The City’s Streetlight Retrofit Project Draws Complaints

led-street-lightsBack in January, the Davis City Council approved the implementation of the cobra head LED streetlight retrofit project. The council action was preceded by four months of project planning and negotiation between the city and Siemens.

At that time it was stated that the project would not exceed $1.255 million, to be funded through Roadway Impact Fees. The city estimate that the utility cost savings would be $172 thousand the first year with an addition savings of $28 thousand for street light maintenance. Moreover, there would be a one-time PG&E rebate of another $185,000.

The city estimated, “Based on a 3% annual utility and maintenance cost increase, the 15 year combined savings for this measure (assumed useful life of the LED lamps), is projected to be $3,730,638.”

The staff report notes, “In 2010, the City Council approved an agreement with PG&E through their LED Streetlight Turnkey Replacement Service program to convert 300 street lights using Federal EECBG [Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program] funds. This project was considered a pilot project to determine if the community would view the light changes favorably. If the feedback was favorable, the City would convert the remaining street and pathway lights as funds were made available. The lights were changed in the fall of 2010.”

The staff report notes that the pilot project has been ongoing continuously since 20011 and in that time there has been virtually no feedback, with the city reporting during the three-year period, only one documented complaint.

Writes staff, “Given the energy savings potential and the safety benefits of the LED streetlights, the City Council accepted and funded the LED cobra head retrofit using the pilot program as the standard.”

Staff continues, “Due to the success of the pilot program in terms of reduced energy use and improved safety lighting, Siemens proposed an LED product intended to match, as closely as possible, the light output of the fixtures included in the pilot project. Siemens recommended installation of the Leotek Ecobra fixtures as the most cost effective product that matched the pilot LED specifications and performance. These are the lights currently being installed in residential areas of the City. Consistent with roadway lighting practice and to match existing lighting levels, higher light output fixtures are being installed on higher volume streets (ie. arterials and collectors).”

The city needs approximately 2660 retrofits city wide, including 1300 on residential streets. There are four crews installing 150 per day since May 13, 2014 and 1000 fixtures have been installed to date.

Unlike the pilot project, however, the city has drawn already 26 complaints. 15 concerned with lighting levels and glare, seven concerned with dark sky and view of the night sky, 3 concerned with light spilling into windows. There have been three calls of support thanking the city for improved light levels and replacement of burned out street lights.

One resident, who wrote a letter to Mayor Joe Krovoza and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk complained: “The intensity is an issue. Hurts your eyes if you glance up; yet not such a great job illuminating the street when one looks around. All in all, yet one more way the City has made Davis a worse place to live. I suspect you have just lowered residential property values by over $5,000 per home to boot.”

They noted, “Julie Partansky was early on stressing the importance of the biological and psychological value of access to natural light, only mitigated by safety concerns. This seems to go in the opposite direction.”

They added, “Before you replace all 2,400 lights, you should consider spectrum and intensity. And then replace our street bulb with a lower intensity one and a more natural spectrum. As a process, it would make more sense to check with people who live here before you make such changes. Run tests. Ask for opinions and response. Before you make your bulk purchase, if that’s not already been done.”

According to the city staff, “The City has responded with email and phone contact to residents expressing concerns. The City responses have been educational in nature, acknowledging the difference in the light, describing the 2011 pilot project and its use as the basis for choosing the new fixtures, the desire to fix hundreds of non-working High Pressure Sodium (HPS) streetlights spread across the community, and the fiscal, environmental, and safety benefits associated with the project.”

Which, of course, is a good response when residents are complaining about the intensity of the light, the glare, and its blocking out of the night sky.

The city continues, “In addition, in response to the concerns raised by some members of the community regarding the lighting levels and intensity of the light, staff has reached out to the UC Davis California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC), to review any distinctions between the new LED fixtures and the pilot project fixtures in both light output and quality.”

One thing that is not clear from the staff report is whether the pilot project used the same light bulbs as the ones drawing complaints. The second problem is a standard communication problem between the public and the city – if the public does not provide feedback during pilot projects, the city has no recourse but to assume there are no problems.

