Task force tackles downtown lighting

Upgrading the streetlights along Main Street could cost Huntington Beach a hefty amount of money, according to a presentation given by a member of city staff to the Downtown Task Force on Thursday.

Aaron Klemm, energy project manager for Huntington Beach, told the group that the cost of upgrading the lights is estimated at $1,600 per fixture, or $40,000 per block. The improvements would be done along Main from Pacific Coast Highway to Orange Avenue and are aimed at increasing public safety.

The fixtures would replace the acorn-shaped lamps currently in the area. Klemm said that simply replacing the bulbs wouldn't suffice because, depending on their temperature, they could damage the housing.

Klemm said LED technology has come a long way in the past three years, and bulbs are much brighter than those installed by the city in 2010.

"There are new fixtures, for about the same price, that can put out roughly double the lighting capacity, almost 10,000 lumens compared to 5,000 lumens," he said.

The committee decided to ask city staff to further look into the costs before a recommendation is sent to the City Council.

In 2010, the city received $350,000 in federal funding for energy-efficiency projects, most of which was spent downtown, Klemm said. However, various groups at the time had different thoughts about lighting.

Residents then wanted brighter lights for safety reasons, but the Business Improvement District wanted softer, warm-colored lights to add ambience to downtown.

The city's solution was to add dimming capabilities on the fixtures along Main. The brightest LEDs at the time were installed and set at different levels, depending on the time of day.

Currently, from dusk to midnight, the lights are set at 70% and raised to 100% from midnight to 3 a.m.

The streets parallel to Main — Fifth and Third — have LED lights as well but without dimming capabilities.

Committee members want better lighting to curb criminal activity in the downtown area, but Klemm, pointing to statistics, said the effectiveness is questionable.

Mayor Connie Boardman and other task force members expressed concern about the parking structure, where fluorescent lights are used.

"One of the key spots in the city where there's a large amount of crime is in our parking structure," said Councilman Joe Carchio, whose claim was supported by Huntington Beach police Capt. Russell Reinhart. "We have to focus on where the crimes are prevalent, and the parking structure is where it's at."

Klemm said he didn't know offhand how much it would cost to install brighter fixtures in the structure, which is at Walnut Avenue and Third Street, but that painting the walls white, to reflect more light, could be a temporary measure.

"A lot of people compare Main Street with the first block of Fifth," Klemm said. "The first block of Fifth, the sidewalks are white. The pavers are light-colored and they reflect the light better. So it's always going to seem brighter than a 30-year-old sidewalk."

Task force member J.D. Shafer asked if adding motion sensors could help, but Klemm said the effectiveness would vary depending on their location.

The next task force meeting is scheduled for Oct. 10 at the Main Street Library. Members will continue discussing public safety.

Boardman said IMG Action Sports Vice President James Leitz might attend that meeting to discuss the future of the U.S Open of Surfing.

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