By Janice Rombeck
The money-saving measure is not popular with some residents who question the location of the shut-off lights and express concerns over an increase in crime in the darkened areas.
And with a looming $90 million shortfall in the 2011-2012 budget, Department of Transportation officials could look again at a proposal left out of the current budget that would have shut off 6,000 of all 62,000 lights.
“Having the lights shut off in any location is not where we want to be,’’ said Kevin O’Connor, transportation’s director of infrastructure maintenance. “I wish we could turn all the lights on. We just don’t have the money to keep paying for the electricity.”
The Streetlight Shutoff Program, which saves the city $77,000 a year in energy costs, received little attention during the 2008-2009 budget process, and only about 170 complaints when the lights were turned off by the end of 2008. The city’s electricity bill is about $3.5 million a year for the streetlights.
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. Eighty lights were shut off in District 5, which includes the Alum Rock Area.
“There are some major streets that took some major hits,” said resident Davide Vieira, who learned about the shutoff program after he reported lights out on Alum Rock Avenue, including 13 bus stops. He and his neighbors were concerned about a rise in prostitution on streets intersecting with Alum Rock Avenue where lights were no longer lit.
View CSJ disconnected street lights in a larger map
After a closer look, O’Connor said his inspectors discovered 12 lights on Alum Rock Avenue that should not
have been turned off, and seven that had not been reported to Pacific Gas and Electric for credit. The 12 were turned back on as well as lights at 13 bus stops.
“We did make some mistakes on shutting those off,” O’Connor said.
That’s not the case across town on Bird Avenue, where 14 lights will stay off, including near the railway bridge that crosses Bird Avenue near Virginia Street. Nearby resident Dan Erceg says residents started seeing more graffiti after the lights were turned off.
“Bird already is not a very safe pedestrian corridor,” he said. “We’re getting more graffiti than we were getting.”
Along with other resident, Erceg also is concerned about a lack of public meetings and input from residents before the program was approved. “They gave us no notice at all,” he said, adding that public officials should have talked to resident about graffiti targets and trouble spots before selecting lights to shut off.
The San Jose Police Department weighed in on the locations as well as the Redevelopment Agency and the Office of Economic Development, according to a 2008 memo from then Department of Transportation
Director Jim Helmer and former Police Chief Rob Davis.
The Agency and OED has asked the transportation officials to make sure the program didn’t include shutting off lights that would have a negative effect on economic development, including industrial and major retail centers areas. For example, businesses may not want to locate in an area where half the lights are out.
“That pushed us more into neighborhoods,“ O’Connor said.
To report a burned-out streetlight, contact the San Jose Department of Transportation.