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Finally, Venice gets to bask in glow of triumph

Times Staff Writer

About four years ago, members of the Presidents Row Neighborhood Assn. of Venice decided they wanted more streetlights.

Like many places in Los Angeles, their neighborhood had never been fully rigged for lights. That was annoying on several fronts, particularly to those who walked their dogs at night or grew weary of waiting for lost pizza deliverers.

Residents also wanted to be progressive and asked that the streetlights be solar-powered, and, back in 2005, then-Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski agreed to help fund a test program with one....

And how did that work out?

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After overcoming the usual bureaucratic hurdles, the city’s first solar streetlight blinked on a few weeks ago and has been going strong since, lighting a small patch of Victoria Avenue.

Residents have even given their new light a name: Plexus, as in the muscle.

The set up is pretty simple. A small solar panel sits atop the pole with a small battery tucked underneath it. The panel collects the rays, the battery stores the energy and at dusk -- ta-da! -- the light comes on.

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Why did it take so long for the city to install a single solar streetlight?

City rules.

Even though members of the neighborhood association did research and had selected a solar light, the city then had to do its own research. Many moons passed.

The city installed two other solar streetlights -- another in Venice, the other in the San Fernando Valley. As a result, three of about 250,000 streetlights in Los Angeles are now powered by the sun.

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Is this the wave of the future?

Some Venetians hope so. Plexus may not be quite as bright as a conventional streetlight, but it does an admirable job.

“We love it. We don’t need to land aircraft on our street. We just need to walk our dogs and have guests be able to find their cars,” said Lindsey Folsom, a member of the neighborhood association.

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The big hope, Folsom says, is that the city uses more solar lights in the future to save electricity and a few bucks. The average streetlight in L.A. consumes about as much electricity as a TV set, and it currently costs residents about $17 million a year to keep the streetlights on.

Sol Inc. of Palm City, Fla., manufactured the light being used on Victoria Avenue. J.R. Finkle, a sales associate with the firm, said the light in Venice costs $3,500 to $4,000 -- more than most streetlights -- but the devices usually pay for themselves in five to seven years because the sun’s rays don’t come with a price tag.

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And the big picture here?

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You may have heard the phrase “global warming” in the news lately. Assuming it is really happening, one big cause is believed to be the burning of fossil fuels.

About 76% of the electricity used in Los Angeles comes from burning fossil fuels -- 47% of that is coal and 29% natural gas. Coal, in particular, is a big greenhouse gas producer.

To simplify its strategy, the city wants to reduce significantly its use of fossil fuels before we either: A) run out of fossil fuels, or B) the Earth’s polar ice caps melt and the sea rises, sweeping Venice and Plexus to a watery grave.

At this juncture, the Department of Water and Power says that 8% of its power is from such renewable and clean sources as hydroelectricity.

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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is pushing to have 20% of the city’s electricity come from clean sources by 2010 -- something the agency hopes to accomplish by purchasing clean energy on the open market and by building new facilities.

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So why does the DWP leave the lights on at its building at night?

DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo couldn’t wait to answer that one -- seriously.

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Among his answers: Most of the lights are programmed to be turned off between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. However, some remain on for around-the-clock operations and maintenance. City building codes also dictate that some security lights stay on.

Ramallo then launched into a soliloquy over the building’s super-efficient fluorescent lights. And, leaving no bases uncovered, he also said the agency will be installing low-flow toilets in the building.

A skeptical observer may suggest that it waited for many homeowners to get them first.

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How’d those board elections go for the Studio City Neighborhood Council on Tuesday?

Very well -- if you like controversy.

And keep in mind that the Studio City council has long enjoyed a reputation of being one of the most organized of the neighborhood councils.

First, there were different factions challenging one another’s stakeholder status -- only stakeholders get to vote.

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Then, a former Planning Commission president and longtime board member was escorted from the building by security guards after he insisted on being able to witness vote tabulation.

And that leads to one big sigh from Carol Baker Tharp, the city’s new neighborhood council chief. Putting aside last week’s flap, she said she believes many of the elected councils in the city are working well but frequently spending way too much time on electioneering.

“In some neighborhood councils, there is a win-lose mentality, and people say, ‘My side needs to win. I’m not going to listen to other points of view,’ ” Tharp said. She hopes to find a way to hold elections quickly and peacefully so the councils can concentrate on doing what they’re supposed to do -- improve their neighborhoods.

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Any good news on the Los Angeles River front?

Yes, some money appears headed to the effort to make the Los Angeles River look like something other than an accident at a cement factory.

In Washington last month, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) persuaded respective committees to authorize more money for river studies by the Army Corps of Engineers. The House panel approved $20 million, and the Senate panel $12 million.

The key word there is “authorize.” Those two amounts will still have to be reconciled between the House and Senate, and the money would have to be appropriated as part of a future federal budget.

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Attentive readers may recall that Boxer last year promised to secure $79 million for the river. To help her keep track of her promise, check out the accompanying Boxer-O-Meter.

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What would the City Council like to see added at City Hall?

A city of Los Angeles store.

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On the surface, it seems like a good idea. As noted in this space last year, it would be great if the city sold reproductions of great historical photos found on the fourth floor of City Hall.

But it appears the council has something else in mind. Here’s an excerpt from the December motion on the store proposal:

“Los Angeles now has a mayor who has been featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine and is generating tremendous publicity. Imagine how well some ‘Antonio Villaraigosa cuff links’ could sell. How about an ‘Eric Garcetti solar radio’? The possibilities are endless.”

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Next week: The endless possibilities.

steve.hymon@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Boxer-O-Meter

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Last year, Sen. Barbara Boxer promised to secure about $79 million in federal funds for L.A. River projects.

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Target (In millions) : $79

Amount raised so far:$0

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Source: Times reporting

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