San Diego launches campaign to repair 6,000 broken streetlights — with some federal help

Many of San Diego's neighborhood streetlights date to the 1950s and '60s.
(City of San Diego)

The city is spending a $3.5 million grant to replace old wiring in some of the streetlights and is contracting with independent electricians to boost staffing.


San Diego has launched a campaign to fix nearly 6,000 broken streetlights that officials and residents say are making many city neighborhoods more vulnerable to crime and less safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

As part of that effort, the city will use a new $3.5 million federal grant to replace some of the aging circuit infrastructure that supports the streetlights, which is expected to improve their reliability and reduce maintenance costs.

In addition, a shortage of city electricians needed to repair the lights is being addressed through recently signed contracts with independent electricians who have begun helping to tackle the problem.

“We’re doing everything we can to get the streetlights back on,” Mayor Todd Gloria said during a news conference last week.

Some lights have been out for years, residents say. The city of San Diego says steps are being taken to improve response times and address the volume of reports.

Early last year, La Jolla residents in areas from The Shores to The Village to Bird Rock complained about dozens of streetlight outages that they said they had reported to the city with little or no response. Some counted well over 1,000 days since their reports were filed.

In La Jolla Shores, all the streetlights on the boardwalk along the beach were dark. Those lights are back on.

At last count, more than 5,900 of the city’s roughly 57,000 streetlights — more than 10 percent — were broken. And the average time to repair a reported outage has been more than 270 days.

Gloria says the average of 272 days to repair street lights is unacceptable

Streetlights in many of San Diego’s older neighborhoods were installed in the 1950s and ‘60s, making them outdated and leaving city officials without detailed records about how some of them operate.

“A lot of the streetlights ... are like old-fashioned Christmas tree lights, where if one goes out, the entire string goes out — and the process to fix it is complex and time-consuming,” Gloria said.

The federal money, which Rep. Scott Peters (D-La Jolla) helped secure, will pay for replacement wiring for roughly 200 lights — 30 in Logan Heights and 170 in Pacific Beach and Point Loma.

“Maintaining these streetlights is a matter of public safety, particularly the safety of our young people who use our parks for sports and recreation,” Peters said.

Other problems facing San Diego streetlights include damaged wiring, blown-out bulbs, outdated conductors, infestations by rodents, damage caused by homeless people tapping into electrical grids and thieves stealing copper wires.

Outages often are so complex that city officials say they must conduct a minor investigation to determine the best way to fix each one.

“It’s no secret that streetlights are failing faster than we can replace them,” said City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla.

Another problem is that many of the city’s 18 electrician jobs have been vacant for months, leaving a skeleton staff to deal with a worsening problem.

Gloria announced in February that he had reached an agreement with city labor unions to contract with independent electricians to help address the backlog of streetlight repairs.

”The fact is, we simply don’t have enough electricians working for the city to keep up with the often-complex repairs — which is almost always much more than a burnt-out bulb,” Gloria said. “So while we work to hire more city electricians, hiring contractors will help us fix streetlights much faster.”

In addition to replacing outdated wiring, city crews are adding tamper-proof covers and installing energy-efficient bulbs wherever possible, Gloria said.

Officials encourage residents who see a broken streetlight to report it using the city’s Get It Done app.

— La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.