Jul 28 2021

Major Undergrounding by PG&E to Mitigate Wildfire Risk

Piedmonters have long advocated undergrounding of wires as a primary interest to improve community appearance and energy reliability. Now they wonder if this major non-urban undergrounding project will delay urban projects.

Multiple Year Undergrounding 10,000 Miles of PG&E Power Lines in Highest Fire-Threat Area .

Undergrounding also reduces Public Safety Power Shutoffs during dry, windy conditions and requires less vegetation management.

CHICO, Calif. — Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) today announced a major new initiative to expand the undergrounding of electric distribution power lines in High Fire Threat Districts (HFTD) to further harden its system and help prevent wildfires. The new infrastructure safety initiative, announced today in Butte County by PG&E Corporation CEO Patti Poppe, is a multi-year effort to underground approximately 10,000 miles of power lines.

PG&E’s commitment represents the largest effort in the U.S. to underground power lines as a wildfire risk reduction measure.      PG&E  July 21, 2021

Today, PG&E maintains more than 25,000 miles of overhead distribution power lines in the highest fire-threat areas (Tier 2, Tier 3 and Zone 1)—which is more than 30% of its total distribution overhead system.

Read more here

Nov 4 2017

City Council Refinancing Undergrounding Bonds Monday, Nov 6

Monday, November 6, 7:30 p.m., City Hall

The City Council will hear and consider approving a first reading of two resolutions to issue City of Piedmont Limited Obligation Refunding Bonds not to exceed $4,115,000.  The original bonds were for the expense of putting utility wires underground in three neighborhoods of Piedmont.

Questions raised by the public:

  1. Will the approximate $2.4 paid for by the City to cover the costs overruns of the Piedmont Hills Undergrounding District be a part of the refunding toward reimbursing the City?
  2. Will any of the refunding proceeds go toward returning balances to the PG&E funds for undergrounding in other areas of the City?
  3. How are the City administrative and legal costs to execute the bond refunding included in the bond refunding?
  4. Is there a guarantee that the City will not be responsible for any bond failures or costs, including administrative or legal?

Agenda item 5.

Take the following actions related to the refinancing of limited obligation bonds issued
for the Dudley/Blair/Mountain/Pacific/Hagar & Vicinity Undergrounding Assessment District; Wildwood/Crocker Avenues Undergrounding Assessment District; and the
Piedmont Hills Underground Assessment District:
Staff recommends that the City Council take the following action:
Approve a resolution appointing a finance team for the issuance, sale and delivery of City of Piedmont Limited Obligation Refunding Bonds and adopting a Debt
Management Policy as required by state law.
Conduct a first reading of Ordinance 736 N.S., which authorizes the issuance, sale and delivery of limited obligation refunding bonds not to exceed $4,115,000.
Over seven years ending in 2009 the Council authorized the creation of three Undergrounding Assessment Districts in the following areas of the City:
Dudley/Blair/Mountain/Pacific/Hagar & Vicinity Undergrounding Assessment
District Limited Obligation Improvement Bonds, Series 2002-A,
Wildwood/Crocker Avenues Undergrounding Assessment District Limited
Obligation Improvement Bonds, Series 2005-A, and
Piedmont Hills Underground Assessment District Limited Obligation Improvement Bonds Series 2009- A.
Read the staff report HERE.
Feb 23 2016

OPINION: Taxpayer Cost for Private Undergrounding District Estimated at $1,806,845

I estimate that taxpayer expenditures total $1,806,845   (taxpayer cost estimate updated on Feb. 26, 2016 to $1,640,000 -see comment below) directly related to the Piedmont Hills Undergrounding District (“PHUD”). This is public money for private benefit as Appeal Courts have found in other cases. As litigation is concluded, it seems appropriate to close the undergrounding debacle with transparency and not bury it in bedrock. I base my total on the following direct expenses and credits:

  •  Nov. 16, 2009, taxpayer cost to repair Crest Road: $275,000
  • Dec. 12, 2009, Council gives $1,004,832
  • Feb. 6, 2010, Council gives $1,127,013
  • Litigation expense up to Sept. 30, 2012 is $118,739
  • I estimate additional litigation cost at $298,260 to Feb. 2016.

