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

Just Posted

A felled tree in Sydney G. Walton Square blocks part of a lane on Front Street following Sunday’s storm on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
After the rain: What San Francisco learned from a monster storm

Widespread damage underscored The City’s susceptibility to heavy wind and rain

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
$1.4 trillion ‘blueprint’ would address Bay Area’s housing, transit woes

Analyzing the big ticket proposals in ‘Plan Bay Area 2050’

A felled tree in San Francisco is pictured on Fillmore Street following a major storm that produced high winds and heavy rains on Oct. 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Philip Ford)
Storm updates: Rainiest October day in San Francisco history

Rainfall exceeded 10 inches in parts of the Bay Area

On Sunday, California bore the brunt of what meteorologists referred to as a bomb cyclone and an atmospheric river, a convergence of storms that brought more than half a foot of rain to parts of the Bay Area, along with high winds, concerns about flash floods and the potential for heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada. Much of the Bay Area was under a flash flood watch on Sunday, with the National Weather Service warning of the potential for mudslides across the region. (NOAA via The New York Times)
Bomb cyclone, atmospheric river combine to pummel California with rain and wind

What you need to know about this historic weather event

The Department of Building Inspection, at 49 South Van Ness Ave., has been mired in scandal since since its creation by voter referendum under Proposition G in 1994. (Courtesy SF.gov)
The Department of Building Inspection, at 49 South Van Ness Ave., has been mired in scandal since its creation by voter referendum under Proposition G in 1994. (Courtesy SF.gov)
Whistleblowing hasn’t worked at the SF Dept. of Building Inspection

DBI inspectors say their boss kept them off connected builders’ projects

Most Read