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Neighboring Residents Pay for Webster Street Beautification

Alameda residents living near Webster Street are upset at being compelled by the City of Alameda’s electric utility, Alameda Municipal Power, to spend roughly $5,000 to convert their utility service from overhead to underground delivery to support what they call a “Webster Street beautification project.”

According to an April, 2011 Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) status report on the project, known to the utility as “Underground Utility District No. 31 Project,” in 2004 Alameda City Council approved the boundary map for Webster Street, which includes crossings along Webster at Central, Taylor, Santa Clara, Haight, Lincoln and Pacific Avenues and extends, on average, 300 feet down those streets on each side of Webster.

The underground projects covert overhead electrical, cable TV and telephone lines, mounted on wooden utility poles, to underground and ground-level installations. A July 14th presentation by AMP asserts that undergrounding reduces outages due to trees, wind and animals, and is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Residential neighbors having to pay their share of the costs are non-plussed, however. Leslie Gomez, who lives on the 700 block of Haight Avenue, told Action Alameda News, “The economy is not great, I just received a layoff notice, and now AMP expects me to come up with somewhere in the ballpark of $5,000 to pay for the beautification of Webster Street.”

Alameda Municipal Power’s presentation says that electric utility service conversion costs are capped at $1,911 for owner-occupied, single-family residences. But the overhead telephone and cable TV lines need to be converted to underground service as well, and AMP estimates that the total conversion cost will average $5,000 for owners of single-family residences, before a $756 AMP reimbursement.

One neighborhood organizer who did not want to speak for attribution broke it down this way:

1) $1911 is AMP’s estimated cost to the single-family residence customer – only 1/3 of the cost because AT&T, and Comcast will each have their unknown cost – this is where the $5,000 ballpark figure comes in.

2) Multi-family and commercial property owners are not included in the above scenario, and are responsible for 100% of the unknown costs.

3) The scope of work does not include repairing damage to the customers yard or property once all the old wires, pipes and boxes are removed – this work is the sole responsibility of the property owner at 100% property owner cost.

4) Once the undergrounding is complete AMP, Comcast and AT&T will no longer be responsible, as they currently are for the repair or maintenance of these lines to the property. This is a shift of responsibility from companies to property owners.

5) Anyone unable to afford the cost mandated by this undergrounding may have a lien placed on his or her property.

6) Anyone wishing to upgrade their electrical service will be required to pull a permit and will become 100% responsible for the unknown cost just like the multifamily and commercial property owners.

This same organizer was particularly concerned that after undergrounding, responsibility for maintaining the service connection from the sidewalk, the new customer service point, to the house, will be shifted from large monopoly corporations like Comcast and AT&T, to homeowners.

Leslie Gomez added, “I would like for them to work with us – not just AMP telling us what they are going to do – so that we all have a clear idea of what is happening as well as what the end result will be, such as what our responsibilities will be once this takes place. I also feel that they should look into funding as I do not think it is fair for property owners to be told they have to foot the bill for this.”

According to the AMP presentation, pre-construction work is set to begin in the last three months of this year, with substructure construction to begin in the first quarter of 2012. Alameda Municipal Power plans additional public meetings on the issue.

3 comments to Neighboring Residents Pay for Webster Street Beautification

  • Marie

    This is yet another outrage. I would think that the city would foot the bill for this project. It isn’t fair to ask some, and not all homeowners to pay for improvements within the city.

  • Karen

    This sounds like one of those “nice to have” projects that needs to be shelved until the city can foot the bill. Who benefits from this, anyway? Who approved this? Outrageous!

  • alameda vigilante

    A boondoggle is a project that arguably wastes time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy motivations.
    I’m sure there are some homeowners in the affected area who won’t be able to afford this latest BOONDOGGLE! And, after hearing @ Monday’s Planning Board meeting about how Alameda should prepare for the coming Sea Level Rise, what happens to all that underground electrical stuff when the storm drains back up to flood Webster & the adjacent streets? I have a feeling AMP et al haven’t planned for what our City Engineer has told us.