I put a letter in to City Council asking for the total litigation cost with no response. I speculate the $417,000 Harris settlement covers litigation cost. Credits include $917,000 litigation settlements and PHUD offered to contribute $100,000.

$616,491.50 cost for another private underground district –

Additionally there is $300,000 in City litigation cost plus $316,491.50 settlement cost for $616,491.50 total taxpayer expense for the neighboring Sea View Undergrounding District that fortunately did not go forward. How many millions more would we have spent excavating bedrock next to PHUD had Bert and Deborah Kurtin not brought suit to stop that District?

A Feb. 6, 2010, City Council Resolution states: “WHEREAS, while the City Council requests that any funds expended by the City for completion of the construction project that are not recovered from legal actions against responsible parties be contributed by residents of the District.”

There is no action on or acknowledgement of this resolution.

This June a 30% higher parcel tax will be put before voters.

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Feb 22 2016

Undergrounding Lawsuits Come to an End

City regains $917,000 out of over $2 million – 

Over 5 years ago, City Council members were suddenly informed about construction cost overruns for installation of underground utilities in the private utility district known as the Piedmont Hills Underground Assessment District.

To complete the underground work and litigate the matter cost the City was well over $2 million.  The final cost arising from the problem is not known at this publishing.

The City brought litigation against two engineering firms, Robert Gray and Associates and Harris and Associates, who were responsible for the underground project design work.  Settlement with Gray was $500,000 and combined with the $417,000 Harris settlement equals $917,000. 

The City in approving the private utility district contracts assumed the project risks for the private project, which proved to be financially consequential.  The plans had not indicated the large amount of rock encounter in the excavations resulting in significant additional cost to complete the project. Various individuals and entities were considered to be potentially culpable in the matter.  Known legal action was taken only against Gray and Harris.

Press release from City:

City Announces Settlement with Harris & Associates

At its regular meeting of February 16, 2016, the City Council approved a settlement agreement with Harris & Associates, the second of two engineering firms that the City had sued to recover costs associated with the Piedmont Hills Underground Assessment District. The City previously settled with the other engineering firm, Robert Gray & Associates.

The City filed suit against engineering firm Harris & Associates in April 2011, alleging causes of action for both breach of contract and professional negligence related to Harris & Associates’ engineering practices. The agreement provides that Harris & Associates will pay the City $417,000 to settle the suit.

“This settlement brings an end to our legal disputes relating to the Piedmont Hills Undergrounding Project, provides the City with partial compensation, and allows the City to put this unfortunate chapter in our history behind us and to focus our attention on Piedmont’s bright future,” said Mayor Margaret Fujioka.

“This settlement is the result of protracted negotiations with Harris & Associates and their attorneys,” said City Attorney Michelle Marchetta Kenyon. “While the attorneys representing us in this case would have worked tirelessly to prevail in a lengthy trial, settling this case best conforms to the City’s long term interests.”

Read the staff report and correspondence on the settlement with Harris & Associates

<<<  To read a full accounting of PCA reporting on the subject, click “Undergrounding”on the left side of this page and scroll down. 

Feb 6 2016

Planning Commission: Undergrounding of Utilities near 408 Linda Avenue Removed from Agenda and Project Reviews for Annual City Design Awards

The developers of the 408 Linda Avenue condominium project have asked that their request to eliminate utility undergrounding of overhead utilities serving the properties across Linda Avenue not be considered at the Monday, February 8, 2016, the Planning Commission meeting.  The condominiums are under construction on the site of the former PG&E building site next to the Oakland Avenue bridge.  In the past, the issue has proven to be controversial.

