also call SDG&E directly and they will quickly tell you the closest gas main (and if they tell you of a location that isn't on my map, please tell me so that I can update my map).

If gas is on your street, congrats, SDG&E will build a stub onto your property and a regular plumber can hook it into your house.

I wasn't so lucky, the closest gas main was about one mile away when I called! But such a situation is not a dead end because you can build your own natural gas main extension. Yep, that's right, you too can hire a contractor to bury a natural gas main to pass by your house. The few billionaires among us just need to set their project managers on that task and they will have natural gas in no time.

I had to do an extra step. I had to, gulp, get to know all my neighbors along the one mile route. And actually talk to them. And convince as many as I could of the wonders of clean burning natural gas. I had 40 "neighbors" along the one mile route and amazingly I convinced about half of them to chip in to build the gas main extension.

As part time projects go, it was pretty straightforward. You collect money from everyone and put it into a construction escrow account (I used Dixieline). SDG&E does the actual engineering and design, so you pay them for that, and then you hire a gas pipeline contractor that puts the pipe in the ground, in our case, mostly at the side of the road.

The link I shared above has a document that goes into much more detail about the process. Retired? Between work assignments? Looking for a part time project? Building a lasting piece of infrastructure isn't a bad way to spend your time.

Sewer

First of all, there are a lot more sewer mains in Rancho than people probably think exist. Click here (http://myrsf.net/sewer.php) for a page that has a link to what I think is a recent map of all sewer mains. The Rancho Santa Fe Community Services District (http://rsfcsd.com/) is the organization that operates our sewer system, so they are the people to call to determine how close a sewer main is to your property.

The argument for moving from septic to sewer isn't as clear cut as natural gas. It does eliminate visits from the stinky truck. It is maintenance free. And it increases property values among other things.

If sewer is in your street, hooking up is dead straightforward. Any plumber will do the job, and the Community Services District will work with you to dig into the road to get a sewer lateral.

In my case, once again, I was about one mile away from the nearest sewer main, so once again, I embarked upon a project, this time to extend the sewer main. Unfortunately a gas main and a sewer main can't run in the same trench, so these had to be separate projects.

The first step is to contact the Community Service District and find out how difficult it will be to construct a sewer main extension to your house. Sewer has an extra complication in that you want the sewer pipes to flow downhill to a connection point. So while sewers are often placed in the road, sometimes it makes more sense to follow horse trails or shared backyard fence lines. The CSD will look at your local topology and recommend a general solution if there is one.

Using the information at my link above (that page has a detailed document that includes budgets), and information from the CSD, you can estimate a rough cost assuming a certain number of neighbors want to pitch in. You can use this rough cost to now canvass your neighbors along the route to the hookup point and see how much interest there is in cost sharing the sewer main construction.

Unlike natural gas, the CSD actually keeps track of who paid to have the sewer main constructed and who didn't along the route. If you build the main, and several years later someone along the route who didn't chip in to pay for the sewer main construction wants to connect, the CSD will charge them the same fee that everyone else had to pay for construction. This money is then reimbursed to all property owners that paid for the original sewer main construction.

Sewer mains are much more expensive than natural gas mains. The trenching is typically much deeper (can be 12 or more feet deep) and wider. And construction is more complicated too. An outside civil engineering firm must be hired to draw up plans and the engineering is more complicated since you have to worry about waste water flowing downhill.

But it is a very doable project. In my area alone, three separate sewer main extension projects have been successfully completed in the last 15 years.

Summary

I'll tackle bad cell reception and Internet in another article. But let me leave you with a thought. Most people feel fairly powerless when it comes to community wide projects. The reality, however, is that YOU can, in fact, change things and get things done. All it takes is someone to roll up their sleeves and work through the process. Don't just point out problems - we all know what those are - get involved and spearhead a project.