Noe Valley Voice February 1999

Need a New Bulb for Your Streetlight?

By Alison Pence

I was driving down Dolores the other night and I noticed a streetlight that was out at 24th Street. I kept driving and saw another one out at 26th, and another at 27th. In a few places, the sidewalks were cast in deep shadow.

I wondered if there was a story behind this: Are trysting lovers going to be tripping lovers on Valentine's Day? Are night bike riders going to take a fall? Will the pedestrian step out of nowhere and startle the driver of a fast-moving car? Time for this greenhorn reporter to get to work!

Those of us who stargaze or who need complete darkness to sleep may not care for the rosy hue of our nighttime fogbound sky, but something told me that it's safer to have a well-lit street. From my perspective, if a street has light, then I can see where I'm going and I can avoid dark patches.

Bill Boniface, a beat officer from Ingleside Station (which covers the southern half of Noe Valley), pointed out that a street with lights is less desirable for criminal activity because the criminal does not want to be caught in the act. Officer Boniface rides a bike while on duty, and he agreed that lights make a big difference for cyclists, too.

I decided to get on the horn to City Hall right away.

However, the streetlight repair number (554-0730) was not where I expected it to be in the phone book. It is under City of San Francisco, Public Utilities Commission, Hetch Hetchy Water & Power, Bureau of Light, Heat & Power, Street Lighting. The phone number comes with its own history lesson. Since the city has its own power source and utility company, streetlights are generally not handled by the Department of Public Works, as they are in other cities.

Another interesting fact is that of the approximately 40,000 streetlights in the city, half are handled by the city and half by PG&E. But since PG&E has centralized all service calls with an 800 number, it's better to phone the city. The arrangement between the two companies is complicated. PG&E manages some very old systems and they own their own poles, but there are times when responsibility for an outage is shared. If the city identifies the streetlight you want repaired as belonging to PG&E, the city will forward your request to them.

I talked to Herb Meier at the Bureau of Light, Heat & Power. I told him the addresses of the lights that were out, and asked how long it would take. He said it should take three to five days but to allow a week. He added that they have their own truck and crew (one person), and they probably change 15 to 20 lights each day.

I asked him if there was any reason for leaving a streetlight off, and he couldn't think of any. "If they're out, we change 'em," he said.

So if your street is dark -- either because a bulb has burned out, or your block needs additional lighting -- give him a buzz. (That's 554-0730.) His office will send out someone to look at your street.

Street lighting depends on many factors, Meier says, including the length of the block and the width of the street. But it doesn't hurt to ask the city to shine a beam in your direction.

Meanwhile, I'll keep my eyes peeled on Dolores Street.