The agenda had listed the item as:


408 Linda Avenue

“An application for Minor Amendments to an Approved Tentative Map has been submitted by Piedmont Station LLC, project developers of the Piedmont Station Townhouse development proposed at 408 Linda Avenue (the site of a former PG&E Substation). The Application seeks to modify the utility plan of the approved Vesting Tentative Map so that overhead utilities serving the properties across Linda Avenue remain in place on the project’s Linda Avenue street frontage, and to modify Condition SUB-5 placed on the approval of Vesting Tentative Map (Application #11-0062).”

The Planning Commission meeting is an open public meeting and broadcast live on Cable Channel 27 and live streamed on the City website.

The Planning Commission annually presents design awards to selected projects constructed during the prior year.

The Regular Session  of the Commission will start at 5 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers and will be suspended for a “Special Session,” open to the public, in the City Hall Conference Room at approximately 6:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. during the time when the Commission takes their dinner break. During their break, the Commission will review projects completed in 2015 for the City’s annual Design Awards program, and will select winners for the March 14th Design Awards Presentation and Reception.

The “Special Session” will not be recorded or broadcast.  The Regular Session will resume immediately after the Special Session dinner break.


Feb 15 2015

City Council Feb. 17: Undergrounding Lawsuit, Recreation Outreach, Garbage Services Audit, Contract and Bidding Ordinance, Drainage on Highland Avenue

The Piedmont City Council February 17 agenda includes further closed session consideration of the City’s on-going lawsuit against engineers involved in Piedmont’s $2+ million private undergounding expense.

Piedmont has continued to improve contracting procedures.

With the encouragement of Mayor Margaret Fujioka, laws and polices governing purchasing and contracting have been updated to correct many years of inconsistent actions. 02/17/15 – Approval of the 2nd Reading of Ord. 716 N.S. Changing the Thresholds for Informal and Formal Bidding Requirements into Conformance with Current Best Practices

Also, on the agenda is a Recreation Department outreach program including a community survey and Town Hall style meetings to learn about recreation needs, programs and ideas.  Piedmont’s new Recreation Director Sara Lillevand and the Recreation Commission have proposed a community outreach plan.  The information gathered is intended to assist in future program designs for all users new and established. The community will be encouraged to weigh in on all recreation issues including the pool, grassy playfields, programs for seniors, etc. 02/17/15 – Receipt of a Report Regarding the Recreation Department’s Community Outreach Project

Drainage problems on Highland Avenue between Park Way Avenue and Moraga Avenue have persisted for years.  Sand bags have been frequently seen in the area as attempts were made to control storm water.  The trees in the area have caused the sidewalks and gutters to be damaged.  Some diseased trees will be removed.  The project to correct the problem will cost $278,650.  02/17/15 –  Consideration of the Award of the Highland Avenue Park Way Drainage Improvement Project to JJR Construction, Inc. in the Amount of $217,969.25 and Authorize an Overall Construction Budget of $278,650 and Authorization for the City Administrator to Sign the Contract

After considerable discussion at the February 2 Council meeting, the Council decided to go forward with $51,000 + performance audit of the services and billing by Richmond Sanitary Services, Piedmont’s solid waste collector.  Some residents were concerned by news of neighboring cities charging a lesser rate for services. Explanations for Piedmont’s fees included Piedmont’s hilly terrain, extra pick up services for bulk and e waste, lack of commercial properties, and additional charges for those using backyard services. 02/17/15 – Consider an Agreement with R3 Consulting Group Inc. in the Amount of $51,300 for the Billing and Performance Audit for Richmond Sanitary Services and Review of the Franchise Amendments Requested by Richmond Sanitary Services

Jan 15 2015

Undergrounding Litigation and Appointment of City Attorney

The City Council meeting of Tuesday, January 20, 2015 starts at 5:15 p.m. with interviews of applicants for the new volunteer Information Technology (IT) Committee to advise the Council on technological directions. This segment of the Council meeting will likely not be televised, but will be open to the public in the Council Chambers at 120 Vista Avenue.

