Undergrounding utilities


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Overview

Piedmont Pines’ undergrounding project is broken into three phases.  Combined, our project is PG&E’s largest-ever undergrounding endeavor.  Our project falls under California Public Utilities Rule 20A, which is a huge benefit to residents because utilities pay 100% of their construction out of rate payer’s fees allocated to each jurisdiction (City, Counties etc.) for utility undergrounding.

Residents inside the boundary for an undergrounding district will be asked to vote if they want to establish an assessment district to fund new street lights and project administration--about 20% of the total project cost. 
To qualify for 20A funding, an area must meet the CPUC's criteria of being in the public interest:

 

 1. Undergrounding will avoid or eliminate an unusual heavy concentration of overhead electric facilities (Chelton corridor qualified here);

2. The street or road or right-of-way is extensively used by the general public and carries a heavy volume of pedestrian or vehicular traffic ;

3. The street or road or right-of-way adjoins or passes through a civic area or public recreation area or an area of unusual scenic interest to the general public (Castle qualified here); and

4. The street or road or right-of-way is considered an arterial street or major collector as defined in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research Guidelines  (Skyline, Ascot qualified here)

Click on the green button above for a nice overview of undergrounding. There's also a good summary of current Rule 20A issues here:  http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Published/G000/M187/K324/187324749.PDF

Many homes inside and outside these three phases already have undergrounded utilities.  Why?  Since 1967, California has required that all new electric service connections be placed underground. 

Three phases

Phase 1--Ascot corridor completed 2015
Phase 2--Chelton corridor start 2017
Phase 3--Castle corridor start as Phase 2 wraps up

Status of PPNA Undergrounding

Phase 1
Ascot corridor


October 2011: Ground breaking party 

December 2013: Construction wrapped up*. New street lights installed. 

2015: Poles removed

*After a community vote that the pacing of construction should be "go as fast as you can," PG&E, the lead utility, often used four crews at a time, enabling all the trenching and conversion of electrical power to be completed a year ahead of schedule.


 

 

 

Phase 2
Chelton corridor


February 2015: Major hurdles getting this phase started were cleared


July 2017: Boundary map, engineering assessment for street lighting system finalized. Show of interest ballots mailed to residents, due back 8/31/17. [If yes, City Council votes to establish the utility district and if yes, detailed design work begins to determine property-specific assessment costs.

If yes on the show of interest, ballots will be sent early 2018 to determine if property owners agree to setting up an assessment district.If no on this ballot,
we move to Phase 3. Phase 2 residents will not get a second chance, so it's important voters are fully informed and mindful. We will be having full community discussions prior to balloting.

 

Phase 3
Castle corridor


There won’t be a timeline for Phase 3 until Phase 2 is well under way

Brief History

In 1987, Piedmont Pines filed a petition with the City to have all utility lines within its boundaries undergrounded under the California Public Utilities Commission’s Rule 20A, which basically sets out a pot of money from the tax on utility bills to cover undergrounding of the phone, power and cable lines. 

In 1999, Piedmont Pines rose to the top of the City’s waiting list.  Just as we finished tabulating votes among residents to establish an assessment district to fund the homeowner’s portion of the project, everything came to a screeching halt, with a host of complex legal and regulatory issues affecting all Rule 20! undergrounding projects in the state. 

From 2000 to 2003, The association spent time in front of the CPUC and the state legislature in hearings about what criteria should be considered in forming undergrounding districts.  We were joined by the City in our argument that public safety and emergency access should be heavily weighted.  We were denied, and a new provision restricting 20A undergrounding to arterial streets meant that over half our streets have been eliminated from the undergrounding project.  The legal and regulatory proceedings forced us to step out of line and allow the undergrounding of MacArthur Blvd to proceed. 

In 2004, we reluctantly accepted a compromise offered by PG&E, the lead utility in this project, that we break the project into three phases because of its complexity (hillsides, narrow streets) and the size of the project.  This is the largest Rule 20A project in the state.  The risk we wanted to avoid was having another Oakland area get preference between each of our phases.  In the meantime, we’ve been assured this will not happen.

In 2008, Phase 1 residents voted to go forward with the project and establish an assessment district.  While utilities pay 85% of the cost from fees on utility bills across the state, property owners in Oakland are charged the remaining 15% to cover the City’s administration expenses and installation of new street lights that are compatible with an undergrounding system.  Property owners have the option of paying the assessment in a lump sum or paying with their property taxes over 30 years starting with the 2010-11 tax year.

From 2008 to 2011, the project went through the design phase, with lots of largely unexplained delays along the way.  Placement of transformers was one issue, but did not explain the full delay. 

In 2011, PPNA deployed a finely tuned strategy to force all parties to resolve all remaining roadblocks and get construction under way.  We mediated meetings, and at long last, got all issues resolved. 

In October 2011, PPNA hosted a long awaited groundbreaking celebration for Phase 1.

From fall 2011 through winter 2014, construction of the new undergrounding system was completed and nearly all poles were removed in fall 2014.

In 2015 we averted cancellation of Phase 2. Utilities claimed it didn't fit the CPUC Rule 20-A criteria, but PPNA ultimately prevailed and the project got back on course.

In 2017, the preliminary Engineering Assessment for Phase 2 to determine approximate costs was completed, and results from the show of interest ballots mailed to residents in July was 70% favored proceeding to the next step.  While we don't yet have a definitive timeline, here's a rough outline of next steps in Phase 2:

  • City Council to accept Engineering report and vote to establish the area as an official Utility Undergrounding District
  • The CPUC to approve Phase 2 for use of utility ratepayer funds
  • Poperty owners in Phase 2 to vote to establish the area as an Assessment District--estimated for first quarter, 2018
  • If yes, residents will opt to pay their assessment in a lump sum or pay over 20 to 30 years on their property tax bill
  • The city will sell bonds to front the money for its share of the project's cost
  • PG&E will line up resources and cost estimates in preparation for construction