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Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

Jun 10 2009

Streetlights: Defining the health, culture and vibrancy of a community

Published by at 9:05 pm under Energy & Technology Committee

Have you ever called in a burned out or flickering streetlight to City Light and were told that it would take six to eight months to repair—even a year? Have you called and were told the light would be repaired in a certain timeframe and it took much longer than expected or wasn’t fixed at all? For the last month, we have communicated with hundreds of residents who have told us their stories.

To fix the problem, on May 27, 2009 I announced my support of a solution to speed up street light repair by using $2.1 million that was allocated in the 2009-2010 general fund budget and allow for it to be spent earlier. By accelerating the work and assigning more crews on regular time to repair streetlights, City Light’s goal by the end of 2009 will be to respond to reported outages within 10 days.

Operation and maintenance of streetlights is a basic service that the City of Seattle pays City Light from its general fund. Seattle is basically a large customer and it pays a tariff rate designed to cover the costs to maintain and repair the street lights in a timely manner. The cost to light streets represents one of the largest components of a city government’s utility bill and, simply put, the bill has been paid.

To prevent City Light from becoming backlogged again, City Light will implement a group re-lamping policy which will allow City Light to repair lights in a sequential “phased” manner instead of repairing on a “run-to-fail” basis. City Light believes that the costs to respond to failed lights in a reactionary piecemeal approach is not as effective as a group re-lamping approach.

I do not believe we should allow a lag in street light repairs to exacerbate. I have heard accounts of darkened streets and increased burglaries and car prowls; accounts of people feeling uncomfortable walking down their own street in the evening; and drug deals occurring on dark corners where a streetlight should illuminate the scene. These are all examples of public safety issues and a citizens’ quality of life—we can do better. This is an issue that I feel strongly about and that is why we took the initiative to explore the issue further.

On May 20, 2009, my office identified the Seattle residents who complained about streetlights to gauge their satisfaction of City Light’s streetlight service. We are still compiling their responses and will produce it in a reportable format. Based on contacting thousands of people through phone calls, emails, and letters, the predominant opinion has been dissatisfaction with City Light’s response. We have also inquired about the level of customer service these citizens experienced in reporting their problem. The results of this work and City Light’s progress in this regard will be a topic of discussion at the July 15th meeting of the Energy and Technology Committee (ETC). Regarding the $2.1 million to fix the problem, on May 27, 2009, a joint press release was issued by the Mayor and I declaring our commitment to expedite the streetlight repairs. Let’s do better.

Below is the text of the press release referenced above.

SEATTLE –Mayor Greg Nickels announced today a proposal to allow Seattle City Light to ramp up its street light repairs in 2009.

“We are committed to replacing and fixing street light fixtures as a matter of public safety and good customer service,” Nickels said.

In April, City Light responded to the mayor’s call for no rate increase in 2009 and to declining revenue from its surplus power sales by cutting its 2009 operating and capital budgets. These cuts include substantial restrictions in the use of overtime that result in longer times to complete street light repairs and other services.

The city’s general fund pays City Light more than $9 million annually for the costs of building, operating, and maintaining streetlights. The mayor is proposing that $2.1 million allocated in the 2009-2010 general fund budget for street light repairs be spent earlier to speed up street lamp replacement.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Energy and Technology Committee supports the plan. “Proper street lighting enhances the safety and ambience of a thriving city and helps define its health, culture and vibrancy. This change is a customer-focused approach that provides cost-effective repair service to our valued residents and businesses.”

By accelerating its work and assigning more crews on regular time to repair street lamps, the utility’s goal by the end of 2009 is to respond to reported outages within 10 days. Once that standard is met, City Light will be able to maintain a consistent level of street light work through 2010. City Light also will proceed with the second phase of its “group relamping” project, which replaces all the streetlights in an area and puts streetlights on a scheduled, replacement program to reduce outages.

“The mayor’s action makes absolute sense and gives us a way to improve our streetlight service immediately,” said City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco.

Photo Credit: rriles, Flickr stream, via a Creative Common License.

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