Bright Idea, Dim Delivery: San Diego Road Repair Plan Shorting Out
NBC 7’s Alexis Rivas takes a look at the city of San Diego’s past street light renovations, how it grew and what the city is doing about it.
How many San Diego City electricians does it take to change a light bulb? Right now, the city’s answer to that question leaves many neighborhoods in the dark.
There are more than 65,000 street lights across the city, but currently, more than 5,000 are broken. Sometimes breaking up can mean more than just going out. Some lights blink occasionally, while others shine 24/7.
This animated map shows in blue where all the street lights are in this part of San Diego’s view. The image has changed to show in red where the damaged roads were until November 30, 2022.
There are many different types of lights, mostly with old wiring methods. The city says fixing them may require a little research, which takes time and requires hard-to-find tools.
In March, the city said the average wait time for a light fixture was 10 months, longer than the average of three months before the outbreak.
At the time, Mayor Todd Gloria invited the media to City Hall to discuss the issue.
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“It’s a difficult time,” the mayor said. “We have to be smart. We still have this challenge. We can’t just throw our hands up and pretend this is acceptable. We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Gloria explained the city’s plan and introduced Kirby Brady, the city’s Chief Creative Officer. Brady and her team have developed a system designed to streamline rehabilitation. The goal is to prioritize streetlight repairs over things like high traffic, neglected areas, and proximity to other broken lights.
Brady gave as an example, “Is it close to school? Is it near a park? These are places where you obviously want better roads. You want people to feel safe. “
This November photo shows a broken street light in the Rolando Village neighborhood.
For the past nine months, the NBC 7 Investigates team has been tracking efforts to fix the lights and reduce the backlog of needed repairs.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much improvement for backlogs or average repair wait times. The city said it went from 5,256 broken streetlights to 5,078 and the average wait time for repairs was over a year, 386 days.
In an interview with NBC 7 Investigates last week, Brady expressed frustration at the lack of progress.
“On a personal level, it’s hard to know that information isn’t important,” Brady told us.
Brady said having a specific order in which lights to prioritize has resulted in more lights per month than in the past. However, Brady said that even at a fast pace, workers are barely keeping up with new work orders coming in.
“What that means is we haven’t dealt with that setback, so we’re still holding on,” Brady said.
She described labor problems as a major crime.
“The understaffing, as long as that continues to plague us, that’s really what’s going to prevent us from making that meaningful point in the backend,” Brady said.
Currently, there are 18 budgeted for city electricians. The city says 14 of those positions are filled, but two are disabled, so only 12 are on the job. That’s an improvement from March when only eight generators were operating at full capacity, but city leaders say it’s still not enough to maintain more than 65,000 lights.
Councilwoman Vivian Moreno told NBC 7 that these staffing problems are because the city is undervaluing its staff. She said the salaries of electricians are not competitive with the private sector or even other areas. Moreno said her office is now seeking a raise and other incentives.
“This is years of negligence,” Moreno said. “For me it is not acceptable. Because number one, we want people to feel safe in their community.”
A spokesperson for the city also emphasized the issue, writing that, “…the biggest challenge the city is facing is trying to repair and replace aging, legacy infrastructure while dealing with job vacancies, the chain supply of goods and shortage of goods, and destruction and destruction of the circle. We are working hard to fix these problems and have been honest along the way. “
NBC 7 Investigates went around the city and talked to neighbors who are used to living in the dark. For many people, the light can’t come back soon enough.
In Kensington, Deborah Davison told us, “They don’t work most of the time. This particular one that I kept, was killed more than it has been in these 40 years.”
In the village of Rolando, PJ Bovee watched his daughter Frannie jump up and down on the sidewalk one evening in November. One way you can see her is from the light of her sneakers.
“When kids are walking around with stuff it’s dangerous,” Bovee said. “You don’t want to walk on anything. It’s an old neighborhood. A lot of old roots sticking out of the roads. And just not knowing where people are. It’s dangerous.”
On the side of the public road near San Diego State University, Gwen Brown and her friends are also concerned about safety.
“Especially as a young woman I need to feel safe on campus,” Brown said. “So when it gets dark, it makes everything panic. When you go places alone it makes you nervous. “