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Voters in Manhattan Beach have approved undergrounding in the city’s El Porto area, set to begin in February 2020 and conclude mid-2022. 

At a city council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 1., local leaders certified ballot results for Districts 12 and 14 and voted 5-0 to certify official formation of the undergrounding districts. That means all homeowners in those areas, regardless of their vote, will be considered a part of the district. 

A weighted majority in each of the areas voted in favor of burying utilities, including power, telephone and cable TV wires.

In District 12, the vote was 105 of 167 returned parcels in favor for 62.27%. That district contains 228 parcels located in Upper El Porto with boundaries including 41st Street to 45th Street and the Strand to Highland Avenue.

In District 14, the vote was 114 of 174 returned parcels in favor for 64.19%. That district contains a total of 244 parcels located in Lower El Porto with boundaries ranging from Rosecrans Avenue to 41st Street and the Strand to Highland Avenue.

City leaders at the meeting Tuesday were clear to say the city does not take a position either way on undergrounding.

“The city is not saying ‘hey El Porto, we want you to underground your wires,’” Councilmember Steve Napolitano said, adding the city did not ‘push its finger on the scale.’ “A group of residents came forward and said we think there’s support in this area to underground the wires so we’re going to go through this process.” 

Now that the voting process has concluded, assessments ranging from $19,754 to $56,184 will be levied upon each parcel, according to the city.

Residents may pay a portion or all of their assessments during a 30-day cash collection period ending Nov. 5. Any remaining balance will then be spread into payments over 20 years, including interest, as part of owners’ property tax bills. 

Earlier this year, the panel also approved a deferment, or financial assistance program to help households with limited income—such as those of residents over the age of 62 with a household income of less than $100,000—cover the cost, the city said in a statement.

But resident Michelle Murphy said the program doesn’t make up for the fact that residents in districts will have to pay the assessments regardless of their vote.

“You’re forcing other people, some of whom can’t afford it...to pay for somebody else’s views. That doesn’t seem right,” she said, noting the aesthetics of removing the wires as being the main reasoning behind undergrounding. 

The issue of undergrounding has indeed been controversial, with some residents advocating strongly against it, touting the process as unfair and burying utilities as unsafe. 

Others have pushed in favor of undergrounding alleging safety, reliability improvements as well as removing wires from blocking ocean views. 

Napolitano said there were benefits and drawbacks to each. 

“The above versus below ground versus reliability and safety, they’re tradeoffs—it’s wash,” he said.

Bob Sievers, a resident of El Porto, said, prior to the ballot count, that he would respect the results of the majority vote.

"I’m not one to challenge election results if there is a plurality or majority, even if its 50 percent plus one.” Sievers said. “Let democracy work.” 


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