In 2012, funding was approved/allocated by the City Council to move several utilities’ undergrounding projects (identified as blocks) forward. Included was Block 70, which includes Alvarado Estates.
As the process moved forward into design, engineering, etc., a tentative start date in 2014 was set. However, that was pushed back a couple of times and in 2016, it looked like it was ready to be finalized and the Alvarado Estates board’s streets committee met with the utilities undergrounding department to discuss logistical details.
Further delays pushed the start date into 2018 and then in 2019, Block 70 was part of a group of blocks to be sent to the City Council for final release of funds to begin the actual work. Block 70 was pulled from the group because the city attorney’s office took the position that public funds could not be used on private streets (most of Alvarado Estates is behind a gate). Because the undergrounding surcharge is collected as part of the franchise fee that SDG&E pays the city, even though the funds are collected for a dedicated purpose, they become public funds.
It was presented to the city that Alvarado streets are not really private but rather the gate provides controlled vehicular access for security and to minimize wear and tear on our streets that the association maintains, but do not exclude pedestrians, which have been accessing our community to walk, jog, etc. before and after the gate was put in. This was mandated by the city via a side pedestrian gate that is unlocked at all hours.
In researching why the gate was mandated, we discovered that in 1996, in response to several requests for gating of existing communities, the City Council adopted a set of guidelines for approval of such requests. One of them was that access to open spaces must be preserved, hence the mandate for the unlocked gate.
In the 1997 approval of the street vacation that preceded the gate, the City Council motion noted that the vacation complied with council policy but added as a caveat that it was subject to approval of the final drawings/plans for the gate by the city engineer. We suspect that that is where the mandated pedestrian gate was approved.
After we were notified that Block 70 would be pulled and we made our argument about pedestrian access, the city attorney responded by asking us to provide documented proof of pedestrian access via the unlocked gate. The city attorney’s office was given the previous information about a month and a half ago without the signed final approval of the gate design because it was never given to the Alvarado Estates board or our attorneys. We are looking to get it through a public-document request but it would seem that the city attorney’s office would have a much easier time of securing it.
Our hope is that this issue is resolved quickly because several of our streets are scheduled to be re-surfaced and we do not want to begin that project if they are going to be dug up fairly soon. In addition, association streets outside the gate, part of Yerba Santa Drive and Yerba Anita Drive are also being held up pending resolution of this issue by the city attorney’s office.
We have been advised that funds allocated for completion of the Block 70 undergrounding project have not been re-allocated, so our hope is that the city attorney will act quickly to move this forward. Given that our community is surrounded by and interspersed with fire-prone canyons, it could put the reliability of the greater grid at risk.
—Jose Reynoso is president of the Alvarado Estates Community Association.