Historic Street Lighting

Almost 40 years ago, Burlingame Neighborhood Association (BNA) was created to save Switzer Canyon from development and led the way for the City of San Diego to pass an Open Space Ordinance—helping to protect many canyon lands across the city. BNA has since been working to preserve the historic character and charm of the neighborhood.

The City and associated utilities are in the process of undergrounding overhead utility lines throughout Greater North Park and will be replacing all the existing streetlights in Burlingame and adding a few additional streetlights, as required by current City Code.
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to install beautiful, period appropriate lighting that will enhance both the character and safety of our beloved neighborhood. Our Board has met with several City officials and researched other “historic Districts” that have opted for acorn lighting options (ie. Fern Street in South Park, Talmadge, Kensington etc.). We encourage you all to go to one of these neighborhoods and look at the acorn lights in person. We believe that they are a huge improvement over the City’s proposed standard “cobra” lights and the right look and feel for Burlingame.
If we do nothing, the existing wood telephone pole “cobra” lights will be replaced with larger, concrete pole “cobra” lights and additional “cobra” lights will be added throughout the neighborhood.
If the community votes to upgrade to the historic-style acorn lights, the community will pay the difference of the upgrade with the creation of a Maintenance Assessment District (MAD). Preliminary budget numbers are $250 to $187.50 per biannual property tax bill over 3 to 4 years (respectively).  Financial details are preliminary until we enter into the design component of the project.

BNA held a virtual meeting to gather feedback from the neighborhood and answer questions on May 26th at 7pm.

Frequently Asked Questions

Click the + icon next to the questions below to view the answers.
When is the utility undergrounding going to happen?
Our neighborhood was “funded” by the City Council in FY2020. Typically, after a project has been funded, the undergrounding process happens 4-5 years later.

*NEW* Will the utility undergrounding itself cost me more money?
Unless we choose to create a MAD to install historic style lighting, in most cases, no. Undergrounding is paid for by a surcharge on our utility bills that has been collected for years. It is the legal responsibility of the property owner to underground from the street to their house or business beginning at the property line. However, the utility companies will perform this work at no cost to the property owner as long as the property owner signs an agreement to allow utility companies on to their property. Otherwise, property owners are required to perform this work at their own cost.

*NEW* What utilities are part of the undergrounding project?
The City of San Diego works in collaboration with SDG&E, AT&T, Cox Communications and any other utility companies that are currently using the power poles, on all projects. All utilities on the above ground poles will be undergrounded at the same time.

*NEW* Will multiple trenches be required to underground utilities?
No. All utilities are required to utilize and shore a single trench.

*NEW* When will utilities be undergrounded?
Burlingame’s undergrounding has had budget allocated to complete the project. Current estimates are completion in approximately five years. Homes east of 32nd Street have not yet had budget allocated by City Council – there is no ETA on when that is scheduled to happen.

What is the process for undergrounding?
There are 4 steps to an undergrounding project.
Step 1 – Allocation. In this phase, City Council approves the initiation of new undergrounding projects. – COMPLETED
Step 2 – Environmental Planning. Undergrounding projects are required to complete an environmental review process after which an underground utility district is created through noticed public hearings to hear from residents and property owners that reside within the proposed utility district.
Step 3 – Design Phase. The design process includes a pre-design meeting to inform property owners and community members about the project and it’s design considerations. During this phase, owners are invited to a community forum to give input on the placement of utility boxes, streetlights, and other areas where project flexibility remains.
Step 4 – Construction. From breaking ground to removing poles and resurfacing the streets, construction takes place in the following four phases:
Phase 1 – Trenching or Tunneling
Phase 2 – Electric
Phase 3 – Removal from Service
Phase 4 – Resurfacing, Curb Ramps and Trees

What is the proposed Burlingame Lighting Project and its associated “MAD”?
Our neighborhood has a unique opportunity with the upcoming utility undergrounding for Burlingame. We have the cost-saving ability to improve our streetscape and increase the feeling of safety by combining the undergrounding with the installation of historic-style streetlights. These types of streetlights have been successfully added in historic neighborhoods such as Kensington, Mission Hills and Talmadge, among other San Diego communities – increasing the feeling of safety with better lighting, providing aesthetic appeal and beauty, and adding unique neighborhood character. Forming a Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) to fund the cost is the only way we can make this a reality for our neighborhood.

