Noe Valley Voice March 2004

Dolores Street: Let There Be (Historically Appropriate) Light

By Erin O'Briant

Last fall, when the city announced that it was installing "cobra" streetlights the entire length of Dolores Street, you could hear the neighbors hissing all along the palm-lined avenue.

New light fixtures are part of the neighborhood's ongoing utility undergrounding project. And normally, they would be warmly welcomed.

But when homeowner Brian Brown got wind that the lampposts would be the modern aluminum cobras--similar to the ones that line Geary Boulevard--he knew the lights "didn't seem right" for Dolores Street.

"Our neighborhood is within the historic Victorian crescent," explains Brown, who owns a house on Dolores between 23rd and 24th streets. "It is comprised of many turn-of-the-century Victorian and Edwardian buildings that have been lovingly cared for and restored. The design of the cobra lights seemed more suitable for strip development and thoroughfares...than for neighborhoods like ours with historic roots."

Brown called several of his neighbors to see what they thought. "I got a strong response from them," he said. Most agreed that the cobras were out of keeping with the neighborhood, and some even called them downright ugly.

So in October, Brown and his neighbors petitioned District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty to help them look for an alternative.

Lumec Lamppost Is a Stand-In

Dufty took up the cause. He brought together more than 60 neighbors and city officials, including representatives from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Department of Public Works (DPW), to a meeting Feb. 11 at the Mission Playground Clubhouse on 19th Street.

Surprisingly, the meeting ended a half-hour early. And when all was said and done, the group had struck a deal: Instead of moving forward with the aluminum cobras, city staff agreed to work with the residents on coming up with a fixture that would be appropriate not only for Dolores Street but for other historic thoroughfares in San Francisco.

On their side, the neighbors agreed to let the city temporarily install a lighting fixture called a Lumec post-top on the stretch of Dolores from Market to 19th streets. The more historic-looking post-top is 18 feet tall and has a simple white globe atop a black post. (The cobras are 30 feet tall.) This work will start as early as March so that nearby utility undergrounding will not be delayed.

Once the permanent light fixture design has been approved by all parties--the DPW, the PUC, and the community--the city will take out the post-tops and install the new fixtures. The new permanent lights will also be used for the rest of Dolores, from 19th to 30th streets.

"I think what they did is expedient and smart and cost-effective," said Brown, who was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

He acknowledges that because they are shorter and do not arch out over the street, the Lumecs do not shed as much light as the cobras. Ideally, Brown said, he'd like to see a light fixture similar to the cobra in shape, but made of a more attractive material and with historic-looking decorative details.

Brown's neighbor, Charlie Spiegel, who lives on Dolores near 21st Street and helped organize the meeting, also was satisfied with the post-tops as a stopgap measure.

However, he wants to make sure the Lumecs don't remain there forever. "Anything that has the word 'temporary' in it we are concerned about," he said. "If in fact it is temporary, I want the DPW to put in writing that this is a temporary solution."

Cobras Not So Bad

At the meeting, PUC representative Marla Jurosek explained her organization's earlier decision to install the cobra lights by pointing out that they are energy-efficient and provide good visibility and low glare. The lights also have minimal impact on the trees around them because they are so tall.

Another lighting option, the historic Granville fixtures that are installed in some parts of Liberty Hill, was considered but rejected by the group, because they don't provide enough illumination for wide streets like Dolores, which has two lanes on either side of a median strip. Use of the Granville lights would also require extensive pruning of the surrounding trees, which is both expensive and harmful to the trees.

The temporary Lumec post-tops will not require major tree pruning, said Tony Wolcott, of DPW's Bureau of Urban Forestry.

A Three-Phase Project

The installation of new streetlights on Dolores is part of a citywide project to put unsightly utility cables and poles underground. Because many of the street's old light fixtures are attached to the old utility poles, the Department of Public Works has been removing them and replacing them with new ones.

The DPW is adding new light fixtures to Dolores Street in three phases. Phase one encompasses Market Street to 19th Street; phase two covers 20th through Jersey streets; and phase three includes 21st Street through the end of Dolores at 30th Street. Utility undergrounding is already complete in phase one, and DPW workers will begin switching to the new temporary streetlights this month.

DPW is scheduled to begin phase two of the undergrounding process in March, and the work on phase three commences in September. New lights in those areas will be installed soon after undergrounding is complete.

For information about the project, neighbors can call Lynn Fong, of DPW's Undergrounding Program, at 554-4860. To join Spiegel and Brown's watchdog group, e-mail Spiegel at

Who to Call at City Hall

Maybe you just got poked in the eye for the fifth time this week by a tree branch on your block. Or perhaps the pothole in front of your house is threatening to swallow your car.

Whatever it is, don't be crabby. Get that problem taken care of. Here's a short list of phone numbers and e-mail addresses that might help you negotiate the city bureaucracy.

For Problems with...

Existing Streetlights

Street Lighting and Repair


Undergrounding, Light Fixtures

Lynn Fong

Utility Undergrounding Program

Bureau of Street Use and Mapping

Department of Public Works


Tree Hazards and Trimming

Bureau of Street Environmental Services





415-695-2100 (Dial 415-695-2020 after 5 p.m.)

Sewer Odor

24-Hour Odor Hotline