Much to the relief of citizens fed up with darkened street corners and unlit sidewalks, Petaluma's Public Works department has brought in some help: A new streetlight technician who began tackling the city's laundry list of outages last week.
After hearing many public cries for streetlights to be repaired, the City Council approved a 2012-2013 budget that included $80,000-$100,000 for a second streetlight position, with the money coming out of the city street fund.
Public Works Director Dan St. John said that he hopes the department's newest employee can repair an average of 10 lights per day, quickly reducing the more than 300 broken streetlights throughout the city.
"We were only working on the streetlights one day per week, and for every 10 we fixed, 10 more went out," said St. John. "Now we believe we're going to see some real progress."
Prior to last week, Petaluma had employed one streetlight technician responsible for the city's 5,000 streetlights, 50 traffic-lighted intersections and 22 in-ground lighted crosswalks. But because broken traffic signals pose the greatest safety risk — and because they are in need of constant upkeep — the city's lone streetlight technician had been focusing all his attention on traffic signals.
In fact, for the past three years, the city had been paying other city workers, such as maintenance technicians, to fix streetlights one day per week, on overtime. Obviously, the sporadic attention given to streetlights resulted in a growing list of broken lamps.
St. John had hoped to hire someone by mid-October, after money was alotted for the position, but, he pointed out, hiring city staff can be a lengthy process.
"It takes a long time to go through the interview process and the background checks," said St. John. "We're a little over a month behind where I wanted to be, but sometimes it just takes that long."
Joan Bunn, a Petaluma resident who has complained to the city about the streetlight outages on Sonoma Mountain Parkway many times over the past several years, said that while she is relieved the city is actively fixing streetlights, she is disappointed that it took so long.
"It's well after the daylight savings change," Bunn said. "The city knows how long it takes to hire someone and knows when it gets really dark in this area. I just wish it had been sooner."
Bunn is just one of many Petaluma residents calling for the city's streetlights to be repaired. The high number of broken streetlights was also cited as a contributing factor in a lawsuit filed by a pedestrian who was hit by a tractor-trailer in the intersection of North McDowell Boulevard and East Washington Street last year.
In the suit, lawyers for Heather Kontos, 22, claim that the intersection's streetlights were not functioning properly, causing the sidewalk to be poorly lit and creating unsafe conditions. Kontos is seeking $1 million in damages from the city, the driver and the trucking company.
St. John said that the new technician has begun fixing streetlights in residential areas first, to become better acquainted with the city's equipment. He added that soon after the new tech will begin fixing streetlights in areas with heavier traffic.
(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at firstname.lastname@example.org)