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Utility undergrounding project irks neighbor

In most instances, undergrounding utilities is desirable.

But in the case of at least one resident at 7392 Mar Ave. in La Jolla near La Jolla Country Club, it wasn’t.

For Marianna Allgauer, the odyssey began nine months ago when neighbor Judy Strada on Rhoda Drive moved a utility line on her property. Allgauer said the move underground caused a domino effect culminating in months of construction on and around her property, a utility pole on her property being defaced and considerable out-of-pocket expense to rectify the situation.

“My neighbor paid SDG&E to have a telephone pole taken down because she felt it was detracting from her property — and I got the fallout,” Allgauer said. “It’s cost me $50,000 just to undo all the mess created in my yard, on my telephone pole, as a result of her having her pole removed from her property. The pole directly in front of my property is absolutely horrible: It looks like a substation. It’s very ugly. It’s very unaesthetic. It’s very disturbing.”

Strada has refused to speak to the media about the situation, asserting only that utility undergrounding she paid for on her property was properly done.

The city of San Diego has a utilities undergrounding program under way — SDG&E Rule 20, a surcharge project funded by increased franchise fees to convert every residential overhead utility line in San Diego to underground service over the next 25 years.

SDG&E spokeswoman April Bolduc said she was limited in what she could say about the Allgauer-Strada situation because the utility company can only comment on projects paid for by customers with their signed consent to discuss their accounts, which hasn’t been granted.

But she did say that conflicts such as the one that has arisen on Mar Avenue are as complicated as they are troublesome.

“A homeowner requesting undergrounding outside of the city’s surcharge program is very rare because of the high costs — about $1 million to $4 million a mile,” she noted.

Typically, Bolduc added, such projects are undertaken jointly by neighbors who “agree to collaborate” and split costs, which is why SDG&E encourages neighbors opting for early utilities undergrounding to have negotiations and a signed agreement in place spelling out all the details.

“Sometimes communication between neighbors works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Bolduc noted. “We (SDG&E) do everything we can to accommodate neighbors,” she said, adding that when neighbors’ agreements break down, it “puts us (SDG&E) in the middle.”

SDG&E is also not required to notify property owners adjacent to an individual property owner’s utility line of plans to move it underground “unless we have to turn off their power to complete the job,” Bolduc said. “In that case, we have to give them two-week notice.”

Allgauer said problems with utilities undergrounding could have been avoided in her neighborhood with better communication.

“It was a wake-up call for everyone,” she said. “If they’d come to me and said, ‘This is going to have a major impact on your property, these are your options,’ I would have done my job with Strada’s job.”