San Diego Gas & Electric works with city to shed more light on La Jolla Shores

SDG&E has affixed solar lights to some streetlights in La Jolla Shores as a temporary fix.
SDG&E has affixed solar lights to some streetlights in La Jolla Shores as a temporary fix in the city of San Diego’s efforts to get the lights working.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

With the city of San Diego facing a lengthy backlog of darkened streetlights in several communities along with seven vacant engineer positions, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. is partnering with the city to try to expedite a fix.

Many neighborhoods in La Jolla have streetlights that have been out for months and in some cases years, such as in La Jolla Shores. As of April 7, 16 out of 43 lights that La Jolla Shores Association board member Charlie Brown checked were not working, and nine temporary lights were affixed to darkened lampposts, Brown said.

Anthony Wagner, communications manager for SDG&E, said the utility company is responsible for powering the lights and that the city maintains them and the associated wiring.

SDG&E recently affixed temporary solar-powered lights along Paseo del Ocaso in The Shores as part of the company’s new partnership with the city. Representatives of both meet weekly or biweekly to discuss problem areas.

LJSA board member Charlie Brown created this map showing where streetlights are out west of La Jolla Shores Drive.
La Jolla Shores Association board member Charlie Brown created this map showing where streetlights are out west of La Jolla Shores Drive.
(Courtesy of Charlie Brown)

La Jolla Shores is identified as a priority area because its large numbers of annual tourists raise concerns about safety.

Wagner said short-term solutions like the solar-powered lights can be expedited through SDGE’s engineers “because we already know how to solve something.”

Wagner said the company wanted to answer San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s call last month to shorten the average time (272 days) it takes to fix streetlights after a problem is reported. “We can understand how frustrating it is to have something take 260-plus days before it gets fixed,” Wagner said.

Some La Jollans say they have counted well over 1,000 days since their reports were filed.

Brown said the solar-powered lights “only dimly illuminate about a 10-foot radius. Regular streetlights cover at least a 100-foot radius.”

Wagner reiterated that it’s not a permanent fix and added: “The point is, we wanted to have a temporary solution that would be a public benefit. There’s nothing that beats a 100-year-old light standard to give character to the community.”

Though Brown said some lights in The Shores, especially those along the boardwalk, have been repaired, the overall situation has worsened since the La Jolla Light first reported on it in early February.

“That is fine and nice that [SDG&E is] helping,” Brown said, “but it is a very limited temporary fix and does nothing to get us to the final solution.”

Wagner said SDG&E and city engineers are working to repair faulty wiring and darkened lights.

Darkened streetlights often involve a problem with decades-old underground wiring.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“The challenge is, every single light presents with its own ambiguity” and needs to be fixed in a different way, Wagner said.

The lights are strung together by the dozens and connected to one transformer. Much like a strand of Christmas tree lights, when one streetlight goes out, they all go out, Wagner said. “It takes awhile to be able to diagnose it.”

It’s not simply a matter of changing lightbulbs to see which one is the problem, Wagner added. He noted that much of the streetlight wiring and related infrastructure is 70 to 100 years old.

Any change to the wiring’s environment, such as digging, placing new landscaping or the movement of tree roots, can cause the aging wiring to send a block into darkness.

But Brown emphasized that “the lights that were out are still out, with even more failing.”

Brian Earley, chairman of the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board and a Shores Association board member, said The Shores is expecting more than 4 million visitors this summer and that “we need streetlights working, all of them.”

He said it is “the direct responsibility of the city to provide safe conditions for its citizens.”

LJSA President Janie Emerson noted that the summer construction moratorium, which prohibits work in beach areas from Memorial Day to Labor Day, is imminent and said “someone at City Hall needs to wake up and take action. Things are deteriorating at an alarming rate.”

San Diego spokesman Anthony Santacroce said the city values the partnership with SDG&E to illuminate streetlights and added that “the bottom line is, the streets in [The Shores] will no longer be dark, and we are pleased to be able to provide illumination again for the local residents.”

Wagner said “SDG&E does what it can to go above and beyond for any customer. However, the city is in a unique situation to where the public benefit means we all need to work together.” ◆