Survey: S.F. backs tax for burying wires

San Francisco residents apparently are prepared to pay an extra few bucks a month to bury underground electrical wiring that still clutters half of The City’s streetscapes, according to the results of a recent survey.

The City has run out of money to pay for undergrounding utility poles and wires that remain on 470 miles of San Francisco’s 900 miles of roadways.

The City’s Utility Undergrounding Task Force plans on recommending to the Board of Supervisors next month that San Francisco implement a 5 percent tax on everyone’s electric charge on their Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bill to pay for putting the remaining utility lines underground. For the average user, this would amount to an additional $2.50 a month.

The task force seems confident with the idea — and may even recommend extending the tax to the gas charge as well — after the results of an online survey have come in indicating widespread support for undergrounding utility wires and poles and a willingness to pay more for that to happen.

Sixty-six percent of 388 renters who filled out the survey and 89 percent of 2,543 owners were “very interested” in seeing The City remove the remaining utility wires and poles, according to the survey. Ninety-two percent of owners and 78 percent of renters would “definitely” or “probably” support paying $2 to $4 more a month, according to the survey.

Those living in San Francisco said safety was the most important reason for continuing with the undergrounding effort while aesthetics was the second reason offered, the survey said.

PG&E customers pay about 25 cents on their monthly electrical bill, which goes toward statewide undergrounding efforts, according to Dan Weaver, chairman of the Utility Undergrounding Task Force. The California Public Utilities Commission allots the money collected from the bills to municipalities for undergrounding projects. San Francisco has used up its share and will not see funding for undergrounding projects until 2017.

“Everybody has been paying for undergrounding, but only half the people got it,” Weaver said.

Along with the tax would come a master plan for how to underground the remainder of San Francisco’s utility wires and poles. In the past, undergrounding projects were awarded based on petitions or to areas with the most active neighborhood groups, which led to inequities, according to Weaver. Mostly the affluent neighborhoods on the northeast side of San Francisco, including Nob Hill, benefited from the undergrounding funding, while the south and western sections of San Francisco continue to have the most aboveground utility wires and poles.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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