Open Letter to Residents of South San Francisco: Street Lighting Program Needs Qualified Expert

South San Francisco, CA   July 14, 2016



Fellow South San Franciscans,

I am a retired kitchen and bath designer who practiced lighting design as part of my business. About six months ago I became involved in our street lighting controversy. While I have quite a lot of expertise when it comes to residential interior lighting design, it has been a stretch to become proficient, or even barely knowledgeable in roadway lighting. Not what I envisioned doing in my retirement.

After months of research into the problems generated when our city entered into a “turnkey” contract with PG&E in 2014 to change out our previous High Pressure Sodium streetlights for LEDs, at a cost of nearly $1,000,000, I have come to the conclusion that the efforts of our Public Works Department have come up sadly deficient. The High Pressure Sodium streetlights they replaced, while producing yellowish light and costing a lot more to run every month, spread their light farther up and down and across the streets that the replacement LED streetlights. Public Works, in their apparent ignorance (which is perfectly understandable for people who are not lighting designers), sacrificed our better lit streets for annual savings on our City electric bill that would pay off the new lights in just four years, and then offer the City years of reduced-cost streetlighting at reduced maintenance cost too.

Ever since, the City has endured complaints and criticism about the new streetlights. Their responses have been lame at best: A number of meetings with complaining residents; A “Pilot Project” in West Winston Manor where some of the various LED lights installed around the City were displayed with one type/ wattage on each street.

The result was that residents couldn’t compare the lights they were supposed to be judging side by side. Less than 50 residents bothered to assess the installations and vote on the lights they preferred. Probably most lived right in West Winston Manor. The highest vote count (16) went to a light specifically designed for parking lots with poles spaced at no more than 50′ apart. Only two of those Parking Lot lights were installed on a street that wound down a hill. Not a good street to choose for a demonstration at all, unless all of your streets wind down hills.

Now. After more meetings, Public Works is proposing another “Pilot Project” in Peck’s Lot. There they plan to change out all of the lights in the neighborhood for the lights preferred by the most voters in West Winston Manor: Parking lot lights.

While I’m quite sure that Peck’s Lot is a wonderful neighborhood to live in, they have problems that won’t be solved by any other lighting solution than a complete redesign of their streetlighting. They need more light poles, NOT different lights. Also, after assessing the streets, the neighborhood is not representative of any part of South San Francisco but Old Town. So any solution found there will not apply to anywhere else in the City except a few Old Town neighborhoods.

I’m sure the people of Peck’s Lot have been complaining loud and long about their inadequate and dangerous streetlighting situation. It was bad before and the new LEDs only made it worse.

The LEDs currently installed in Peck’s Lot, like most of our neighborhoods, are what they call Type II Roadway lights. They have a light footprint that goes about 83′ each way, up and down the street and sidewalk, and about 40′ across the street. The manufacturer, Cree, may offer new LED streetlights that have a longer light footprint than the Type II lights. I have not researched that option to discover whether those new lights might be appropriate to use where new poles are not feasible.

The Parking Lot lights the City plans to install have a light footprint of about 60′ each way up and down the sidewalk. Their light goes about 85′ across the street from the pole. Useful for a parking lot, but who expects their streetlight, across the street in front, to light part of their back yard?

We need to convince our South San Francisco Public Works department that they need to stop pretending they are roadway lighting designers and bring in a real professional lighting designer to tell us what to do. Believe me, the cost would be far less than the cost of Public Works making mistake after mistake.

I have advised our City Council and Public Works of my judgement. Apart from a nice response from Vice-Mayor Gupta, thanking me for my thoughtful input, I have seen no movement from their positions. I have also volunteered to join Vice-Mayor Gupta’s “ad hoc streetlighting committee”. Again to no avail. I have also advised that any new “pilot Program” be as follows:

I would like to suggest that the City do single street “Pilot Programs” in each of the older neighborhoods that have wide spaces between the poles. Choose a straight and long enough, residential width, street to display all of the lights. Preferably a street used by the entire neighborhood. In my Highlands/Buri Buri neighborhood that might be a street like Del Monte. Put the different lights side by side, one after another, so residents can actually COMPARE the differences. Put all the details about each light on its pole with a “name”.

Voting could be accomplished by offering a box of voting cards and a box to hold completed votes at each end of the display. The voting cards would have tick boxes next to each named light. Voters could then just drop them into a voting box at the other end of the display. Also set up voting in one of those free online voting sites and those with smart phones could vote on the fly. Residents could stroll just one street and make a decision. Have a “light voting party”.

Mind you: I still believe that turning our problems over to a qualified expert is the best way to go.

Peggy Deras
Theresa Drive
The Highlands


EDITORS NOTE: The change of street lighting has caused many residents concern and more neighborhood & City items can be found   CLICK HERE

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Bill Demeter
Bill Demeter
6 years ago

I agree with Peggy. Solving the lighting issues will require lighting professionals. In fact, I believe PG&E (the LED project contractor) may have some responsibility for fixing a problem they helped create. The City’s invitation for project proposals (Bids) specified “improving lighting”. PG&E’s proposal promises to improve lighting several times. Obviously, as lighting professionals, they failed to do this.