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Planning Commission considers changes to utilities undergrounding requirements
The Planning Commission is considering changing the requirements for undergrounding utilities in infill developments, like Turlock Assisted Care going in on the corner of E. Main and Colorado. - photo by Journal file photo

The City of Turlock is looking to the Town of Yucca Valley in San Bernardino County as a template in creating a new policy regarding undergrounding utilities.

As part of updates to the City's Zoning Ordinance, the Planning Commission has been considering revisions to the requirement of all new developments to underground all utilities. The City has received many requests from developers to waive the requirement, however, the current zoning code is very "black and white," according to Development Services Director and City Engineer Mike Pitcock.

On Thursday, Deputy Director of Development Services Debra Whitmore presented to the Planning Commission the policies of six California cities when it comes to undergrounding utilities and information on California Public Utilities Commission Rule 20.

Rule 20 is a fee that is charged by a public utility and used to fund undergrounding projects in public areas. Many communities in California use Rule 20 funds for utility undergrounding projects in infill areas.

For Turlock to implement Rule 20, both the Turlock Irrigation District (which is the city's electric utility company) and the City of Turlock would have to hold public hearings.

"Rule 20 cities do not typically have development-based ordinances, just Rule 20," said Whitmore.

Out of the six cities' policies on undergrounding utilities reviewed, the Planning Commissioners found the Town of Yucca Valley's the most relevant to what they're looking for in Turlock.

Yucca Valley's policy allows an exception in undergrounding utilities for infill single family homes and multi-family residential complexes if existing overhead distribution lines serve adjacent lots.

It requires all subdivisions, commercial, industrial or institutional projects to underground existing distribution lines within the boundaries of the development, adjacent to the property, within 10 feet of the lot lines and any lines that are relocated.

Exceptions to the undergrounding requirement are allowed for temporary facilities or utilities, utilities in excess of 33,500kV, street light and traffic signal projects and for commercial developments where the distribution line is less than 200 feet.

Along with the Yucca Valley guidelines, the Planning Commission is also considering adding an exception to the requirement when the cost of  undergrounding utilities is 25 percent or more of the total cost of the project.

The commissioners said changing Turlock's requirement would give more definitive guidelines for City staff as they work with developers, while not discouraging infill projects.

"My biggest concern is making sure we can fill all the lots floating in town," said Commissioner Nick Hackler.

The Planning Commission is expected to continue discussions about updates to the City's utilities undergrounding requirement at their next meeting, set for 6 p.m. Jan. 7 at City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.