Last week the RSF Post delayed sending out an update to our readers regarding SDG&E to allow the Board time to provide members with its own update. However, after reading its long-awaited communication, the sentiment of Post Co-Editor Rachel Laffer’s article “Ground Control to RSFA” has not changed. This is not about an industrial operation running through National City. This is Rancho Santa Fe, a historic landmark that must be protected.
Many members have voiced their frustration to us, as they believe the ball was dropped on this issue long ago. It took more than three weeks for the Association to communicate anything about what was being done to stop SDG&E from bulldozing through our community. To reiterate, SDG&E’s pole replacement project has been known to this Board since June of last year. The Board was notified by SDG&E again last fall of their intent and again on February 1st of this year. While it is true that other Boards could have done more, this issue now falls squarely into the lap of this leadership’s current and immediately previous Board.
The RSFA has decided to use SDG&E’s own cost estimates to negate under grounding as a feasible option: “There are 1,499 total SDG&E poles in the Covenant. We are told by SDG&E that the cost to underground all equipment is $300 million.” That’s like trusting the fox to protect the chickens. A whacking $300M to underground all its equipment in the Ranch? Before taking this hook, line and sinker, why don’t we take a common sense approach and get a second opinion. Reliable sources have found that number to be grossly inflated, where instead of costing $200K per pole to underground, it’s more like $60K per pole, and possibly much less according to another developer who has under grounded his own developments. The Association needs to shop around and find out the real cost.
Perhaps it would even make sense to share the costs with SDG&E, where we protect our community and SDG&E protects itself from potential future liability. Even if the $300M cost to underground were remotely true (it’s not), it’s a steal compared to the whopping $686M bill they had to pay to settle insurance claims from just one lawsuit over the 2007 fires that raged through the Covenant. SDG&E should be deeply concerned about their liability over fires caused by downed poles.
The RSFA update also notes that in replacing the 120 wooden poles, the new steel poles “will accommodate a new substation that increases electrical power from 4kV to 12kV. The system will increase power reliability and safety in the Ranch.” Our sources aren’t so sure about this increased safety claim, and believe that the voltage carried on the new steel towers is possibly very high and there may be a significantly increased risk of fire rather than a lower one. Also, if the wooden poles are not being replaced as the metal ones go in, the fire hazard still exists and SDG&E’s safety argument doesn't hold -- at least for now.
These new poles are already popping up everywhere in our community. Once these steel poles are installed there is little chance they will ever be under grounded. What’s worse? There are likely many more to be installed beyond the 120 quoted. This is likely the first of a massive, long-term SDG&E undertaking, as the company has been asked repeatedly by a number of Members whether it will stop installing steel poles beyond this current three-stage project and its representatives refuse to give an answer. No answer in this case is an answer. If new installations haven’t come to your street, don’t be surprised when they do.
Many members that we've spoken to believe more meetings with SDG&E over this are a waste of time, and solely seeking legal opinion at this point is too little, too late. They believe that if an immediate injunction and a petition to stop SDG&E is not pursued, it will leave the community powerless to protect itself now and in the future from not just SDG&E but all public utility companies. At an absolute minimum, Members need to understand what rights they and the community have.
Specifically, Members believe that an injunction would give the Covenant time to find an alternative plan, which could include using the money SDG&E allotted to the poles going toward under grounding. Apparently in the past SDG&E has paid for under grounding in high risk areas. If the Ranch isn’t a high risk fire area, try telling that to our fire department or any insurance company. Under grounding is the only 100% fail-proof option against fire.
In a corresponding article in the Post, Covenant Member Holly Manion believes that a petition, if signed by enough Members, could help stop SDG&E and protect the Ranch from being forever environmentally and aesthetically impacted. The petition she is circulating is attached to her article.