Undergrounding utilities, status, history

Click on buttons to learn more



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 utility conversion completed 2015; final 2 poles reconfigured in 2018
Phase 2--Chelton corridor start delayed due to dispute about meeting Rule 20-A criteria listed above  
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: All but 2 poles (cellular antennas) removed; remaining poles reconfigured in 2018 

*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
Here's a link to the map

February 2015: Major hurdles getting this phase started were cleared

July 2017:
Boundary map, engineering assessment for street lighting system finalized. Community meeting to discuss process, show of interest ballot. 
Property owners voted 70% approval.

2018:  Qualification under Rule 20-A disputed. PPNA is still battling to get this resolved.

2019: PG&E file a variance request with the California Public Utilties Commission (CPUC) in January and answered additional questions in a Supplemental report in March. CPUC staff denied the variance in August. A vote by Commissioners is scheduled for 9/12/19. Comment period for interested parties ends 9/4/19.

Jan. 2020: The CPUC staff withdrew the resolution denying the variance and on January 16, APPROVED PHASE 2 TO PROCEED. YAHOO!

July 2020: With COVID's attack on the City budget, suddenly DOT could not find a way to pay the consultant's fee to manage the street lighting and administrative tasks the City is responsible for. PPNA appealed to the mayor and instantly, funds were released. On 7/28, council approved the consultant's fee.

Next steps:

  1. Once the City's consultant finalizes--and council approves--the costs and balloting of property owners, there will be a community meeting.
  2. City Council will vote on a resolution to officially establish Phase 2 as an undergrounding district, and approve the ballot process to form an Assessment District.
  3. Parcel owners will then vote: If yes, City Council to vote to establish Assessment District. If no, we move to Phase 3.

Note: Due to the decades long backlog of requests with the City, Phase 2 residents will very likely not get a second chance, so it's important voters are fully informed and mindful. 


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 for Phase 1 was completed and nearly all poles were removed in 2015.

2015 We battled against 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--or so we thought. Read on, to 2018.

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. 

2018  A year of utter frustration

  • February: City Finance and Management Committee voted 4 - 0 to advance the resolution to proceed with creating an assessment district and to accept the Engineer's Report to City Council
  • March to December: City Council vote was deferred to accept Engineering Report and  to approve balloting procedures to create an assessment district. Deferral was due to PG&E renewing the dispute whether Chelton Dr meets the criteria, the issue PPNA thought was resolved in 2015. PPNA gathered forces and pushed hard on City and PG&E partners. Residents joined PPNA in filing formal comments with the CPUC defending qualification of Phase 2. The City hired outside counsel to work with PG&E to remove roadblocks.

2019 A wild ride at the CPUC 

  • January: PG&E filed a variance with the CPUC to include properties they claim don't meet the Rule 20A criteria, and answered additional question in its March Supplemental filing.  It may take several months before the variance request is considered by the CPUC. A primary argument is that the initial authorization of the PPNA project in 2000 did not break it into three phases. With all properties included, the ratio of qualified properties was high enough to pass the Rule 20-A bar.  PPNA filed additional comments that because Chelton carries a high volume of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, it should qualify. 

  • August:  CPUC staff drafted a resolution denying the variance, but before it was presented to the full commission for a vote, the draft was pulled.

  • November:  CPUC staff reversed its position on denying the variance and submitted a new draft accepting the position that Phase 2 should proceed as a 20-A project. 

2020 Hope reigns

  • January:  The CPUC accepted Phase 2 as a Rule 20A project. The issue then goes to City Council to accept the boundaries and costs for the street lighting system, and authorize a ballot among Phase 2 property owners to establish the Assessment District.  

  • July: Council passes resolution to accept the contract of Harris & Associates to manage the city's portion of the project.

  • Council to approve Harris' timeline, costing, procedures; establish an official Undergrounding District, and put the issue up to property owners whether or not to form an assessment district.

  • If the Assessment District is approved, property owners will receive cash collection and payment options

  • 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

  • Construction will begin