The Council will adjourn to the City Hall Conference Room for its closed session beginning at 7:00 p.m.

b. CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL – Existing Litigation (Gov Code § 54956.9(a)

Case Name: City of Piedmont v. Harris & Associates, Robert Gray Associates

This case concerns Piedmont’s long time litigation against engineers in the undergrounding debacle that cost taxpayers over two million dollars when rock was discovered while digging trenches.

At 7:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, the Council will appoint Michelle Marchetta Kenyon as City Attorney of the City of Piedmont under a  contract with her and her law firm Burke, Williams, and Sorensen, LLP for City Attorney Services.

In a change from prior arrangements for legal services, City Administrator Paul Benoit is recommending a retainer contract rather than an hourly charge for services.  The cost is $240,000 per year for the retainer.

Read the entire City Attorney recommendation and contract terms by clicking below.


Click here to read the entire agenda.

The Regular agenda segment of the City Council meeting will be televised on Channel 27 KCOM, live streamed and archived on the City website.  Click the link below to view the Council meeting:  http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/video/

Jun 23 2014

Undergrounding Law Suit Still Pending

Years have passed and there remains no resolution to issues surrounding the undergrounding debacle costing Piedmont taxpayers over $2 million. The City has filed law suits against the City’s engineers in an attempt to recover the lost millions. “The Court has ordered the parties to engage in settlement discussions, and a mediation likely will be scheduled this summer.” Attorneys representing the City, Lombardi, Loper and Conant, LLP, “anticipate that the trial date ultimately will be in Spring 2015.

The following information is from the City:

The City of Piedmont’s case against Robert Gray & Associates and Harris & Associates, Inc. currently is in the pre-trial phase of litigation known as “discovery.”  The parties have been exchanging written information and documents, and have completed multiple key depositions.  Attorneys representing the City expect to complete all necessary depositions and written discovery in the next few months.

The Court has ordered the parties to engage in settlement discussions, and a mediation likely will be scheduled this summer.  While the Court has not yet set a trial date, attorneys for the City anticipate that the trial date ultimately will be in Spring 2015.

Following direction from the City Council, the following documents have been posted related to the civil suit against the engineers for the Piedmont Hills Underground Assessment District.  Click on each item to see the full document:

More information on the case is available from the Superior Court of California, County of Contra Costa, My Court Case web site. On March 21, 2013, the California Court of Appeal sided with the City of Piedmont in a procedural motion in its suit against the two engineering firms who designed the Piedmont Hills Undergrounding Assessment District. The Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that the City’s filing of its suit in Superior Court was indeed proper and that arbitration was not mandated by the City’s contract with its engineers. The case will now go back to Superior Court and will be tried on its merits. No trial date has been set.

Mar 30 2013

Court of Appeal Sides With Piedmont in Procedural Motion in Undergrounding Lawsuit

Litigation with Harris and Gray returns to trial court – 

Legal procedures continue as the City of Piedmont attempts to recover funds spent on the Piedmont Hills Undergrounding Assessment District (PHUAD) established for undergrounding of utilities.  The City is charging two engineering firms with liability for the over $2.4 million spent to complete the project after rock was discovered in the area. > Click to read more…

Nov 20 2012

Undergrounding Law Suit Continues Against Engineers

The City of Piedmont has recently updated available legal documents associated with the lawsuit against consulting engineers to the Piedmont Hills Underground Utility District (PHUUD).

The cost overruns and street collapse arising from the private undergrounding of utility services in the Glen Alpine and Sotelo Avenues area have resulted in City General Fund expenditures of approximately $2. 5 million on behalf of the PHUUD.   Legal documents can be viewed here.  The City is hoping some of the loss can be recovered through the litigation.