Since July 2015, the City Council has been focused on undergrounding utilities in Laguna Beach. Southern California Edison filed a lawsuit challenging the Laguna Beach ordinance that requires utility companies to bury utility lines and vaults. In the lawsuit, filed April 5, 2016, in U.S. District Court, SCE claims that the ordinance the city enacted violates state and federal law. SCE also alleges the city adopted the ordinance despite objections from the utility company. The suit asked that the court issue an injunction to restrain Laguna Beach from enforcing the ordinance and to invalidate it. “The ordinance substantially impairs SCE’s constitutional rights and violates the contract clauses of the United States and California constitutions.”
The City Council proceeded to move forward with the development of a “master plan” that would remove all utilities along the canyon and provide an incentive for residents to contribute to the cost of burying utility lines using fear and false facts to exaggerate the risk of fire.
SCE states the new regulations would cause delay and added expense to the construction, maintenance and repair of its electric facilities. This could lead to safety hazards and could affect the reliability of electricity to customers. The city’s ordinance says it has the right to oversee and supervise where poles, wires and conduits of any utility company can be placed on, under or above public streets. SCE states in the lawsuit, that the city’s ordinance would stop SCE from following requirements of the Public Utilities Commission, which has “exclusive jurisdiction over undergrounding.”
Southern California Edison undergrounded 11 utility poles along the Big Bend stretch of LCR in mid 2017 and are expected to do more in the future. Edison rate payers, including those living outside Laguna Beach, are funding these projects. Edison distributes these funds to cities for the purpose of undergrounding utilities in locations with heavy concentrations of overhead electric and communications facilities and traffic volumes.
For years, Laguna Beach property owners have financed their undergrounding with assessment bonds. This stopped when the City Council came up with their “master plan”.
Why? Assessment districts are financed through the sale of municipal bonds held in trust for that district. The general obligation bond taxes will go directly into the city’s general fund for the next 30 years to spend at their discretion.
Jill Cooper, Laguna Beach