San Diego Does Not Have the Money or Staff to Fix OB and Point Loma Street Lights … Nor Anybody Else’s

by on March 12, 2021 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Residents along Abbott Street in Ocean Beach have been complaining about street lights that need repair for a long time. So have residents near Sunset Cliffs Boulevard – especially since the pandemic as the cliffs have become a magnet for people and cars at night.

And now we find out the city just doesn’t have the money nor the staff to make the needed street light repairs.

City officials report that about 8% of the city’s 54,000 streetlights have open service notifications and are in need of repairs. A study by a local media group found there have been more than 5,000 complaints across the city about street lights from September 2020 through January of this year. The most complaints came from Point Loma, PB and downtown.

Financial advisors are telling the city council they need almost $264 million over the next 5 years to to install new streetlights, make electrical updates, and replace aging poles and fixtures.

Problems plaguing city residents include trying for more than a year to get a local street light repaired; the city’s Get It Done app not being effective and saying “in process” on problems for over 6 months after being reported; and streetlights that never turn off, unnecessarily using electricity during the day.

Newport Ave in OB got new street lights in 2015.

The Transportation and Stormwater Department, responsible for streetlights, face an aging infrastructure, staffing challenges due to COVID-19 and the sometimes complex nature of fixing streetlights.

inewsource reports:

Often, streetlight repairs are not as simple as changing light bulbs. “There is a diagnostic process, and then also the wiring’s underground,” said Anthony Santacroce, a Transportation and Stormwater Department spokesperson. “There’s a lot of variables associated with fixing streetlights, so that really adds to the length of it and furthermore adds to the confusion.”

When one light goes out, extensive repairs could be needed, he said. That’s because many of the city’s lights exist on circuits and have underground wiring. Much like a string of Christmas tree lights, when one goes out the entire series of lights could need to be fixed. When that happens, the solutions become complex and could take as long as road reconstruction or pipe replacement, Santacroce said.

Engineering, design, permits, staff time and funding issues all come into play. Streetlight repair costs also have been rising. The report published last month noted the average cost to install new streetlights is up from $25,000 per pole to $44,000.

Fixes have been slow in part due to staffing challenges, which have been significant during the pandemic, Santacroce said. About one in six city employees has had to miss work because they had COVID-19 or had to quarantine, according to city data provided last month, leaving many departments that handle city services short-staffed.

The city has 28 full-time streetlight positions. Of that, the department has five openings for electricians and one equipment operator opening. Another two positions are filled by employees with injuries, leaving just 20 staffers working full schedules. Retirements, time off due to the pandemic and retention problems have all affected the team, Santacroce said. The city has also lost some streetlight workers to other agencies that pay higher salaries, he said.

San Diego voters have been notorious for decades for rejecting city taxes to improve the infrastructure. The sparkling weather should be enough. Didn’t Newport Ave get a whole new string of street lights a mere 6 years ago?

So, what is the answer? Is there one?

Why not fix those that need repair within a more immediate clear timeline, and worry about the larger picture later?

Is privatization of our infrastructure the answer? Allow those who can afford it help sponsor individual street lights to get them fixed? Of course not!

Another tax?

Explore ways to make our street lights solar-powered? (If I can have solar-powered lights for my yard, why can’t the city do something similar?)

Let’s get our top engineers, scientists, electricians and community advocates together and figure this out. But maybe it’s just a simple money problem. Time to tax those “good actor” owners of short-term vacation rentals to help us pay for our services which they and their guests enjoy.



{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon March 12, 2021 at 11:54 am

The lights are out for months and they have no money to fix them yet somehow have the money to cut down numerous trees along this block. This morning I was able to stop them from cutting down our beautiful Tipuana tree that has shaded our home for years. I’m afraid they’ll just be back to try again. Over the past year we’ve probably lost a dozen or more trees along Abbott.


Frank Gormlie March 15, 2021 at 10:09 am

What? Why? Where is the group ‘Save Pt Loma Trees’? Where are our tree-huggers? Oh, maybe they’ve all been priced out of OB.


Geoff Page March 12, 2021 at 12:05 pm

Out sourcing. Use contractors. Using city crews to do almost anything is ridiculously inefficient. When they replaced the sewer lateral to my home, about 70 feet barely three feet deep, it took six city workers all day. A private contractor could have done it in a fraction of the time with two or three people. All of this kind of work needs to be outsourced to competitive bidders. The city should not be in the construction business art all.


Peter from South O March 12, 2021 at 1:14 pm

Proposed solution: If a telco wants to install a 5G node in an area they become responsible for a certain number of street lights in each direction, NSE&W of the installation.
Problem solved; repairs for free.


Paul Webb March 12, 2021 at 2:23 pm

While I agree, in part, with Geoff, one of the big problems I have seen in our fair city is the lax management of contractors by City staff.. When the City replaced the water and sewer mains in my area, I had to literally stand over the city’s resident engineer to insure that she was making the contractor perform satisfactory work. I know how hard it is to get contractors to perform, but the city does an abysmal job of it.

It really pains me to see taxpayer money paid out to contractors who do shoddy work.


Geoff Page March 12, 2021 at 2:34 pm

Yes, I agree with that, Paul, it’s a good point. That part of the problem also needs fixing. The city could invest it’s money in training and hiring competent people with what it would save from carrying inefficient construction and maintenance crews.

And I will say one thing about the shoddy work. Some of it is without a doubt. But, contractors work to the city’s expectations and they know what the city will accept. There is no reason to do more than that, so we have been getting all that a contractor is expected to do. If those expectations are raised, the work will improve.


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