EDITOR’S NOTE – Before becoming editor of San Juan Capistrano Patch, Penny Arévalo served on a focus group for San Diego Gas & Electric and saw early plans to upgrade the local substation and power poles in the area. For her service, she received $75.
The City Council passed a strongly worded resolution Tuesday night, demanding San Diego Gas & Electric drop a plan to upgrade power lines and a substation near downtown San Juan Capistrano unless the utility can address and neutralize every environmental concern the project would pose.
In a two-hour discussion, SDG&E officials described their project as . They said the overhaul was necessary to provide reliable electrical service to customers throughout South Orange County.
But council members weren’t buying it.
“Move the hub away from our downtown. It would absolutely devastate our downtown,” said Councilwoman Laura Freese.
“It’s difficult to love this project,” agreed Mayor Larry Kramer, an electrical engineer by profession who asked pointed questions of SDG&E officials, who couldn’t always supply answers. He said he would prefer the utility bury the lines and substation.
Technically, the city doesn’t have a lot of say in the project, which will go before the California Public Utilities Commission for approval.
The project calls for demolition of a building constructed in 1918 – one the city has defined as a “building of distinction” and historical significance –and replace it with two buildings about 45 feet high and more equipment behind them. The project would effectively double the substation’s capacity, said Duane Cave, external affairs director for SDG&E.
In addition, taller utility poles would replace some of the wooden electrical poles throughout town as a new line handling 230 volts makes its way from near across Juliana Farms, , Rancho Madrina homes, a portion of the Marbella Country Club and then across the 5 Freeway to the substation, a 5-acre property that fronts Camino Capistrano at Calle Bonita.
“We’re talking about destroying a historic building,” said Councilman John Taylor. He noted that he owns two historic buildings and wasn’t allowed to demolish them. “I don’t think it should be an option for SDG&E either.
“You came here a long time ago. Maybe it’s time to say good-bye and find another spot,” Taylor added.
SDG&E expects to submit its proposal on April 30, complete environmental impact reports by next year and hopes for approval by the end of 2013, Cave said.
Even so, he said he was disappointed by the council’s action Tuesday.
“We’ve been working with the community for a long time. I feel they’ve been swayed by disinformation,” Cave said. Still, “we’re ready to work with them and move forward.”
Several residents spoke out against electromagnetic fields they said would increase with more power surging through the lines. They said they feared for their safety as some believe EMFs lead to childhood leukemia and brain tumors in adults.
“I do believe these risks are very real, and I say: Why risk it?” said resident Kim Lefner.
“The proposal threatens the safety, welfare and long-term health of too many of our San Juan Capistrano residents,” said Deborah Smith, who referenced a .
Councilman Derek Reeve penned the resolution (see PDF attachment above) because he wanted to send a message that the city stands together as a “united front.”
It says in part: "SDG&E's proposal 'Reliablity Project' negatively impacts the quality of life for this community while its benefits principally accrue to other cities where the additional substation capacity should be more logically located."
The motion passed 4-0, with Councilman Sam Allevato recusing himself from the discussion because his homeowners association owns land that SDG&E uses as an easement for its power lines.
The council also passed a motion to form an to come up with a design that would be more in character with the town's historic nature.