Undergrounding of utility lines in La Jolla Shores is stalled as San Diego awaits new franchise agreement

Utility line undergrounding projects throughout San Diego are stalled pending a new franchise agreement.
(San Diego Gas & Electric)

A project to place overhead utility lines underground has stalled in La Jolla Shores, part of a pause on such projects throughout San Diego pending a new utility franchise agreement.

That is unsettling to Andrew Perry, who has lived in The Shores for two years above the art gallery he opened six months ago at 2218 Avenida de la Playa.

The undergrounding began outside his home and business in January 2020, “digging up the street and trenching it” to lay the cables, he said.

The work stopped around Memorial Day, as there is a beach construction moratorium that ends on Labor Day.

But the undergrounding didn’t resume after Labor Day, Perry said. “No one’s appeared since.”

“I’m a bit concerned that the city is just going to abandon this job,” Perry said.

Helen Gao, senior communications manager for San Diego Gas & Electric Co. — the exclusive provider of gas and electric services to the city since 1920 — said: “In collaboration with the city of San Diego, SDG&E is committed to completing the undergrounding project in La Jolla Shores as expeditiously as possible. The construction schedule has been impacted by several factors, which necessitated a schedule shift to keep the project in a safe condition for the public until those issues are resolved.”

It appears the work is paused indefinitely until the city reaches a new franchise agreement with SDG&E or another utility company following the expiration of the current agreement later this year.

That doesn’t please City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla. “It is irresponsible of SDG&E to abandon this project while proclaiming to be a good community partner,” he said. “I expect more from SDG&E and hope they will uphold their commitments as the current franchisee.”

SDG&E’s current franchise agreement, signed in 1970, was set to expire Jan. 17. But a City Council vote Dec. 30 approved Mayor Todd Gloria’s proposed extension of the agreement to June 1.

The extension followed Gloria’s determination that the lone bid from SDG&E during the search for utility companies to serve the city “was unresponsive to the minimum requirements set forth in the invitation to bid.”

Currently, the city is developing new terms for a franchise agreement, with Gloria asking for consumer input. At the Feb. 11 La Jolla Town Council meeting, Gloria said he intends “to let out an invitation to bid sometime in March.”

“Until this competitive bidding process is completed, it will not be known if SDG&E will continue to hold a franchise agreement with the city or if those franchise rights go to another bidder,” according to a statement to the La Jolla Light from city senior public information officer Alec Phillipp.

“Much of SDG&E’s construction work is awarded in phases and performed through third-party contractors. In consideration of those contractual obligations, they have paused the work on several of the residential project block undergrounding projects, including the one in question,” Phillipp said. “They will be paused until the recipient of the franchise agreement is established by the bidding process. The city’s Transportation & Stormwater Department will oversee the resumption of work on these projects once the franchise award process is completed.”

Undergrounding is a decades-old project, with many neighborhoods in San Diego in various stages of completion.

“Maintaining neighborhood services remains my priority, and long-planned utility undergrounding projects like this need to be completed on time and on budget,” LaCava said. ◆