The item will be heard tonight, as the city council will now have to grapple with how to deal with citizen concerns on one hand and cost savings and energy efficiency on the other.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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30 thoughts on “The City’s Streetlight Retrofit Project Draws Complaints”

      1. DavisBurns

        The technology for LED lighting is changing fast. The fixtures used in the pilot projects (there were 5 neighborhoods with 3 different lights) used 37 watts, the new lights are more energy efficient, at 27 watts for residential fixtures. The pilot project was just in residential areas. on major streets, higher wattage fixtures are being used as is the standard.

  1. Jim Frame

    I’m tempted to call this a tempest in a teapot. I don’t know if I’ve seen the new lights yet — I may have and just didn’t notice the difference — but it’d have to be a pretty big difference on the negative side for me to regard it as a significant problem.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Just to be clear, I’m not taking a position on the validity of their complaints, but I figured since this will take up a considerable amount of time tonight, might as well discussion it here.

  2. Tia Will

    I was interested in the ratio of complaints to compliments. 26 to 3 is not so very far from the number that we estimate in the medical field to be the ratio of negative to positive comments that will be obtained just in the course of doing business. That ratio is 7 negatives to 1 positive. This is generally considered to be in line with human nature. We have a tendency to tell others or complain when we do not like something, but to take it as unremarkable when an experience goes well.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I always figure, each person that complain represents at least ten perhaps 100 depending on the issue and the population who have similar complaints but are not inclined to complain.

      1. Tia Will

        Agreed David.
        And I feel that this effect is even higher with those who are neutral or who favor the change who will just accept it as the “new normal” and never say anything about it.

    2. Barack Palin

      Should those same 7 to 1 negative ratios have been considered when people were complaining of fireplace smoke or flying plastic bags?

      1. South of Davis

        BP wrote:

        > Should those same 7 to 1 negative ratios have been
        > considered when people were complaining of fireplace
        > smoke or flying plastic bags?

        When has the city ever cared what the “majority wants” vs. what is “best for us”?

        We may not have a Wal Mart, but soon the entire city will glow like a Wal Mart parking lot…

  3. Frankly

    I think the street lights just need better diffusers and to be focuses so that there is not so much side-light.

    They really do light up the entire area. That is good for preventing property crime, but bad if you like your dark sky to be visible.

    There is an array of 12 LEDs (I think… ) and they do cast a really interesting “plaid” shadow on the ground. My dog was very jumpy on his walk at night when the wind would move the leaves and branches of a tree.

    I think they just need to pick a different light design or cover it with a lens cap that better diffuses the light and better focuses the light downward.

    1. DavisBurns

      Frankly, the residential lights have 6 LEDs in them. Major streets like Covell have more and also higher wattage.

      As far as crime goes, lighting up your property is a criminal friendly thing to do. There is ever increasing evidence that criminals are afraid of the dark and they are more visible when they have to provide their own lights.

      To be fair and balanced, there are actually studies that show in SOME cases, under certain conditions, more light results in less crime but they always have a caveat; the situations where more light reduces crime is in poor neighborhoods. Increased lighting seems to make people feel civic pride, and that is just as likely to be the reason for reduced crime.

      Something everyone can agree on is “more lighting makes people FEEL safer.”

  4. Davis Progressive

    i love davis , but sometimes its ridiculous. if we are both saving money and reducing energy usage, citizens need to stfu and quick being nimby’s.

    1. DavisBurns

      We are so proud that we reduced the size of the water project because it was bigger than we needed. If we need less light and we are installing more light than we currently have, how is this problem not worthy of our attention? LEDs use less energy but they have other problems. Those problems can be addressed but we are increasing the light and there are significant problems created with the light spectrum. Why should we do it stupid when we can do it right?

  5. Michelle Millet

    I checked them out and would agree with this sentiment,

    Hurts your eyes if you glance up; yet not such a great job illuminating the street when one looks around.

    They illuminate a small area very intensely, and I would not recommend looking directly at that them.

    I wouldn’t want one directly outside my bedroom window but the overall lighting intensity levels on streets with them and with them out did not appear that significantly different to me, but I was just driving through. I also prefer the white light they give off, rather then the sickly yellow glow of the existing lights.

