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Coastal panel to weigh South Bay Substation move

The proposal to move the South Bay Substation in Chula Vista farther south on Bay Boulevard will be heard Thursday by the California Coastal Commission.

Nearly five months have passed since the California Public Utilities Commission approved San Diego Gas & Electric's application to demolish the substation at the site of the now demolished South Bay Power Plant, and build a new one in southwest Chula Vista. But a major regulatory hurdle remains with the Coastal Commission.

While the CPUC renders its decisions largely on need, the Coastal Commission is more likely to consider community values and visual aesthetics, two areas of disagreement among SDG&E, some Chula Vista officials and some who advocate a different design for the facility and its infrastructure.

The differing opinions prompted a series of public discussions. Some say it doesn't adhere to the city of Chula Vista's district policy for underground utilities along its bayfront.

At the Chula Vista City Council’s meeting in February, the public heard a proposed resolution from the council that would more firmly request underground lines in areas where the proposal had not included them.

The final resolution differed from a proposal drafted by the attorney representing Inland Industries, a property owner whose lot is next to the proposed build site. But the attorney, John Moot, said he was satisfied with the direction the council was moving, even if there were still areas of disagreement.

"I do think tonight we are on the same page," Moot said.

The Coastal Commission is scheduled to consider the project beginning at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Long Beach.

It's unknown whether the Coastal Commission will find enough value in a council-backed proposal known as the Bayfront Enhancement Fund Alternative. If fully adopted, it would simultaneously call for more high-voltage transmission line undergrounding and a combined $5 million contribution from SDG&E to two environmental endowments serving the South Bay area.

SDG&E had proposed the enhancement in comments to the project's environmental impact report, but never amended the actual project proposal to include it. CPUC eventually gave its approval of the project as proposed, with no Bayfront Enhancement Fund Alternative.

The utility has said that while it supported the enhancement proposal — and would abide by a decision from the Coastal Commission to include it should that be the ruling — it would have to limit itself in advocating for it before the Coastal Commission.

A majority of the Chula Vista City Council passed the February resolution for purposes of advising the Coastal Commission, more strongly expressing the council's already public support to bury more transmission lines and for the Bayfront Enhancement Fund Alternative.

Councilmembers Pat Aguilar, Mary Salas and Rudy Ramirez voted in favor of it. Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox and Councilwoman Pamela Bensoussan each said their votes against it stemmed from not wanting the substation's relocation — considered to be the first priority of the council — to be jeopardized or delayed.

Progress within the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan largely depends on the substation's relocation.

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