Upgrading the lighting during the undergrounding process will save $154,000 (approximately half the total cost) in cost because the City is committed to updating all existing street lights to new concrete pole cobra-style lights. The cost of the City standard cobra lighting serves as the City’s contribution to the project.

What is a Maintenance Assessment District (MAD)?
In a Maintenance Assessment District (MAD), property owners pay for and receive “special benefits” from improvements or activities that are above-and-beyond the “general benefits” provided by the City or the public-at-large.
With a MAD, property owners can approve the levy of assessment on properties within a designated area to fund the costs associated with providing these “special benefits.” Decorative street light improvements can confer “special benefits” to property owners by way of enhancing the neighborhood aesthetic and character. If successfully formed, owners of properties located within the MAD will pay an additional amount on their property tax bill specifically designated for the MAD. The money collected in the MAD is managed by the City and is required to be spent in the MAD under the guidelines of a Management Plan (developed with input from the community) and in conformity with an Engineer’s Report (prepared by an assessment engineer). Funds can ONLY be spent on items in the Engineer’s Report (in this case, street lighting upgrades).

What are the proposed boundaries of the Burlingame Streetlighting District?
The proposed MAD is slightly different from the planned undergrounding project. The reason for this is any benefiting property MUST be included in the MAD. (For example, homes on the east side of 32nd Street or the west side of 30th, these homes would benefit from the lights and are therefore required to be included in the process.)

All the homes shaded in gray on the below map will be included in the proposed MAD. From Switzer Canyon on the north to the south side of Kalmia on the south, to the east side of 30th Street and the east side of 32nd Street.

What is the cost for the upgraded historic-style lighting?
The MAD would cover the expense above the cost of the City standard concrete cobra light. The total project cost is currently estimated at $308,000.

Here’s how those numbers break down:
Standard Cobra light (fixture only) $5,500 – the city covers 100% of this cost
Decorative acorn light (fixture only) $13,000 (our cost $7,500)
Decorative acorn (fixture and circuit) $21,000 (our cost $?) (we are waiting for details from the City on the cost of circuitry for the four additional lights)

What is the timeline for this project?
Currently, we are currently in the “communication” phase where we are educating and reviewing the project with our neighbors. BNA has sent out a survey to everyone on the BNA email list as well as mailed surveys to property owners to solicit their initial feedback.

We held a virtual informational town meeting on May 26, 2021 to give a presentation and allow residents to ask questions. (A recording of the virtual meeting can be viewed here.) The City will then conduct a feasibility study and property owners can expect to receive a ballot from the City to approve or disapprove the project. The City would like to send ballots by Summer 2021.
The project would require a majority (50% + 1) weighted ballot* approval for formation of the MAD. If approved, design and construction for the first of two concurrent phases may begin as early as 2022. Construction is estimated to take five years.
* Each ballot is weighted according to the parcel’s assessment obligation (e.g., $1.50 assessment = 1.50 votes).

What happens if we do not approve the MAD to upgrade to historic-style acorn lights?
If we do nothing, the City will replace all the current lights with concrete pole cobra-style lights at no additional cost to property owners. They will also add four additional street lights to bring our street lights up to current city code.

What is the light output?
All lights, regardless of style have a City standard light output. The lights are designed to throw the light in a somewhat rectangular shape into the street, rather than a circular pattern that could be equally in the street and also in yards.

What will my property tax assessment be?
Property assessments for the first four years (“capital payback period”) are estimated to be in the $375 range per single-family residence per year. Non-residential assessments (if any) will vary by land use and will generally be assessed on per acre or per square-foot basis. Following the capital payback period, assessments will be reduced substantially to a maintenance level of service.

Will the assessment ever increase? When will it end?
The assessments may be indexed annually to keep pace with increases in the cost of service or maintenance. However, in no case will the assessments levied exceed the reasonable cost of providing the specifically identified services and establishment of a prudent reserve fund.

On-going maintenance, above the City standard, would also be included in the MAD, but could be in the range of $25-50 a year.

Who is responsible for the maintenance of the lights?
The City will remain responsible for all street work and street electrical, including repairs of lights and fixtures.

Do we have a choice of light fixture for this project?
The City has recently adopted a standard warm-LED light and pole fixture as presented in the photo example. Our neighborhood would have the choice of pole color – green, blue, or black.