    Personally I am with Julie Partansky on this one. I prefer more natural lighting, and at night I’d prefer less artificial lighting. I like the dark.

      1. Michelle Millet

        Yeah I know. I’m not arguing that bright lights create a safer atmosphere, which I also like. I’m saying that I prefer the dark. I realize that these desires are mutually exclusive. I guess I can’t always have it all.

        1. DavisBurns

          Bright lights create A LESS SAFE ATOMSPHERE! Sounds counterintuitive but bright lights cause your pupils to constrict diminishing your night vision. Well placed warm spectrum low lighting allows your night vision to function AND illuminates the stuff that needs to be lit up. There is a way, we have the technology to reduce light pollution, increase safety and reduce enerfy consumption. We just need to be informed and have the political will to do it right not do it stupid. Right now we have the stupid option. I am reminded of the bumper stickers of the 70-80’s “Freeze in the dark, you environmental bastards!”
          Who still thinks being an environmentalist means freezing to death in the dark?

          1. Michelle Millet

            Bright lights create A LESS SAFE ATOMSPHERE!

            I’m wondering, is there a way to create a safe environment with out the level of light pollution street lights create?

            I don’t want people getting hurt, but I prefer, in general for it to be dark at night when possible.

          2. DavisBurns

            But it IS A SIGNIFICANT PROBLEM! Night lighting can be done efficiently and provide sufficient illumination for safety without destroying our dark skies. Notice I don’t include crime prevention because, gasp, it turns out everywhere towns and cities have reduced illumination they also reduce crime. What about ALL those studies that show outdoor lighting reduces crime? Check out who paid for them. It’s always police departments and or the lighting industry.

            Would you choose gas guzzling, oil burning, smoke belching vehicle when you could choose one that is clean? Would you choose to install an oversized furnace/airconditioner that overheats/cools your home so it’s less comfortable? Would you refuse to insulate your home because you like to use more fossil fuels and since it’s cheap and we will never run out? Why choose too much light that is in the white blue spectrum that does the most damage when you CAN CHOSE BETTER OPTIONS?

          3. DavisBurns

            Dear Michelle,
            I love those big quote marks but haven’t stumbled on how to do it yet.

            Yes, there are many many ways to light what needs to be lit for safety without creating sky glow and light pollution. The international dark sky association has a great website. There are communities in this country that have earned the designation ‘dark sky preserves’ where they have planned their lighting with safety and night sky preservation as goals with great success.

            In The United Kingdom there are small towns that have turned off most of their night lights and have found tourist come to their towns for the dark skies and crime rates have plummeted.

            If we aren’t Luddites and use our heads we can have safety and REDUCE our light pollution but you’d better believe PGE wants more lights installed, not fewer and this is a PGE project. Also we aren’t getting the Siemens high quality warm spectrum, dimmable, switchable models that Europe requires. We are getting the white blue monsters that are cheap and they wanna dump on the small town rubes.

          4. tribeUSA

            DavisBurns–good comments; I concur. You’d think spectrum, intensity, and glare (major factors in overall appearance of lighting) would be high priorities in selecting lighting. Yes, it it possible to both achieve the energy conservation and have long-lasting, economical streetlights and also have something pleasant in appearance; that doesn’t detract from quality of life (glary obtrusive lighting at night that lights up the town like a parking lot, particularly if one is in line-of-sight of your bedroom window; so you have to install heavy shades). One dumb decision after another slowly erodes the quality of life in town; encroaching Dilbertism.

  6. DavisBurns

    The new lights are blue white shifted light which is more harmful to humans and animals. It is harmful to migrating birds but also to nocturnal animals. It disturbs circadian rhythm which interferes with sleep. They are meant to be full cut off lights which means the light only illuminates the ground and does not shine sideways into people’s eyes. These manage to shine in your eyes. They are brighter than the lights they replaced. Now when I walk under a fir tree the shadow casts the pattern of the needles on the ground. Last night was a new moon night in which we would normally be able have as dark a sky as we get here. Instead our light meter shows the light to be equevilent to a full moon. Our children hardly know that stars shine at night. The night sky is part of our heritage and we pollute it the same as our rivers and oceans. We have a dark sky ordinance and these lights violate the ordinance.

