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Civics & Democracy

New Streetlights Could Be Coming To LA. Here’s Why We (Sometimes) Have To Vote On It First

Ten rows of streetlights of varying heights and styles are on a raised area surrounded by buildings, palm trees and people walking both among and around them.
Chris Burden's 'Urban Light' Installation at LACMA. (Photo by RV Sun via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr.)
Getty Images/iStock Editorial)
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When you think of voting, maybe the federal or local elections come to mind first. But what about streetlights?

Streetlights votes — yes, votes — are being tallied Wednesday, meaning parts of Los Angeles could be brighter than before if approved.

The installation of most streetlights in the city have no public involvement. But streetlights which light up front yards and entryways of private homes and businesses go through a different process.

That’s considered a “special benefit,” and means an assessment can be levied on the property to cover the city’s costs, including maintenance, operation and services. The assessments can range from $50 into the thousands.

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As the Bureau of Street Lighting puts it, they aren’t responsible for “lighting up front yards of properties.” Even local and federal governments may have to pay up if a special benefit applies to them.

Why do we vote on some streetlights?

This is where Proposition 218, which passed in 1996, comes in. It basically says if there’s a property charge levied on your property, you have the right to refuse to pay it.

Hence the vote. Property owners in a "lighting district’"— some as small as a block, with only a handful of owners — get to cast a ballot about whether they want the streetlight installed. 

The time it takes from the initial proposal to actually voting can take months. There’s a myriad of City Council motions and public works reports that plan out where the lights are needed. But if you’d get a special benefit, eventually a street lighting ballot will show up in your mailbox. It’ll have information inside that looks like this:

A screenshot of some of the ballot information. It reads notice to property owners. This notice provides you with legally required information about the balloting and assessment. On the back, it explains how your assessment is calculated. Below the text is the Bureau of Street Lighting seal with the 213-847-1500 contact phone number. Next to the deal is two illustrations of a home with and without a streetlight. Below that is says a majority yes vote will permit the city to install streelights near your property. A majority no vote will not allow the city to install streelights adjacent to your property.
A portion of the notice information mailed to property owners.
(Courtesy of the Bureau of Street Lighting's mailing package files for the City Council)

Meanwhile streetlights that don’t give properties a special benefit are paid for through the city’s general fund, which includes our taxes, fines, fees and other revenue sources.

The voting logistics are much like a standard election, except votes are weighted by your assessment amount. If a majority of people in your street lighting district approve the assessment, then you’ll get the new streetlight.

If they vote it down, no streetlight is put in (and if one was already installed, it’s taken down).

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These street lighting districts — including areas in South L.A., the San Fernando Valley and more — just wrapped up voting last week, and it’s their votes that will be tabulated Wednesday.

What’s next

The tabulation of ballots for those lighting districts will be livestreamed starting at 10 a.m. To access the Zoom meeting, here’s the information to join the Zoom meeting:

  • Meeting ID: 953 8628 4393
  • Passcode: prop218

The final results will be shared at the City Council meeting on May 9.
This isn’t it for streetlight votes — more are coming. These areas are up next for voting and are in the early stages of the process. If you live on one of the blocks identified, keep an eye out for a streetlight ballot to show up in the coming months.

How you could get streetlights installed

Voting on streetlights isn’t the only way to get your neighborhood more illuminated.

You can petition the bureau to start this assessment process to get lights on your streets. The methods will vary if you have existing streetlights or none at all, and what type of light you’d like installed. But in general, you’ll have to gather signatures from your neighbors to show support.

For more, check out the Bureau’s guide to getting a streetlight.

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