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    Underground Utility Lines; RV Parking & Water Pollution – Simi City Council

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    By Kevin Harris

    The Simi Valley City Council approved its final phase of underground utility lines; recommitted to RV parking allowances and enforcement; and voted to create a water pollution plan during Monday night’s sometimes contentious city council meeting. 

    Item 4A Public Hearing 

    In consideration of the establishment of an Underground Utility District for the purpose of moving overhead utility lines underground. 

    Simi Valley staff recommended to the city council that they approve moving overhead electric and communication lines underground for District 15 – Along Erringer Road, from Alamo Street to Cochran Street. If approved, Southern California Edison will perform the work to move the lines underground. 

    According to Public Works Director Ron Fujuwaki, SCE would perform the work based on Rule 20A, a previously established program by the California Public Utilities Commission for this specific purpose – moving utility lines underground. Earlier undergrounding projects were completed in the city, which began in 2003. 

    Some important facts related to the currently proposed project:

    • The estimated cost of undergrounding utility lines for District 15 is $924 thousand.
    • There is about $1 million in Rule 20A funds available for SCE to spend on the project. 
    • Rule 20A is ultimately funded by local rate payers, but the city itself does not receive or spend 20A allocations. 
    • In June, 2021, the CPUC ended funding allocations to the 20A program, so unless the city uses the remaining funds by the end of 2021, the city could lose those funds.  

    Council Questions/Comments

    Council Member Elaine Litster: “Has the CPUC indicated what’s going to replace, or is there anything that will replace this funding mechanism for the other three sections (of geographic area still requiring under grounding of utility lines) in time, if we wanted to address the under grounding.” 

    Staff answered that no, there has been no indication that anything will replace the funding that stops at the end of 2021. 

    CM Elaine Litster

    Council Member Ruth Luevanos: Asked why the section of road between Alamo to Cochran Streets was chosen for the under grounding over the other two sections still needing it. Mr. Fujuwaki said it was because the city council in 2003 chose that section of road to have priority over the others. It was also noted that at least one of the other sections would have used up nearly the entire $1 million available, leaving no money left for contingencies. 

    Luevanos said she was also concerned about which section would benefit the most amount of residents, and suggested that the city chose the section that accomplish that, even if it meant dipping into the General Fund. After some council discussion, it was agreed that the section chosen was largely a commercial district as opposed to residential, though Ms. Lister theorized the section may have been chosen because it is the most heavily trafficked of them all. 

    Mayor Keith Mashburn: After confirming that the section of road chosen is heavily travelled, he agreed that it may have been chosen in part for the safety benefit of removing those utility poles. He also asked Mr. Fujuwaki if moving the power lines underground in a residential area would be of any direct benefit to those residents. Fujuwaki said that there would be some benefit just by replacing the lines and equipment with new ones, but otherwise, no, there would be no other benefit.

    Council Member Luevanos then suggested that residents might be better served by the underground wiring due to the protective benefit from wildfires, and she talked about not being able to cook her turkey over this past Thanksgiving due to wild fires and power outages as an example. The Mayor then explained to her that the wildfires don’t take place on the Simi Valley floor but far out in the wilderness areas, and that when those power lines have to be shut off, or are burned up from a fire, everyone loses power in the cities, regardless of whether their transmission lines are above ground or underground. A city staffer also suggested that they try to stay on the agenda topic, and they these things would be a good topic for another city council meeting.   

    Public Speakers

    Lori Mills: Local realtor. “Putting these lines underground will be great for peoples’ real estate values. It’s one of the complaints we get when we do sell homes in neighborhoods with overhead power lines. So I’m going to support it,” she said. 

    Council Comments:

    Council Member Elaine Litster: “Given what a heavily trafficked area that is, I think aesthetically it makes sense, as far as safety it makes sense, and I’m certainly in favor of going forward, and I appreciate that this is getting done before December 31,” she said. 

    Council Member Ruth Luevanos: “You just heard from Lori Mills that as a realtor, that’s what helps sell homes. And this is not a residential area, this is the commercial area. It’s not that I don’t want to help our businesses, I do. But I want to help our businesses by making sure that they keep their power on… I want to underground wires where it will most impact positively our residents and our businesses,” she said. 

    The motion passed unanimously. 

    Item 7A Continued Business

    The Second Reading of Ordinance No. 1319 Amending Simi Valley Municipal Code Section Regarding Off-Street Vehicle Parking (RVs) in Residential Zones.

    Council Member Ruth Luevanos began this item by asking if the council could do anything about the increasing problem of tall RVs (12-14 feet in some cases) being parked in residents’ back yards, encroaching on their neighbor’s privacy. 

