Letter: Be informed before Woods Cove undergrounding vote

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Since the early 70s, Joe Chiquete was known as the “czar of undergrounding” in Laguna Beach, overseeing the city’s efforts in this area until his retirement around 2015. At that time, there were limited funds and no comprehensive plan for Citywide Utility Undergrounding.

To this day, the city’s primary strategy for underground utility projects involves encouraging parcel owners to explore the formation of Rule 20b assessment districts. These districts can impose taxes on themselves, requiring that 50% or more of the assessed members agree to tax 100% of parcel owners. The city typically contributes 10% for its “General Benefit” portion as required by Article XIIID and SB 218.

It’s important to note that participation in assessment districts is voluntary, and no parcel owner is obligated to impose taxes on themselves or their neighbors. However, the absence of a master plan over the past 50 plus years has resulted in higher costs and delayed progress in undergrounding city utilities.

After nearly a decade of planning and development, the Woods Cove 2014-2 Assessment District, if formed, will be the city’s largest Utility Underground District, encompassing 380 parcels. The upcoming schedule for this project is as follows: Sept. 26 – City council meeting to Adopt Resolution of Intention and Resolution to Preliminarily Approve the Engineer’s Report; Early October: Mailing of ballots to affected property owners and Dec. 12 (tentative): City Council Meeting Public Hearing and Tally of Ballots.

Property owners were recently notified of this final phase through postcards with a QR code and a web address (www.LagunaBeachCity.net/woodscv) to stay informed. The website includes informative slides presented at a Sept. 14 workshop and a 53-page “Preliminary Engineer’s Report” detailing the assessment breakdown based on aesthetic (70%), safety (20%), and view (10%) benefits.

This process can serve as a valuable reference for other neighborhoods considering similar projects, helping them understand potential costs and the impact of taxation choices on their neighbors. Ballots will be distributed in October, and the outcome will be determined based on the total dollar amount of YES and NO votes. If YES votes surpass NO votes, parcel owners must pay their assessed amount.

As a property owner in the proposed district, I’ve decided to vote NO due to concerns about high property taxes and the potential financial burden on neighbors. Instead, I plan to invest in solar energy, which I believe is a more prudent choice. I hope others in the Woods Cove AD share my perspective and communicate it to their neighbors before the October balloting.

J. T. Price, Laguna Beach

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