The California Public Utilities Commission in March denied the city of Norco’s request to underground the entire Riverside Transmission Reliability Project. (Canva Images)

The Riverside City Council last week voted 4-3 to direct the city manager and city attorney to request Southern California Edison (SCE) reinitiate the complete construction and operation of its portion of the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project (RTRP), prompting members of the audience to briefly chant the word, “Shame,” before the meeting continued.

“This has been a long and emotionally-charged process,” Councilmember Jim Perry, who made the motion, said. “I believe we reached the point where a decision must be made by the city council. I think it’s time to continue with this approved project or start over with a new one.”

The vote followed a failed motion by Councilmember Steve Hemenway to bring in outside counsel to figure out exactly what the council was being asked to do and to evaluate the potential for an updated environmental impact report (EIR).

“Just to make sure that we’re not inadvertently agreeing and signing or moving forward with something that perhaps we need to be careful about,” he said. “I’m not sure I trust anyone at this point.”

The move came less than two months after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) denied a request by the city of Norco to underground transmission lines in and around River Trails Park along the Santa Ana River, prompting the city to seek a legislative solution.

“One of our local legislators recently introduced proposed legislation regarding the EIR process, and it appears to be unsuccessful,” Perry said, referencing the legislation. “At the same time, we have an existing project which is fully approved by all regulatory agencies, funded and ready to go.”

Councilmember Philip Falcone, who supported Perry’s motion, said he felt that the push to underground the project was not a viable alternative since adequate funding had not yet been secured.

“The word underground is not a Plan B; that’s a buzzword,” he said. “How do you get there? Where’s the money for that? The money is not there.” 

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However, Councilmember Chuck Conder said that there was federal funding for the undergrounding of the project, all he needed was for SCE to say how much it would cost to underground the entire project.

“Let us go to work in Congress,” he said. “We’ve got a senator and two congressmen that are chomping at the bit to help us do this, but we can’t give them a number and they look at me and they go, “Well, come back when you get a number.’”

Councilmember Clarissa Cervantes, who also supported Hemenway’s motion, said that she felt that with additional information the city could push the CPUC to reconsider having SCE underground the entire project.

“I do believe, truly, that Riverside is capable of doing anything we set our minds to, specifically as it comes to policy, as it comes to using that research related to infrastructure, and with the best interest of our communities, and I do believe if we stand together, if we’re able to move this forward that we can achieve and win this fight as well to have this revisited,” she said.

The project, which has been in the works for more than two decades, would increase capacity and reliability of the Riverside electric system by creating a second connection to the state power grid and allow the city to continue to bring new projects — both commercial and residential — online.

“I want this project underground, but it’s become apparent that that’s not what’s going to happen,” Councilmember Sean Mill said. “And I’m very sad about that, but it’s time that we move forward.”

The motion also directed the city manager to continue implementation of the city’s portion of the project and to start a system capacity analysis and present those findings to the Board of Public Utilities to address short-term system capacity limitations. 

A full recording of the meeting can be found here on the city’s website.

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Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.