Santa Rosa turns darkened streetlights back on
In the dark days of Santa Rosa’s budget crisis, one of the most visible signs of the city’s financial challenges was its decision to turn off thousands of the city’s streetlights.
Between 2009 and 2013, the city either switched off or limited the run time of approximately 4,700 streetlights throughout Santa Rosa, nearly a third of the 15,500 in the city.
It was a controversial program, one that, despite saving the city more than $300,000 per year, was scaled back from its original goal of darkening 10,000 lights following pressure from residents and council members concerned about safety issues.
Now that the city’s budget picture has brightened significantly, it has committed to turn back on all 3,400 lights that were switched off and all 1,300 lights that were placed on timers, which automatically turned the lights off between midnight and 5:30 a.m.
The goal is to have all those lights back on by June 2016, an aggressive target that the City Council funded with an additional $600,000 from a mid-year budget surplus.
“I’m pleased that we’re able to restore one of our core services, which I consider the lighting of our streets to be,” Mayor John Sawyer said.
Residents seemed pleased with the move.
Diana Fleming, who lives on Rusty Drive off Fulton Road, watched a city worker install a new high-efficiency LED fixture in front of her house Monday.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Fleming said as she swept the curb. “It makes a big difference.”
When the city was faced with major budget shortfalls after the economy cratered in 2008, the public works department took two approaches to reduce its power bills.
One was to turn off streetlamps by removing the fuses or reducing their usage with timers, said Jason Nutt, the city’s new director of Transportation and Public Works.
The other was to upgrade the fixtures to more energy-efficient bulbs. That effort took more time, because of a lack of funds and the high cost of the latest lighting technologies, Nutt said.
The cost of LED bulbs has come down dramatically, however, from $750 per bulb in 2008 to between $150 and $250 per head today, he said.
In the intervening years, the city opted for another efficient technology, called induction lighting similar to florescent lights, for its major intersections.
But the durability of LED technology combined with the plunging cost has allowed the city to accelerate its transition from the high-pressure sodium bulbs to LEDs.
So instead of just turning the old bulbs back on or removing the timers, city crews will be upgrading the bulbs to LEDs at the same time, Nutt said.
Much of cost of such work is in the labor, so if the city is going to take the time to send an electrician up in a bucket to work on a light, it might as well do the LED upgrade at the same time, Nutt said.
“It just makes sense to touch everything once,” he said.
The city has just finished a major push to upgrade about 2,500 LED lights in the downtown, Proctor Terrace, Burbank Gardens, Cherry Street, St. Rose and Junior College neighborhoods.