Beginning in March, many San Jose streets will look a little brighter as the city reconnects 900 streetlights that were shut off intentionally in 2008-2009 to save money, causing safety concerns in some neighborhoods.The San Jose City Council approved the action at its Tuesday, February 12, meeting as part of a mid-year 2012-2013 budget adjustment. At the same time, the city is also scrambling to repair lights darkened by copper wire thefts.
Council members appeared eager to approve the proposal to relight the 900 lights, which will cost $44,000 for equipment, materials and overtime pay to replace the lamps and fuses and an ongoing cost of $92,000 to pay for the electricity. The shut-off program saved the city about $77,000 a year in energy costs.
“This is something we’ve been receiving so many complaints about in the past few months” said Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, who represents District 7 in which 76 streetlights were turned off.
Davide Vieira, a resident of Little Portugal in East San Jose, was among residents who had complained about darkened areas of Alum Rock Avenue. He learned about the shutoff program when he reported unlit streetlight in his neighborhood.
“It’s wonderful that the city has decided to reconnect the 900 street lights,” he wrote in an email. “The impacted streets will soon be illuminated better, and that bodes well for public safety.”
The lights will be turned back on at the rate of 225 a month, starting with White Road, Tully Road, Alum Rock Avenue and Camden Avenue, Transportation Director Hans Larsen told the council.
The designated lights, culled from 62,000 across the city, are along arterial streets, including Santa Teresa Boulevard, Willow Street, King and Aborn roads and Bird, Camden, and Blossom Hill Avenues. By City Council district, the number of shut-off lights ranged from 13 in District 1 to 179 in District 8.
Along with relighting 900 streetlights, the city has been scrambling to replace lights that went dark from copper wire thieves, a growing problem during the past few years. There is a backlog of 85 lights to repair and a wait of about four to five months before crews can get to them, according to a November 2012 memo. A simple burned out bulb is usually replaced in a week or two.
The backlog is a concern of District 3 Councilmember Sam Liccardo. Copper wire thefts can affect multiple lights, creating sizeable dark spots in some areas of the city.
Repairing those lights is “most urgent for safety reasons,” Liccardo said. “There are man of those areas now that lack lights because of the challenges of getting copper wire repairs up and running. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on areas that are most crucial before turning lights on elsewhere?”
In the past year, thieves have pulled copper wire from streetlights at a rate of 14 a month, according to a city memo, to sell on the black market. Besides working with the San Jose Police Department to catch the thieves, city workers have been sealing lids to the service boxes to deter thefts.
A more significant deterrent is alerting the public to watch out for suspicious activity near streetlights and call 911, Diane Milowicki, DOT Division Manager, said in an interview.
“If someone appears to be working near a streetlight pole and there’s not a city truck around or the person is not in a field uniform with an orange vest and shirt with a city logo, we’re asking people to report that, “ she said. “No one else is authorized to work on a streetlight.”
City officials say the long-term solution to streetlight outages is the conversion of the yellow sodium vapor lights with energy-efficient, white-light emiting LED lights, a process that began last year with a $2.9 million federal grant to convert 2,100 lights.
To report a streetlight malfunction, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 794-1903 during business hours. Include the streetlight number on the pole, the location of the light and the nearest cross street and a name and daytime telephone number.