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Audit reveals failures in city’s ability to repair street lights

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SAN DIEGO - The city of San Diego's replacement of street lights is inefficient and fails to meet a goal of making repairs within 12 days or less, according to a report delivered to the City Council's Audit Committee Wednesday.

The study by city auditors found that performance data on San Diego's 60,000 street lights are unreliable and difficult to analyze, repairs are only one of competing priorities for employees in the Street Division of the Transportation and Storm Water Department and that vehicles used to repair lights are not available sometimes.

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The issue is important because the presence of working street lights reduces the danger of crashes by 14-30 percent, according to the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. They can also improve personal security and reduce crimes like vandalism.

"This kind of backed up what I thought might be the result from constituent complaints we were getting about how long it took to get things turned on and energized and repaired," committee Chairman Scott Sherman said. He said the results were actually worse than he expected.

In a survey of residents last year, barely over half of the respondents reported that they were satisfied with the city's street lights. During the audit, the Street Division had open service notifications for almost 3 percent of city street lights.

The average repair time was 17 days in one fiscal year and 16 in the other. However, fixes in situations in which a pole was knocked over averaged nearly seven months.

The audit also found that the division has no written repair process, no policies or procedures for prioritizing fixes or retaining records, no inventory for parts, and employees have trouble finding the needed bulbs, fixtures and poles.

"Coming from the private sector, it's kind of shocking to me that we don't have the inventories, we don't have the systems in place to track inventory," Sherman said. "That's just one of the basic components of what you do -- you fix things and you know what you have to make sure you get your job done."

The auditors recommended, among other things, that the city update its data on the conditions of its street lights and improve planning.

Staff said the city is developing an infrastructure management system that will include street lights and provide laptop computers to employees in the field. The system is scheduled to be in place in one year.

Management agreed to the seven recommendations, and the audit was forwarded by the committee to the full City Council.

The City of San Diego has a website to where residents can report a street light that is out.