Neighbors say they called more than once to complain about a burned-out streetlight on Fair Oaks just half a block from where a woman was sexually assaulted on Thursday, Dec. 8, at around 6:30 a.m.
On Monday, several days after the rape, the light was fixed after PG&E received a complaint from District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener.
PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said the company has no record of an order to assess and fix that streetlight. “We didn’t receive a repair ticket,” Molica said. “That is unusual. We are absolutely committed to getting that communication better.”
The problem with the streetlight was first reported on Wednesday by SF Bay.
Andy Segal, president of the Fair Oaks Neighborhood Coalition, said a neighbor had reported the burned-out light at least twice. “We’re all vigilant about calling when there’s a light out,” he said.
According to a Arie Jongejan, a close friend of the victim, the street was poorly lit during the time of the assault, at about 6:15 a.m.
“She voiced that it was very dark, particularly on Fair Oaks in the area of the attack,” Jongejan said. “She thinks absolutely it’s a concern that needs to be addressed, not just in the neighborhood but anywhere there are dark spots in the city.”
Usually PG&E receives notice of a complaint through a city phone line, 311. The city encourages people to call the number for problems with street lighting. From there, complaints are given case numbers and sent to the responsible department.
In the case of streetlights, control is split between the city’s Public Utility Commission (PUC), which operates just over half of the lights, and PG&E. The assault happened close to Fair Oaks and 24th streets. The Fair Oaks lights are PG&E’s responsibility, but the 24th Street lights fall under the PUC’s control.
Molica from PG&E said that fixes to streetlights can take “anywhere from a couple days to a couple of weeks, depending on the state of the circuit.” The utility company usually does an assessment immediately after receiving a repair ticket. After PG&E received the call from Wiener on Monday, the light was fixed within three hours.
The Dec. 8 sexual assault on Fair Oaks between Guerrero and Valencia streets was the second in several weeks, and police believe the same attacker was involved in both. The first occurred on Nov. 18 near 24th and Potrero. The city is offering a $25,000 reward for help in locating the suspect.
For now, Wiener and the utility companies are attempting to address the lighting situation. After PG&E fixed the Fair Oaks light on Monday, crews inspected other streetlights in the area. Molica said the utility company is also using infrared technology to try to identify any “hot spots” in the circuit that could cause problems later, like a frayed wire.
“PUC and PG&E are both doing assessments of the area, both in terms of the functionality of the lights and whether there are gaps that need to be filled,” Wiener said. “I’ve also asked the neighbors who are interested to do their own assessment. Then once we know whether there might be a gap, we’ll take it from there.”
Charles Sheehan, spokesman for the PUC, said that if communities want more lights, the city is willing to work with them.
“At the end of the day, if a community is saying there’s a lot of crime, we need more lighting, we’ll go out there and do an assessment,” Sheehan said. The public utility company can up the wattage, change the direction that lights point in or add new poles if necessary.
There’s more to brightening up the street at night than just the lights.
“The bigger challenge is there are a lot of mature trees, so [with] the trees in conjunction with streetlights, a lot of people feel there isn’t enough light on the sidewalk,” Segal said.
Certain trees are more full and block any light. If property owners don’t have lights, that can leave sidewalks very dark. As part of the 24th Street neighborhood improvement project that’s underway, community members have carefully considered which types of trees allow more light to filter through, so that the streets will feel more safe at night. Following the sexual assault, the Department of Public Works is also assessing the trees along Fair Oaks to see if any need to be trimmed.
“Part of the issue is when those lights are working, part of these issues may be trees, and porch lights, issues with LED lights — sometimes you put them out and they’ll be too bright,” Molica said. “So it’s finding that balance. Public safety is at the front of everybody’s minds. The lights are all working. That’s the most important thing. They are adequately spaced and now we may want to look at doing some more.”