    We didn’t complain during the pilot program because the lights appeared to be full cut off designs and they were not located where we saw them when lit. We need less light not more. More light contracts the pupils causing higher contrast making things in shadow a dark blob with no distinguishing features. As we age we become more sensitive to blue light which is why the aftermarket blue headlights on cars are both painful and dangerous to older drivers.

    We could reduce the number of lights, increase safety and reduce light pollution if we were really a well educated, progressive city with sustainability goals. But we aren’t. We approve a new subdivision that is designed for the past not the conditions we expect to live with in the future–no innovation to speak of and we are so afraid of taking charge of our energy future we fail to act on the opportunity to become our own utility. Now we are afraid of the dark and we are lighting the night sky adding to light pollution, denying our children and ourselves the beauty of the heavens. Progressive communities are working toward becoming dark sky preserves where they have discovered crime is lowered and safety improved with less night time lighting.

  7. PhilColeman

    I have the replacement light in front of my house. Make me #4, I love the difference. Because the entrance to my driveway area is much more visible now, I no longer feel the need to use my garage entry lights.

    The new lights are engineered to give a more balanced light dispersion, and has twice the range on our street compared to the previous light. I disagree with the assertion that the new lights illuminate less area or increases the light towards home windows. Not where I live.

    Yes, if you stand directly under the light and look up there is a strong glare. My suggestion, don’t do it. The light is less obtrusive in size, uses less energy and is positioned so that it is rectangular in sweep, conforming to the street itself.

    The “Dark Sky” proponents and their now resurgent argument date back many years. These folks don’t want ANY street lights–hence the term. The yearn for a “country look” in an urban area, no artificial light at all. Their argument against the current lights is not opposing the new lights, it’s any street light.

    1. DavisBurns

      How nice for you, you no longer have to use your garage light! Instead, outside lighting is present for all the hours of darkness and everyone pays for the always on illumination and no one can choose darkness. It’s like paper, scissors, rock. Light beats dark every time. What I want is a dark emitter that I can point at every light that stabs me in the eye and turn it off. Seems fair. If you can turn a light on for your pleasure and it lights public space, I want equal opportunity to make the public space I’m using to be dark or at least much dimmer.

    2. DavisBurns

      Phill Coleman is right about one thing. The “Dark Sky” people have been around since 1988 but wrong on everything else. We don’t want no lights. We want light where light is needed not light that tries to make the night like day. Put light so it shines DOWN not UP. We don’t want to LIGHT THE SKY!!! Hence the name Dark SKY! Use light sensibly, don’t use it to POLLUTE the sky. I would like fewer street lights but I don’t want no street lights. I want to have the same influence to ask for diminished light as any other citizen has when they ask for increased lighting. The sensible way to deal with conflicting preferences is to have a lighting policy that takes into consideration safety, the minimum levels of lighting needed and a goal of reducing light pollution.

      Don’t get me started on reducing crime because that bird don’t fly.

      Here is what the International Dark Sky says:

      “Once a source of wonder–and one half of the entire planet’s natural environment—the star-filled nights of just a few years ago are vanishing in a yellow haze. Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.

      Light pollution is growing at the rate of 4%- far faster than the population. As developing countries embrace the use of electric light, light pollution promises to get even worse. There is a solution! Quality lighting benefits the entire community and erases effects of light pollution.”

      Notice that last sentence! We want quality not quantity!

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        I had not noticed the new lights around town before all these complaints came about. I suspect some of the kvetching is legitimate, due to the proximity of the brighter lights and the complainers’ bedrooms.

        However, count me in (#6) among those who think the new lights are much better. I just went outside to consider them, and it is a big upgrade. Our streets (west end of Cornell Drive) went from very poorly lit or even dark to properly lit. On top of that, the LEDs will not burn out for years. It was unusual in the past to not have one of the street lights near my home not functioning.

  8. Alan Miller

    Burns is right about how bright light actually harms your ability to see outside the area of light, and has your eyes tuned for light rather than darkness as you proceed from the lit area into the darker area. I am in favor of LEDs, massively in favor, but we need to choose mellower and more diffused light in a more natural spectrum.

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