Tax may pay for undergrounding wires

Officials solicit residents’ input on proposal after CPUC funds run out

With no money left to put telephone and other utility wires underground, The City is contemplating a tax to fund future undergrounding projects.

Residents have until Friday to weigh in on whether San Francisco should implement a utilities bill tax ranging between 2 percent and 5 percent. Only businesses pay a utilities tax, which is 7.5 percent of their utility bill.

The City's Utility Undergrounding Task Force has created an online survey to gauge residents’ sentiment, and the task force will use the results to determine whether to move forward with a tax proposal. The online survey asks whether participants would support a $2 to $4 per-month surcharge on their monthly Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bill to pay for putting utility lines underground.

Dan McKenna of The City’s Department of Public Works said the tax would be levied against those who receive a utilities bill and that it would tax electrical, and possibly gas, usage.

Over the past 40 years, the Department of Public Works has undergrounded 450 miles of the approximately 900 miles of roadways in San Francisco, McKenna said.

The northeast side of San Francisco, including Nob Hill, has most of its utilities already undergrounded. The Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods have the fewest undergrounded utilities.

In these neighborhoods, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who created the underground-utilities task force, said he would rather see trees than telephone poles. Also, Dufty said there are “a lot of the beautiful vistas” on the west side of The City “clogged up with these wires.”

The benefits of undergrounding not only improve an area’s aesthetics, but also ensure power outages do not occur when there are high winds, McKenna said.

Statewide, residents pay a fee on their utilities bill that contributes to the cost of undergrounding projects throughout California. “Less than 1 percent of the typical bill goes toward undergrounding projects,” said Brian Swanson, spokesman with PG&E.

Based on a complicated formula, the California Public Utilities Commission allots money collected though utilities bills for cities to underground utilities. San Francisco has used up its share of the undergrounding funds, McKenna said, adding that San Francisco would not see any money from the state to underground utilities again until 2017.

The city of San Diego uses a similar tax to the one San Francisco is considering, McKenna said, which generates millions of dollars a year.

For past undergrounding projects, local property owners had to pay between $1,500 and $2,000 to reconfigure their control panel to hook up with the undergrounded utilities. McKenna said it’s unclear at this point whether a utilities tax would render such payments unnecessary in the future.

The survey is at http://www.sfgov.org/uutf.

jsabatini@examiner.comBay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalPolitics

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Recology executives have acknowledged overcharging city ratepayers. (Mira Laing/2017 Special to S.F. Examiner)
Recology to repay customers $95M in overcharged garbage fees, city attorney says

San Francisco’s waste management company, Recology, has agreed to repay its customers… Continue reading

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Settlement clears path for all youth, high school sports to resume in California

John Maffei The San Diego Union-Tribune All youth and high school sports… Continue reading

State to reserve 40 percent of COVID-19 vaccines for hard-hit areas

By Eli Walsh Bay City News Foundation State officials said Thursday that… Continue reading

Neighbors and environmental advocates have found the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park noisy and inappropriate for its natural setting. <ins>(</ins>
Golden Gate Park wheel wins extension, but for how long?

Supervisors move to limit contract under City Charter provision requiring two-thirds approval

Most Read