The La Canada Flintridge City Council last week voted to phase out most of the city’s mercury-vapor street lights, despite some residents’ fears that the replacement lamps will cast an ugly glow.
With the 3-2 vote, the City Council decided to convert 288 mercury-vapor light fixtures in residential neighborhoods to high-pressure sodium-vapor fixtures that are less expensive to operate. All of the light fixtures are owned by Southern California Edison Co., which will make the switch at no cost to the city, a company spokeswoman said.
Until now, the City Council had kept the mercury-vapor lights because some residents said they preferred their blue-green illumination to what they claimed is the “eerie orange glow” cast by sodium-vapor lights. The city last turned down Edison’s proposal to change the lights a little more than a year ago.
La Canada Flintridge is one of only three cities in Los Angeles County whose Edison-owned mercury-vapor street lights have not yet been converted to the energy-saving sodium-vapor lights, said Eileen Tschernenko, area manager for the utility. The others are Long Beach, which has chosen to install low-pressure sodium-vapor lights, and San Marino, whose old electric circuitry and underground wiring make conversion too costly, she said.
Edison began phasing out its mercury-vapor lights as a part of a conservation program after the 1973 Arab oil embargo and subsequent energy crises, Tschernenko said. She warned the council before its vote that Edison would begin charging special rates to maintain the mercury-vapor lights and that utility bills would increase “rather dramatically,” perhaps reaching as much as four times the current charge.
A handful of residents argued again Monday against the sodium-vapor lights, complaining that the orange light decreases visibility and thus makes crime and traffic accidents more likely.
Purpose is ‘Defeated’
“If we’re not able to see at night, then the whole purpose of having lights is defeated, regardless of whether you’re saving money or not,” said William S. Lee, a resident of Starlane Drive. Lee passed around an orange camera lens filter and a piece of green paper to illustrate his claim that the glow of the lights would make it more difficult to see the many bushes and trees in La Canada Flintridge.
The cost of operating the street lights is passed on to property owners through what is now an annual $7.34 tax assesment per parcel. The company estimated that it could pass on savings of as much as $7,600 a year citywide to taxpayers after the change.
However, some residents said that individual taxpayers’ savings would be insignificant. Maynard Morris, who spoke on behalf of the 90-member Starlight Mesa Homeowners Assn., estimated that homeowners would, at most, save 72 cents on their annual $7.34 energy tax assessments.
But the residents’ protests were to no avail. Only two of the five council members, Mayor Barbara Pieper and Councilman Ed Krause, wanted to continue with the mercury-vapor lights.
‘More Efficient Lights’
Councilman O. Warren Hillgren, who brought the issue of street light conversion back before the council, reasoned that the city had a responsibility to save money for its residents and to do its share in helping out an “energy-dependent and energy-deficient” United States. “I’m not advocating or saying that high-pressure sodium-vapor lights are perfect lights,” Hillgren said. “They’re not. I think they are more efficient lights.”
The council’s decision will not affect another 80 mercury-vapor light fixtures owned by the city and Los Angeles County. However, City Manager Don Otterman said that the county sent a letter to the city more than two years ago ordering the conversion of county-owned street lights. Otterman said the county agreed to wait until the entire city is changed.
The switch in La Canada Flintridge is expected to begin in about two months and to take about a month to complete.