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Street Light Outages - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

These frequently asked questions are provided to inform residents about Daly City street light outages occurring in the western area of the City. Street lights are failing because of the age of the mechanical elements and normal wear and tear. Proximity to ocean breezes is slowly corroding the light's wiring, causing lights to go out. High Voltage Regulated Outputs (RO) power Daly City's street lights. The RO, in turn, powers Series Circuits housed within the light pole. By design, RO's power multiple neighborhood street lights at the same time resulting in street lighting, which fails in groups.

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What areas are most affected by street light outages?

The City owns approximately 3,310 street lights citywide. The High Voltage Regulated Output (RO) street light circuits account for 23% of the total inventory. The ROs most affected by the outages are the four located in Skyline, Palisades, Westlake, and St. Francis neighborhoods. This accounts for approximately 6% of the City's entire street light system.

How long has this been a problem?

These street light systems have served these neighborhoods since the 1950s and 1960s. Periodic problems with these lights have existed for decades, especially in areas most affected by coastal fog. Street light failures have increased over the years as equipment has aged and replacement parts have become more difficult to obtain. Affected street lights typically stay off for a few days or sometimes much longer depending on the cause of the failure and how quickly PG&E or the City can respond. 

Is the City turning off the street lights to save money?

No, the City has never turned street lights off to save money. In fact, only PG&E can turn these RO lights off. While the City continues to face the challenges of increasing operational costs and little growth in revenues, the City does not have a practice of reducing expenses by implementing "rolling blackouts."

What are the side effects of street light outages?

The street light outages can make residents feel less safe as there is a perception that malfunctions signal an opportunity for crime, impact business shopping hours, lead to negative motorist, pedestrian, and bicyclist impacts, and overall decrease Daly City's quality of life for residents.

How frequently do street lights fail?

Street light failures have increased over the years as equipment ages and replacement equipment and parts become more difficult to obtain. Outages are reported as often as four times per month in some neighborhoods and ten times per month citywide.

How long do the street lights stay off?

Street lights typically stay off for several days or up to a month or more depending on the cause of the failure and how quickly PG&E responds.

How does street light outages impact residents?

Daly City leadership is seeking to improve the quality of life for residents residing in areas with regular street light outages. Without street lights, children cannot play outside past sundown and residents face unsettling neighborhood walks that can make them feel uneasy or unsafe in their own homes.

Why would street light outages impact businesses?

Poorly lit shopping districts may see a decrease in revenue once the sun goes down. Shoppers and tourists are more likely to visit a well-lit area perceived as safe. Without shoppers, businesses that depend on walk-in traffic may suffer financially. In addition, residents who drive, may face a trip back to their car in complete darkness.

Why can't Daly City or PG&E resolve this problem?

Daly City, unfortunately, cannot fund the replacement and upgrades alone. Over the last decade, the City has struggled to keep up with increasing costs and inflation. For a city that is primarily residential and lacks a diverse economic base, the revenue received does not keep pace with the costs to provide services. When the Great Recession hit, the City cut staff positions and employees made concessions. Despite these efforts, the City continues to face financial challenges. If the City were to fully fund the upgrades through a "save and pay" model (no borrowing and cash only), the project would take approximately 20-30 years to acquire enough funding for replacement.

Street lights in the western side of Daly City are powered by high voltage PG&E transformers and switch gear. Recent experience indicates most street light failures (9 out of 10) are the result of failures in PG&E power supply equipment. Daly City cannot control the problem with PG&E equipment, but can convert the Daly City street lights to lower voltage. Converting to a lower voltage would eliminate the high voltage PG&E transformers and switch gear which cause frequent outages. In addition, replacement of the ROs would be with the latest LED technology, which would lower energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I pay my taxes, why can't the City fully fund street light replacements?

It would take the City approximately 20-30 years to fund replacements to the malfunctioning parts of the system. Street light maintenance is funded through gas and sale tax; however, there is not enough tax revenue generated to fund all of the roadway, storm-drain, and other capital needs simultaneously. Basically, the City has $2 to spend with $20 worth of needs.

In short, revenue is not keeping pace with the cost of inflation and other increasing operational costs (e.g., fuel, energy, health care, etc.). As the largest city in the County, with a limited residential tax base, funding direct services has in recent years received greater priority than funding capital investments. It continues to be a challenge for many cities in the state, including Daly City, to fund significant capital needs without increasing taxes.

What are the options to repair the street lights?

One option is to do nothing. Doing nothing entails more street light outages and repairs based on PG&E's availability and the City's finances. A more permanent solution is to determine a financing plan that pays for street light circuit conversion to lower voltage and eliminate the High Voltage Regulatory Output (RO) equipment. One plan evaluated by the City is the creation of a special assessment district to fund these improvements and expedite a permanent solution. For more information on assessment districts click here.

What is an assessment district?

An assessment district is a financing method advocated by property owners and used by public agencies to fund the construction of public improvements or maintenance of public improvements that directly benefit the properties, or parcels, located within the boundary of the district. For more information on assessment district click here.

How much will a street light conversion cost?

The replacement of one High Voltage Regulated Outputs (RO) street light circuit is estimated to cost approximately $500,000. The four ROs that fail the most are 256, 366, 406 and 460. The estimated cost to replace all four ROs is approximately $2 million. To see the map of the ROs, click here

How much will a property owner potentially have to pay?

If an assessment district option is selected, each property owner pays a share of the cost of improvements over a period of years through their property tax bill. Assessment districts are property owner funded; homeowners and rental property owners directly benefit from the proposed maintenance or upgrade from the improvements. The costs per owner will depend upon the capital cost for the improvement, the size of the district, and in some cases, the size of a particular property. Since a number of affected neighborhoods would be included in an assessment district to handle the four most problematic ROs, fixed costs could be spread over more property owners which will result in lower costs per assessment.

An assessment district is typically financed with a bond. For example, if a 15-year bond is selected, the annual assessment per property owner could range between $75-$150 per year depending on the size of the district, the size of the property, and the degree of City financial contribution. The assessment would sunset when the bond or debt is paid off.

The City will hire a licensed engineer to determine the accrual and final costs as required by law to determine the exact cost of the assessment per property owner, if and when property owners elect to pursue assessment district financing.

How are funds collected?

If an assessment district were established, the annual fee is collected through a property owner's property tax bill. The assessment district would appear as a separate line item, similar to a school bond.

Where can I find more information about assessment districts?

For a permanent solution, Daly City recommends residents consider forming an assessment district with neighbors seeking to improve safety and the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

What is an assessment district?