Let Inga Tell You: Trying to understand streetlight math

This streetlight has gone dark in front of Inga's house.
This streetlight (which both SDG&E and the city of San Diego have said twice before doesn’t exist) has gone dark in front of Inga’s house.

There’s been a lot of publicity lately as to whether the city of San Diego should use 500 “smart” streetlights with cameras to help fight crime. At this point, we just wish they’d fix the dumb ones.

We have a particular interest in this problem since one of those less-intelligent streetlights is right in front of our house and has cast our corner into such darkness that we need flashlights to find our front gate at night. Even our dog is hesitant to step off the front porch into the abyss.

Several articles in the La Jolla Light have recently addressed the issue of the 5,900 (and counting) broken streetlights (out of 57,000 in the city) and the city’s alleged efforts to fix them. I say “alleged” because I just can’t make the math work.

The way we calculate it, the streetlight on our corner will not be fixed in our lifetimes. Especially as City Councilman Joe LaCava has noted, “streetlights are failing faster than we can replace them.”

Various statistics have been bandied about as to how long it takes a streetlight to be repaired once it is reported on Get It Done. The Light reported March 9 that streetlight repairs, according to the mayor’s office, now get done “an average of 272 days after a problem is reported.” In a piece April 20, the paper noted that many local citizens had reported no repairs “well over 1,000 days since their reports were filed.”

A TV news report recently said a neighborhood in southeast San Diego reported that streetlights had been out for eight years.

I’m not a mathematician, but this would be well over an average of 272 days.

The city is apparently trying to catch up with the backlog by hiring electricians as independent contractors with the hope of repairing 800 streetlights in the next year.

Which means that, absent accurate data on how many streetlights are fixed by the city itself, our broken streetlight, posted on Get It Done in early February, could well not be fixed for more than seven years.

I had originally been encouraged to note when I checked back on our Get It Done request that our streetlight repair had been designated “in process.” But while watching the news clip of the neighborhood whose streetlights had been out for eight years, its request said “in process,” too.

So what exactly does “in process” mean? I’m detecting some slippery semantics here. It is the illusion of in progress without actually being.

Our streetlight repair is further complicated by the fact that, as I have discovered over the decades I’ve lived at my quirky address, neither SDG&E nor the city of San Diego will lay claim to our streetlight. Eerily, both have insisted there is no streetlight in front of our house.

Trying to get a non-existent streetlight repaired is problematic at best. It has usually taken me at least six months each time (2003 and again in 2012) to prevail upon various parties at both SDG&E and the city to resolve this issue. (It’s the city’s streetlight.) I consider the repair of a phantom streetlight not once but twice to be among my top life accomplishments and should be listed in my future obituary.

But you can’t prevail upon actual humans anymore; it has to be done through Get It Done. I posted photos of the street signs, of the light itself and even the numbers on the bottom of the light. But I can easily see the city deciding “Nope, not our light” and axing it from the queue.

Honestly, if we could pay someone privately to fix it, we would. Fearful of breaking a hip while taking out the trash at night down our winding front walk, we have installed a string of Edison lights across the eaves in front of our house. We’ve pondered placing a Craigslist ad for “person with tall ladder and light-bulb-changing experience.” (Hint, hint.)

But even with the Edison lights, the street corner in front of the house is still terrifyingly dark. We regularly hear the screeching of tires as cars barely make the turn at night. Three times since we’ve lived here, cars have crashed through our front fence, one ending up inches from the house.

We were thinking of those Edison lights as a temporary measure until our “in process” streetlight repair burbled up to the top of the average-272-day queue, but now we’re thinking we’re going to have to light our corner ourselves if we want Amazon to deliver in the dark and speeding cars to keep from ending up in our bedroom. The motion lights over our driveway just don’t reach that far.

Meanwhile, inquiring minds want to know: Who exactly came up with this average-272-day figure? And do all Get It Done requests automatically get an “in process” designation? Meanwhile, if you’ve got a tall ladder, you could be our new best friend.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