A half-century ago, Gloria Perez arrived at her new home on Irving Avenue in Logan Heights with six kids in tow and a seventh on the way.

Perez raised her children in the house on Irving Avenue, worked as a translator at a public school down the street and saw many neighbors come and go. A lot has changed over the years, Perez said, but one thing has stayed the same. Her block has no streetlights.

Photo by Dustin Michelson
Photo by Dustin Michelson

“I’ve always wanted them,” said Perez, now 88, while the light melted away outside her home on a recent evening.

Perez will not be getting streetlights on her block anytime soon if the city’s budget numbers hold true. The same goes for almost every block in the city that needs streetlights.

No piece of infrastructure in San Diego, not streets, not storm drains, not buildings, has less funding than streetlights, according to the city’s newly released infrastructure budget. The city says its needs almost a quarter-billion dollars in funding for streetlights over the next five years. It projects it will have less than $4 million to pay for them, less than 2 percent of the total. The gap looks like this:

I promise there’s a little sliver of a bar in the funding column.

In other neighborhoods around San Diego, there are ways around waiting on the city for new streetlights. These solutions are cold comfort to Perez.

Sometimes mini-governments, which charge property owners an extra fee to make improvements, pay to install streetlights. No such government exists in Logan Heights. For a fee, San Diego Gas & Electric will install streetlights in neighborhoods with overhead power lines. An SDG&E spokeswoman told me lights could go in halfway down Perez’s block for roughly $2,000 for every light pole plus $15 a month per light, a charge that Perez could pay personally or persuade her neighbors to chip in on.

Perez doesn’t believe she should have to foot a bill like that. Other neighborhoods in the city got lights without shelling out thousands.

“We’re not that important,” she said, chuckling. “We pay our taxes, too, don’t we? Why don’t they just come and put the lights in we need?”

Logan Heights has a higher crime rate than the rest of the city. Just recently, one of her neighbors was rear-ended because it was too dark to see his car, she said. Perez also pointed out all the well-kept houses around hers.

Photo by Dustin Michelson
Photo by Dustin Michelson

“It’s so nice,” she said. “We just need a little boost.”

For that to happen, city leaders will have to dedicate a lot more money to streetlights than they do now. Council members are talking about a ballot measure next year to fund repairs and new facilities, including lights.

But the stark divide across the city between neighborhoods that have streetlights and other infrastructure and those that don’t could create a barrier to approval. Voters in communities that already have streetlights may have to tax themselves so Perez and her neighbors can get some, too.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the city’s total streetlight funding needs.

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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