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Less light irks some Mantecans
New street lights designed to reduce light pollution
LEFT PHOTO: The old Manteca street lights emit a yellowish light. RIGHT PHOTO: The new Manteca induction street lights provide a white light, use 40 percent less energy and reduce light pollution by deliberately directing light to streets and sidewalks and away from private property. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Switching Manteca’s street lights to induction bulbs to save at least $150,000 annually in energy costs seems like a bright idea.

However some Manteca residents such as Elaine Higgins would disagree.

“It (the new lighting) makes the neighborhood look like a ghost town,” Higgins wrote in a letter to the Bulletin. “I can’t see the neighbor across the street.”

Higgins was among four residents who contacted the Bulletin with concerns the new lights aren’t as bright and therefore will be more conducive for criminal activity.

City officials have confirmed they have received complaints as well.

In fact, municipal staff partly agrees with the assessment but that’s because the new fixtures address light pollution concerns. The new fixtures are designed with reflectors and globes to reduce the amount of light going skyward as well as being directed toward private property.

“The purpose of street lights are to light the streets and public areas such as sidewalks, not private property,” noted Public Works Director Mark Houghton.

A staff memo listing justification for the design notes that “since we use transportation funding to pay for operation and maintenance of the lights, we must comply with the design standard for streetlights, and cannot use security lighting (for private property) as a justification to provide more light than is required for safe travel.”

Staff also noted it addresses complaints the city has received in the past about unwanted light from street lights going into residential windows.

The standards for street lights are set by the state and federal governments.

The memo notes the reasons why the city moved forward with the street light retrofit project included:

• a 40 percent reduction in energy costs;

• reduced energy use translates into reduced greenhouse gas emissions that the city is required to work toward;

• reduced maintenance costs as the light bulbs typically last 10 years or more;

• improved lighting quality as determined by the “color” light. The older lights give off a yellowish light while the new lights are a white light. The white light is favored by law enforcement because you can determine colors better;

• new technology allows light to be directed and therefore reduce light pollution.

Mayor Willie Weatherford said he hasn’t received any complaints from residents about the new street lights.

He did, though, say the city needs to address “dark spots” in street lighting in older sections of Manteca. He noted there are areas on North Street where it is “pretty dark” at night.

Federal grants, including $ 586,200 in stimulus funds, were secured to replace upwards of 4,800 existing street lights. Many of those light changes will allow the city to secure rebates from PG&E of between $50 and $200 a fixture. The money will come from incentive funds PG&E established working with the California Public Utilities Commission to get electricity users to invest in new technology to reduce energy demand and in turn avoid having to building new power plants.

About half of the street lights in Manteca have been switched. Those on major arterials will be changed last.