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LEDs lead the charge of the lights brigade in L.A.

Many neighbors like the upgraded streetlamps, which cast a better light for less money, but some say it's too bright an idea.

June 02, 2010|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times

Most talk glowingly about their neighborhoods' new nighttime look. But some residents are taking a dim view of bright new streetlights that are popping up across Los Angeles.

Energy-saving light-emitting diode fixtures are being placed on 140,000 of the city's roadside light poles in a retrofitting that engineers say will cut power usage by at least 40% and eventually save taxpayers an estimated $10 million a year.

Besides being cheaper to operate, the new LED lamps shine a whiter, wider and more even splash of light across residential streets.

The lights are being welcomed by most. Others grumble that the LEDs shine through their windows "like floodlights."

Some who live in the tightly packed Venice area where homes closely line narrow streets complain that the new streetlights are overkill.

"I thought Jesus was coming to my house on Saturday night … then I realized the city had replaced my streetlight with an LED laser beam!!!!!" one resident ranted on a community website. It's "like the police helicopter is just parked permanently over the house."

Others contend that the LEDs are far brighter than the old-style high-pressure sodium bulbs. "I want Venice to be safe — but my street was bright enough," wrote another resident. "My street went from bright to insanely bright."

That view runs counter to those living where houses are set farther back from the road and the streetlights' reach ends at the front lawn.

"I like the new lights. I favor brighter lights and energy conservation," said Tom Cooper, a limousine driver who lives on Chase Street in Canoga Park and was out for an evening stroll. "People who don't like them are just looking for something to complain about."

Retiree Dai Dang lives next to one of the new LED light poles at Winnetka's Bryant Street and Lurline Avenue. He said the light that spills onto his neatly kept stucco home doesn't bother him.

"We have blinds on the windows. It doesn't matter. I like it," Dang said as he stood on his front porch and surveyed the brightly lit intersection.

A neighbor across the street agreed. "It's pretty bright, but I like it," said Marvin Lopez, an auto mechanic.

Lopez was puzzled, however, by a lone high-pressure sodium light still standing a few steps down the street. It is only about 25 feet from one of the new LEDs. "I can't figure out why that old-school light is still here," he said.

The side-by-side streetlights sharply illustrated the difference between the two technologies.

The old lamp cast a yellowish light that was concentrated in a circular pattern on Bryant Street directly under the light pole. The new fixture's white light was evenly distributed and spread up and down both sides of the street for many frontyards.

That's exactly what the city's Bureau of Street Lighting wants to happen.

The lamp replacement campaign began last year. Updating about 125 fixtures a day, city crews have converted about 17,500 streetlights to LEDs. The retrofitting will take four more years to complete.

Counting all of them, there are 209,000 streetlights in Los Angeles. But about 70,000 are decorative fixtures that don't accommodate LED inserts, said Ed Ebrahimian, director of the bureau.

"That technology is a bit slower, but it's coming," he said.

The LED fixtures cost about $500, including installation. The high-pressure sodium bulbs cost about $150 each but the bulbs burn out after about four years. The new LEDs are expected to last at least 10 years, Ebrahimian said.

Advances in LED technology and production in the next few years are expected to lower their initial cost to the range of the old-fashioned bulbs, he said. That, plus the energy savings and money saved by less frequent bulb replacement will lead to the city's predicted $10-million savings.

Ebrahimian said the savings won't start adding up for seven or eight years — the time needed for repayment of a $40-million loan the bureau received from the city's Department of Water and Power to launch the program.

Because of the fast-changing technology, the city is constantly testing new fixtures on streetlight poles in block-long sections of town. The best designs are cycled into the installation program every six months.

The residential-area LEDs are not brighter — they just look like they are, Ebrahimian said. "White gives the perception of having more light."

He said police officers have applauded the new lights, which make it easier to see colors accurately. "Police air support said lighting has improved five times. That's not the case, but that's what they see."

Air Operations Sgt. Charles Springer agreed, although he said the Police Department has not done any formal tests.

"They make the streets appear to be brighter. They do make things easier to see," said Springer, who patrols in the air in the evening.

Ebrahimian said city crews are working to turn the Venice critics into LED lovers too.

"The fixtures are getting small shields. There's an 'eyelid' that goes behind the fixtures to block the light. Those properties are so close to the streetlight pole that we need the eyelids," he said.

And as for the dueling new and old streetlights on Bryant Street in Winnetka, the old, yellow-tinted lamp is on a wooden power pole owned by the Department of Water and Power and outside his bureau's jurisdiction, Ebrahimian said.

If residents call the DWP, they can get the old light unplugged, he said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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