Hemet City Council continues public hearing on undergrounding utilities
■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor
There was a unanimous vote – one of many on Aug. 22 – by the Hemet City Council to continue the public hearing to “Adopt Fee Resolution for Utility Underground In-Lieu Fee.” Undergrounding fees cap at 10 percent of the project cost; however, that cost may burden developers, so an in-lieu fee is anticipated. Mayor Linda Krupa reiterated that some developers will be required to pay for the undergrounding of utilities. This fee is for extreme cases when it is not financially feasible, like Jeff Mayhew’s project on the northeast corner of Sanderson and Florida avenues, as previously reported by The Valley Chronicle.
The staff report states, “the underground utility in-lieu fees collected will be used by the city to underground existing utility lines in the city. The city will aggregate fees collected to perform larger undergrounding projects throughout the city. The fees collected from a particular developer may not necessarily be used to underground the utility lines adjacent to the developer’s project. The underground utility in-lieu fee will only be charged to developers who opt to pay the fee rather than undergrounding the existing utility lines along their development’s frontage as a part of their development.”
“The fee will not be charged to any developer who would not otherwise be required to underground existing utility lines pursuant to Section 82-172 of the Hemet Municipal Code.”
The staff report stated that the Engineering Department worked with Michael Baker International (MBI) to determine appropriate in-lieu fees for both electrical and non-electrical utilities to be undergrounded.
“Typically, utility poles are primarily for electrical lines with other non-electrical utilities (cable TV, phone, etc.), or third-party attachments, sharing the poles. There are some circumstances where poles only serve non-electrical utilities. The proposed in-lieu fees cover all these scenarios. MBI researched available data from capital improvement projects of various cities that included utility undergrounding as part of the scope of work,” stated the report.
Councilman Russ Brown commented that there is value having the price closer to the average. “So on a philosophical or hypothetical question — we had a project before us earlier this evening that we anticipate is likely to come back and ask for the option of paying in-lieu fees. I think, in my mind, if we are going to consider that the fee be closer to the average as I have heard my colleagues advocating, [it needs to be cost effective],” said Brown. “Because if it’s not cost effective, there’s no incentive for it. It’s going to cost them $280 to underground or he can pay the [in-lieu] fee of $280. There’s really no incentive for him to apply and no real incentive for us to approve the in-lieu fee because we prefer to have the utilities undergrounded. I think just philosophically looking at those issues there is a value added to bringing the price more reasonable to the average.”
Councilwoman Bonnie Wright was concerned about the fees, stating that she did not want them to be way out of line. The numbers brought before council were higher (2.5 times) than the average costs for Riverside County. Wright was concerned about the need to cover costs but was apprehensive about pushing that burden onto developers. The public hearing item failed to instigate comments from the public.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Perciful echoed Wright’s concern regarding the cost. Perciful mentioned that the city is trying to become developer friendly and preferred the city get closer to the Riverside County’s average number.
Acting City Engineer Nino Abad mentioned that other cities do not have cost distinction but simply a flat rate. Perciful asked how many poles do not have electrical, and Abad responded that “on his drive today, there were only two but that was only in a segment of the city.”
Perciful stated that the majority of developers were not going to be paying the $65 per linear foot rate but the $280 per linear foot rate.
Councilwoman Karlee Meyer suggested that the city receive more comps from the County of Riverside. Ultimately the hearing was continued. Wright was at a crossroads trying to advocate economic development. There are those willing to invest in the city and if there is a significant fee, then she did not want to add a significant burden to what the developers are already investing, said Wright.
Wright reiterated that she wants to capture some costs but wants a better cost per linear foot and stay in line with the pricing in our county.
“I want to attract industries and economic development for our community and I want to be fair,” stated Wright.