Residents of a Chatsworth neighborhood have been in the dark since March, when the city of Los Angeles shut off their street lights after realizing it had failed to charge them for service since President Richard Nixon's first year in office.
The lights may be turned back on in a matter of days if residents agree to pay current and future charges, a Department of Public Works official said.
The department's Bureau of Street Lighting realized its mistake in February 2001. In March of this year it asked the residents of 73 homes to pay retroactively for three years of operating and maintaining the lights, said Stan Horwitz, manager of the community services division for the bureau. He called the request normal city policy.
Of the 42 residents who responded by written ballot, only 18 said they were willing to pay. The street lights were then turned off.
When the city offered a compromise, in which only current and future charges were to be paid, some residents signed a petition endorsing it. City officials say they would turn the lights back on if a majority of the residents agreed to pay.
Demanding retroactive payment for lighting since 1969 was impractical, Horwitz said.
"People feel that it's not their fault and they shouldn't have to pay. And I can't argue with that."
The error was discovered when a public works employee was drawing maps for a new lighting district and couldn't find the Chatsworth area's street light tax assessments on record, Horwitz said.
The street light tax is between $80 and $130 per household a year. The amount was easy to overlook, because it is such a small fraction of the department's revenue, he said.
"You can't tell by looking at it that these particular lights aren't being paid for," he said.
Mayor James K. Hahn requested that public works officials turn the street lights back on as quickly as possible, a spokesman said Friday.
For safety reasons, residents asked that the streets affected not be named.
Dylan Lynn, 13, said his parents won't let him go out after dark.
"The only good time is at nighttime because it's so hot during the day," he said.
But his parents won't let him go to the skate park because they "don't want me getting kidnapped."
Jared Weintraub, 15, said, "It's really dark. You can't really go outside to do anything, unless you have a flashlight."
Judy Lebid, who has lived in the area with her husband for five years, said she and neighbors always keep their porch lights on to brighten the street at night.
Still, she said, some areas are pretty dark.
Lebid said that she was one of the minority of residents willing to pay the three years in back taxes for lights and that she hopes for a resolution to the problem.
"Some people do not have lights, and it's not their choice," she said.