San Diego Gas & Electric provides power to millions of customers throughout Southern California. It also powers up city and county coffers throughout the region, thanks to more than $110 million in property taxes it paid during the last fiscal year.
That amount makes the utility the top taxpayer in San Diego County. It paid more than the next eight taxpayers with the biggest bills combined. Since fiscal year 2003-2004, SDG&E has paid $814 million in property taxes.
SDG&E’s tax bill accounted for 2 percent of all the fiscal year 2015-2016 property taxes collected so far in the county. That’s double what the company’s share of local taxes was 10 years ago.
The reason is simple: It owns a lot of land.
“Consistently (SDG&E is) one of the highest taxpayers in the Southern California area because of all the assets they own,” said Dan McAllister, San Diego County treasurer and tax collector.
Records from the county recorder and assessor’s office analyzed by inewsource found 562 land parcels that SDG&E owns in the county. That includes 156 just in the city of San Diego.
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Those parcels include large, seemingly empty plots in rural parts of East County, as well as narrow strips of land with power lines. There are also multiple energy substations in neighborhoods.
“SDG&E does have some vacant property that is held for future use and routinely evaluates it,” said Hanan Eisenman, a spokesperson for the company.
Although utility companies have unique permits and regulations, they operate like any for-profit business.
“They’re not nonprofits,” McAllister said, “and they’re not government structures so they’re not exempt from taxes.”
In public filings, Sempra Energy, the parent company of SDG&E, stated it owns 161 substations in San Diego, Imperial and Orange counties. It also owns natural gas-fired power plants in Escondido, Miramar and El Cajon.
“SDG&E has various parcels in the community that contain our operating centers and critical facilities, such as gas and electric system lines and pipe,” Eisenman said.
During the 2015 calendar year SDG&E reported $587 million in earnings, out of $4.2 billion in operating revenues.
Crème de la crème
SDG&E paid the most, but it’s not the only San Diego business with a hefty tax bill. The top 10 taxpayers included familiar names in technology, hospitality and real estate.
The second largest taxpayer was Qualcomm Inc., at $23.3 million. Most of the company’s land is in Sorrento Valley, where the company is headquartered.
The trust of the late philanthropist Conrad Prebys paid $7.3 million last fiscal year, joining Kilroy Realty LP and Irvine Co. in the top 10. Irvine Co. owns 71 parcels in the county, including the One America Plaza in downtown San Diego.
Some of the top taxpayers own just one or two valuable properties. And some of those are iconic.
BSK del Partners LLC paid $7.8 million. It owns the Hotel del Coronado. On the other side of the peninsula is the Marriott Coronado Island Resort & Spa, Host and Hotel LP’s only property in San Diego. It was enough to net a $9.6 million tax bill for the company.
San Diego visitors hoping to hit all the top taxpayer landmarks could finish their trip with the stores at the Fashion Valley Mall LLC’s eponymous shopping center. That Mission Valley property racked up a neat $6 million tax bill.