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Evacuation Route Utility Undergrounding

Evacuation Route Utility Undergrounding

The location of our city and the landscape of surrounding areas make it one of the most vulnerable cities in California when it comes to wildfires and with only a few roads that allow most residents to evacuate in the event of a natural disaster. Laguna Beach has a history of catastrophic fires that spread quickly and cause extensive danger and damage for residents.

The City has done extensive work over the past decade on the most efficient and cost-effective way to expedite moving dangerous utility wires underground.

 

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The Problem

Utility poles and electrical wires pose multiple risks. Laguna Canyon Road, Coast Highway, and key evacuation routes are lined with utility poles, dangerous overhead power lines and transformers, posing multiple risks:

  • In the last 10 years, at least six fires in Laguna have been caused by power lines and utility equipment
  • Fallen poles and electrical wires can block roadways, preventing evacuation from affected neighborhoods
  • Overhead electricity wires are more prone to power outages than underground wires, reducing reliability of utility service
  • There have been 58 vehicle collisions with utility poles in the City since 2007

More than 90% of our city is designated a “very high fire severity zone,” according to CalFire. It’s believed that fallen power lines sparked last year’s devastating res resulting in 43 fatalities and destroying thousands of homes in California.

Although the need to invest in burying utility wires underground is clear, utility companies have refused to help. The cost is significant — up to $135 million to remove utility poles and bury electrical wiring along Laguna Canyon Road and other key evacuation routes. Existing city funds alone cannot cover the cost without major cuts to police, fire, street and road repairs, and other essential services.

Options

We need to take action to address the danger from overhead power lines. Removing utility poles in Laguna would:

  • Ensure Laguna Canyon Road and Coast Highway are accessible in the event of a natural disaster and emergency evacuation
  • Eliminate the risk of falling wires or above ground transformers causing a fire
  • Ensure emergency access routes remain clear for medical aid, police, and fire fighter access
  • Reduce the number of vehicle accidents with utility poles
  • Enhance utility service reliability for residents

 

Action Plan and Local Funding Measure

The safety of Laguna residents is the City’s top priority, so the City is developing a plan and considering a mix of funding options to complete this work. It is clear that a single solution will not fully address these needs, which is why the City is considering asking local voters to vote on various options in an upcoming election, including:

  • A one-cent sales tax, most of which is contributed by tourists;
  • Local general obligation bond at a cost of $11 per $100,000 in assessed value (not market value);
  • Existing City revenues not already dedicated to public safety and other essential services.

The plan may be multi-pronged over several years as the construction work unfolds in phases, addressing high priority evacuation routes first and completing all the necessary work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A recent community survey indicated the vast majority of Laguna Beach voters recognize the risk posed by overhead utility wires, and support a local funding solution to address the problem.

Click here for answers to some frequently asked questions about Evacuation Route Utility Undergrounding.