The city will pay Southern California Edison to convert 180 of the utility’s street lights to light-emitting diode bulbs from high-pressure sodium bulbs. Santa Barbara will also replace 77 of its own high-pressure sodium lights with the LEDs.
In addition to replacing the existing lights, the city will pay SCE to install 14 new LED lights, attached to existing power poles that currently do not have street lights, along Cota, Haley, Indio Muerto and Salinas streets.
The $270,000 project has already begun and is expected to be completed by October.
“We need to do something that will help protect pedestrians and give people a sense that there’s more safety in the area,” said James Dewey, the city’s facilities and energy manager.
The light replacement project comes after years of requests and calls for the city to pay more attention to the needs of Eastside residents. From a lack of street and pedestrian lighting and a need for more bus stops, to wanting more bicycle lanes and better sidewalks and paths for walkability, residents have long sought more attention from municipal leaders.
In 2013, the city approved an Eastside Neighborhood Transportation Management Plan that includes 28 strategies and projects to enhance mobility and traffic safety. In that plan it was projected that $11 million would be needed to address all of the Eastside’s lighting needs.
At an April 2013 workshop, Eastside residents ranked lighting as their No. 1 most wanted improvement. Transportation manager Browning Allen said in a staff report after that workshop that “it is likely that funding for lighting installation will need to be addressed through smaller projects over the long term.”
The city plans to pay for the project through one-time general fund money.
Dewey said that although the city is not installing many new lights, the LEDs are more “light efficient.” The high-pressure sodium lights cast a “golden hue,” he said, but LEDs are more effective at rendering color. Dewey said the LEDs have a color-rendering index of over 90, which is very close to displaying colors as though they were under sunlight.
Despite the city’s efforts, some on the Eastside believe more could be done to address residents’ needs.
“To me it’s just changing a light bulb,” said Sebastian Aldana, a neighborhood resident and Eastside activist. “We need more pedestrian lights.”
Aldana points to the type of lighting in the West Downtown neighborhood, where 21-foot pedestrian lights hang on both sides of the streets over many of the sidewalks. The city spent $3.5 million in redevelopment funds to pay for those improvements, including the LED lights on some streets there.
That West Downtown Improvement Project was funded with RDA money, however, and Santa Barbara’s Eastside was not in a designated redevelopment zone when the RDA existed. In an effort to balance the state budget, California abolished redevelopment agencies, which had been used as a funding mechanism to boost communities out of blight.
Aldana wants to see the city do for the Eastside what it did for West Downtown.
“That’s the template for what needs to be done,” he told Noozhawk.
The 30-foot-high “cobra lights” that hook over the street on the Eastside do a great job of lighting up the streets, Aldana said, but don’t do much for the sidewalks.
“To me it is not solving the problem,” he said. “A lot of people want pedestrian lighting, not just street lighting.”
Aldana sees it as an example of a lack of prioritization of the Eastside.
Dewey, however, doesn’t see a huge difference.
“Overall the lighting on the Eastside isn’t significantly differently from any other neighborhood in town, but we are finding that the Eastside has some unique challenges in that there are a lot of cars on the street, a lot of activity and a lot of traffic in the neighborhoods,” Dewey said.
“The density of traffic, the density of the population, the amount of activity in the area, the improved lighting will help the situation.”
City Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said she is pleased Santa Barbara is doing more to address the needs of Eastside residents. She credits Aldana, members of the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, and other activists in the neighborhood.
“The Eastside is finally getting the attention it deserves,” she said.
Murillo said that with the redevelopment agency gone the Eastside is competing for dollars with every other neighborhood. She says she’s convinced that strong activism will continue to pay off for the residents.
“Yes, I believe there is more lighting in the West Downtown,” Murillo said. “But if residents want more light and believe it will make them safer, they should get their lighting. It’s just a matter of time.”