Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

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Jul 21 2009

Shared Leadership: A Voice from the Past

In May and June, our office conducted an aggressive outreach to hundreds of City Light Customers to gauge their satisfaction and experience with streetlight repairs. Our research indicated there were approximately 4,000 of the 80,000 streetlights in need of repair. Night visibility and safety is an issue I am passionate about. I placed this issue on our agenda at the July 15, 2009, Energy and Technology Committee (ETC) meeting. I wanted City Light’s top management to actually hear the real-life, common experiences that our citizens are having regarding their lights. I began the discussion by informing City Light that the streetlight on my neighborhood’s corner had been out for nearly two years as evidenced by its on and off flickering. We provided feedback regarding how customers were treated by City Light when they called in failed lights; how many customers did not realize they had to complain to have their streetlights fixed; and, how effective City Light was perceived by customers regarding their efforts.

Superintendent Carrasco and Pam Johnson, Officer of Customer Service and Energy Delivery, were at the table to receive our feedback and discuss solutions. A citizen named Ralph Smith testified during public comment. I found his insight so intriguing I invited him to have a seat at the committee table. Mr. Ralph Smith is a City Light retiree who once headed the streetlight division. While he asked direct questions on streetlight repair, a great discussion ensued about how streetlight maintenance was once handled and how it is handled now. This discussion can be viewed at: Mr. Smith described how he developed the utility pole numbering system (among other things) and was perplexed on how the current streetlight repair system seems to be inefficient given the fact that City Light now has so many more crews than he supervised. This discussion brought to light how we must not lose common sense in developing solutions to basic problems. I informed Superintendent Carrasco and Ms. Johnson that the pole numbering system seems to be “screwed up” by virtue of the fact that there are poles on separate ends of town with the same numbers. Furthermore, some poles have three different numbers and many have two different numbers serving different purposes and the average citizen would not know which one was the streetlight number. This complicates matters for citizens who call in the outages. Mr. Smith made it clear to all of us that the streetlight number is the yellow, vertical number and indicated where it should be placed on the pole. (See diagram.)

I am confident that City Light is on track to rectify the streetlight situation. We have shifted $2.1 million in funds to address the backlog and modified our “burn-to-fail” policy with a phased group re-lamping effort designed to replace lights on a predetermined schedule. By the end of the year, our goal is to have a 10-day repair turn cycle the norm, not the exception. I am equally grateful to every citizen who called, wrote or emailed their concerns. This dialogue helps the Council and City Light work to maximize the quality, sustainability, visibility and safety of the Seattle City Light streetlight system for years to come. Thank you, too, Mr. Smith.

To report a streetlight problem:

To follow-up after reporting a streetlight problem:

  • If you live north of Denny Way, call (206) 615-0600
  • If you live south of Denny Way, call (206) 386-4200
  • Send an email to

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