Frank Gomez travels around San Diego every day as a building inspector, admiring the good homes in good neighborhoods, often in the city’s northern half. When day turns to evening, Gomez returns to his house in Encanto, where the difference between his neighborhood and others can feel like, well, night and day.

At night, it’s dark around Gomez’s home, though he lives close to one of Encanto’s main commercial areas. Many streets in San Diego’s southeastern neighborhoods share the same story. Gomez believes the darkness breeds vandalism and gang activity, some of the area’s most persistent problems.

“If you really want to take a better look at this neighborhood, come here at night,” Gomez said. “You’ll see it better.”

A solution, Gomez believes, is simple: more street lights.

Gomez’s concerns highlight the next issue I’m going to be tracking, San Diego’s policies for street lights.

I plan to examine the relationship between street lights and crime and economic development and why they exist or don’t in certain neighborhoods. Besides folks in southeastern neighborhoods, City Heights residents, for instance, have long been frustrated with the lack of street lights in their community.

I hope to tell stories about street lights in many different ways, beginning with a map. Below is San Diego illuminated through the density of street lights. The orange and yellow areas show the brightest parts of the city and blue, the darkest.

Click to enlarge.

The extremes aren’t surprising. The light glows in downtown, and around popular night spots in Pacific Beach, Hillcrest and North Park and ebbs in more rural areas, such as San Pasqual, Otay Mesa and Pacific Highlands Ranch.

Distinctions between other neighborhoods are less obvious. But Eric Busboom, who compiled the street light information for his open government resource, the San Diego Regional Data Library, was able to break down the data by community planning group area, which roughly approximate city neighborhood boundaries. According to Busboom’s analysis, the greater North Park area has more than a third higher street light density than Gomez’s Encanto neighborhood.

Busboom plans to finish a project correlating crimes like car thefts and break-ins to street light density in the next few weeks.

“We want to get people to understand issues in terms of their neighborhood right around them,” Busboom said.

We created a Google spreadsheet of Busboom’s street light analysis, which shows the number and density of street lights by planning area. (You can find a map of planning areas here.) The data isn’t perfect for comparisons because it doesn’t distinguish between commercial, residential, industrial and nature preserves in neighborhoods. The Navajo area in eastern San Diego, for instance, has a low street light density, but it includes Cowles Mountain and Mission Trails Regional Park.

What do you want to know about street lights in San Diego? You can email me (liam@vosd.org), contact me on Twitter (@dillonliam) or call me (619-550-5663).

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?

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    This article relates to: Community, Government, Infrastructure, Mayoral Election Issues 2014, News, Share, Street Lights, Streets and Sidewalks
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    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

    22 comments
    Mike Churchill
    Mike Churchill subscriber

    How about updating the maps so that you compare planning areas with similar population density or zoning? Alternately just graph # of streetlights divided by # of residents in each planning area.

    MikeC
    MikeC

    How about updating the maps so that you compare planning areas with similar population density or zoning? Alternately just graph # of streetlights divided by # of residents in each planning area.

    Carrie Schneider
    Carrie Schneider subscribermember

    Yes, let's doom all of the remaining dark skies. I know some people who live in Encanto precisely because it does NOT have street lights. Instead of spending millions on more street lights (which, by the way, cause deep shadows that can obscure crime as much as the light reveals it), how about distributing motion-activated lights to homeowners?

    Carries
    Carries

    Yes, let's doom all of the remaining dark skies. I know some people who live in Encanto precisely because it does NOT have street lights. Instead of spending millions on more street lights (which, by the way, cause deep shadows that can obscure crime as much as the light reveals it), how about distributing motion-activated lights to homeowners?

    mlaiuppa
    mlaiuppa subscriber

    Oh, and our crime rate went down. Coincedence? It think not.

    mlaiuppa
    mlaiuppa

    Oh, and our crime rate went down. Coincedence? It think not.

