Deborah Brundy

Volume 71, Issue 5, 1249-1282

After years of enduring devastating loss of property and life, toxic air quality and intermittent power shutoffs, the public is primed for dramatic change to ensure a safe and resilient power grid. To achieve this, Californians are demanding that utilities bury the wires. As the court in Town of Tiburon v. Bonander emphasized over a decade ago, “it requires no independent research to support the self-evident conclusion that placing overhead utility wires underground will reduce the risk of weather-related power outages as well as the safety risk posed by downed utility poles and lines.” Wholesale undergrounding is not the cure-all to California’s megafires, but the evidence demonstrates that a wholesale review and revision of California’s regulatory system for permitting and implementing undergrounding is required. This Note brings together the available research on undergrounding in the backdrop of climate change and its social, environmental and economic impacts on California. The findings establish that a “holistic evaluation of costs and benefits” substantiates the public’s desire for undergrounding. The outsized benefit of lowering the risk and costs of megafires for the state and its citizens demands that California take action to cause utilities to underground power lines wherever feasible.