Moving electricity from one place to another doesn't have to be unsightly. What would Walt Disney do if he was in charge of designing electrical infrastructure?
That was the reaction from Kurt Sullivan, vice chair of the Midway Community Planning Advisory Group, when San Diego Gas & Electric unveiled a plan to build a 1.3-acre electrical substation at the corner of Kettner Boulevard and Vine Street, just east of Lindbergh Field.
Sullivan's advice? “Disney it up,” he said at the group's monthly meeting on September 17.
“I think it's incredibly ugly for such a key area that's going to be a gateway to our city,” Sullivan said when shown a rendering that features a ten-foot-tall concrete wall that would form a fortress-like rectangle around the facility.
With efforts underway to beautify the gritty, industrial Pacific Highway corridor, as well as the proximity to adjacent redevelopment of Lindbergh Field’s northern half, it makes no sense to “just plop an industrial yard in our area,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan called on SDG&E to go beyond the minimum and get creative.
“I'd take that wall high enough so you couldn't see anything behind it, and make it look like a historic storefront in early San Diego,” Sullivan said. “Something whimsical; something that promoted tourism.”
But the costs of substations are borne by ratepayers, and the California Public Utilities Commission, which must sign off on the final design, likes things cheap, said SDG&E spokesperson Claudia Valenzuela.
“When we do the 'Disney effect,' it adds costs,” she said.
Chris Bolton, SDG&E's project engineer, said the use of low-profile equipment would reduce the visual impact.
“We have gone above and beyond in terms of aesthetics," said Bolton. "If you're at grade, you'll barely see the top” of the equipment inside.
SDG&E already has four substations that serve the airport, downtown, and surrounding areas, but they are aging or reaching capacity. The Vine Street substation is needed to improve reliability and allow better maintenance to the other substations, Bolton said.
There is a potential wrinkle: the California High Speed Rail Authority is known to dislike the location, Valenzuela said. But SDG&E will not consider moving it because the utility purchased the land in 1976 for the purpose of building a substation. The 1.5-acre site hasn't been needed for that purpose until now, and it's currently leased to Park 'N Fly, an airport parking-lot company, she said.