    David Hall
    David Hall subscriber

    In 2013, anybody with any experience in Geographical Information Systems can make a useful interactive map. This is isn't.

    sdguy
    sdguy

    In 2013, anybody with any experience in Geographical Information Systems can make a useful interactive map. This is isn't.

    Joshua Brant
    Joshua Brant subscriber

    Great idea for an article. I'm interested to see what you find out. I am a believer that well lit areas do deter nefarious activities to a degree. I have wondered why some areas of San Diego (city) collect foliage and other garden waste, but some don't. I got used to the city collecting green waste in my old neighborhood. I was surprised when we moved to a different part of the city that this service didn't exist.

    JBZ
    JBZ

    Great idea for an article. I'm interested to see what you find out. I am a believer that well lit areas do deter nefarious activities to a degree. I have wondered why some areas of San Diego (city) collect foliage and other garden waste, but some don't. I got used to the city collecting green waste in my old neighborhood. I was surprised when we moved to a different part of the city that this service didn't exist.

    Joe LaCava
    Joe LaCava subscribermember

    Great detective work by Eric B and analysis by Liam. The bright spots are the commercial areas, not a particular community. If Eric and Liam dig deeper I suspect they will find street lighting is driven primarily by zoning. Not to say that certain sections of our city don't need/deserve special consideration.

    jlacava
    jlacava

    Great detective work by Eric B and analysis by Liam. The bright spots are the commercial areas, not a particular community. If Eric and Liam dig deeper I suspect they will find street lighting is driven primarily by zoning. Not to say that certain sections of our city don't need/deserve special consideration.

    Jennifer Reiswig
    Jennifer Reiswig subscribermember

    I think some of those dark areas are separate cities, right - eg, Coronado, IB, National City. So maybe they just didn't have the data available?

    bmljenny
    bmljenny

    I think some of those dark areas are separate cities, right - eg, Coronado, IB, National City. So maybe they just didn't have the data available?

    Jake Mandel
    Jake Mandel subscriber

    This map is terrible. You can obviously see La Jolla, Downtown and Point Loma, but there's no indication of which neighborhood is which. I can't find North City, Carmel Valley, Sorrento Valley... Why are there no freeways shown? Can there at least be some indicators of which neighborhood is which?

    jake_mandel
    jake_mandel

    This map is terrible. You can obviously see La Jolla, Downtown and Point Loma, but there's no indication of which neighborhood is which. I can't find North City, Carmel Valley, Sorrento Valley... Why are there no freeways shown? Can there at least be some indicators of which neighborhood is which?

    Mark Allen
    Mark Allen subscriber

    I live in Encanto too. The city has all but abandoned the area. In addition to few street lights, there are no curbs, sidewalks or even storm drains. There are not even any plans in the works to give us the same basic amenities that most every other part of the city has.The city abandoned a street behind my house years ago, now there are squatters living on it, but the city wont respond.

    mdainsd
    mdainsd

    I live in Encanto too. The city has all but abandoned the area. In addition to few street lights, there are no curbs, sidewalks or even storm drains. There are not even any plans in the works to give us the same basic amenities that most every other part of the city has.The city abandoned a street behind my house years ago, now there are squatters living on it, but the city wont respond.

    Liam Dillon
    Liam Dillon memberadministrator

    Hi Ron- You're right. We're fixing now. Thanks.

    dillonliam
    dillonliam

    Hi Ron- You're right. We're fixing now. Thanks.

    Ron Hidinger
    Ron Hidinger subscriber

    Pretty map. Too bad it doesn't include all of San Diego. But that's okay. SD doesn't pay much attention to South San Diego, either. Except when its time to pick up the taxes or get a photo-op at the border.

    ronh
    ronh

    Pretty map. Too bad it doesn't include all of San Diego. But that's okay. SD doesn't pay much attention to South San Diego, either. Except when its time to pick up the taxes or get a photo-op at the border.

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