    “Some people are using the RVs to live in. If we have people that are living in RVs in the back yard and they’re 14-feet tall, and you only have a 6-foot barrier, a 6-foot clearance, there isn’t any privacy for the neighbors… and then there’s only a 3-foot setback.” She went on to say that she’d like to provide residents some kind of legal relief from those neighbors who park such tall RVs just a few feet from their property line. “Is that something that we can do?,” she asked the other council members. 

    CM Ruth Luevanos

    Following Luevanos’ question was some back and forth between Mayor Mashburn and Environmental Services Director Stratis Perros, as they discussed the details of the previous question. There was talk of 8-foot high residential fences being allowed, among other things. As a result, the Mayor commented, “there are remedies to folks to provide screening, and if we left it up to them, we would have less government intrusion and they could still accomplish what we’re talking about.” 

    Perros said in response that he agreed, but that he had some safety concerns in particular related to taller fences. “Police and fire don’t need the obstacle of 8-foot high fences to get over properties.” He also suggested the taller fences would negatively affect community aesthetics. In the end, Perros said he is mostly in support of situational handling of problems as they arise, and that each case can be dealt with individually to find a solution, as opposed to changing city-wide ordinances.

    Perros also confirmed that any type of vehicle is covered by Ordinance 1319, not just RVs. 

    Luevanos responded unambiguisely with her position. “I’m trying to provide a legal remedy for neighbors of those residences that have these very large RVs that are 14-feet tall. Because if we don’t put it into the ordinance, they won’t have a legal remedy. Then we’re going to be stuck dealing with who has the right to privacy and who doesn’t,” she said. She also told the remaining council that residents have been asking them for years to deal with the RV issue.Ultimately, Luevanos said she supports some kind of restrictions of larger motor homes. “I will not be voting for this ordinance,” she said.  

    Council Member Litster commented that one of the reasons they were doing a second reading of the ordinance was so the city can resume enforcement of existing vehicle laws, including for RV street and backyard parking, and she believes that in doing so, the city will be solving many of the RV-related problems that may exist now. 

    The motion passed, with all council member except Luevanos voting in favor. 

    Item 8A New Business

    The option to authorize the City Manager to execute a letter of intent to collaborate with surrounding cities to develop and implement a “watershed management program” for the Calleguas Creek Watershed was presented to the council. 

    The Los Angeles Regional Water Control Board sets pollutant limits that the city may allow to drain into its surface water systems, through authority originally granted via the Clean Water Act. According to the recently issued storm water permit for Ventura County, the city must monitor and report pollutant and bacterial levels for its “receiving water” – the water that flows into the Simi Arroyo. For the first time, severe financial penalties apply for exceeding pollutant levels. 

    Simi Valley was presented with two options for moving forward with its watershed management methods:

    1. Develop/implement its own compliance program. If the city chooses this option, the compliance with water pollution limits must be immediate, or face possible stiff fines for non compliance. 
    2. Per the Letter of Intent, to collaborate with other agencies to develop/implement a “Watershed Management Program.” If the city chooses this option, it has until September, 2023 to develop a compliance plan with its partnering agencies. Local water quality monitoring would continue in the meantime.

    The partnering agencies for Simi Valley include Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and the County of Ventura, all of which indicated their desire to proceed with option #2 – the Watershed Management Program. Simi Valley staff recommended that the city join with the other agencies to choose in developing the Watershed Management Program. 

    Further projects that may be needed with this option included building a water treatment plant, and/or the use of storm water capture and treatment devices, with capital investment levels expected to be “substantial.” According to staff, the estimated cost to develop the Calleguas Creek Watershed Management Program is estimated to be $800 thousand, to be shared by the participating agencies. 

    All participating agencies wanting to form the watershed agency must send a Letter of Intent, to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, by December 13, 2021. 

    During the question period by the city council, what can only be described as “fireworks” broke out, largely between the Mayor and Council Member Luevanos, after Luevanos asked a series of accusing and unrelated questions about the city’s water quality related to drinking water, among other things. Even the city attorney felt the need to interrupt the proceeding to ask everyone to try to stick to the issues on the agenda. 

    “My concern is telling a water purveyor in this city that he or she or that company is processing and selling contaminated water. I think that’s a broad statement and I think there’s a liability stuck with us with her saying that,” Mayor Mashburn said. Luevanos and Mashburn then talked over each other, as they did several times prior to that exchange, with the Mayor finally demanding of Luevanos, “STOP, STOP, STOP,” to her loud and fast talking over him.

    Mayor Mashburn

     In the final vote whether to send the letter of intent to form the Watershed Management Program, the vote passed, with all council members in support except Luevanos, who opposed because of her perceived concerns about the lack of water quality enforcement during the two years between now and implementation of the program.  

    The next Simi Valley City Council meeting will be on Monday, December 20, 2021, at 6:00 PM. The URL to watch the meetings back and to download a meeting agenda is https://toaks.primegov.com/public/portal.

     

     

    Kevin Harris

    Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists, and having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also an author and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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