The Presidents Row Neighborhood Association, started in the 1980s, is one of the oldest neighborhood groups in Venice. It covers the area east of Lincoln Boulevard bounded by Venice, Washington and Abbot Kinney Boulevards.
Here is where you will find Garfield, Grant, Harding, Harrison and Van Buren Avenues. Hence, the name “Presidents Row.”
The association has an active board of directors that meets regularly to discuss neighborhood issues such as development and parking and holds a general meeting a couple of times a year for informational purposes if there is a hot topic.
Lindsey Folsom remembers that about five years ago the group was trying to come up with ways to enhance the neighborhood, such as fixing the sidewalks, paving the alleys or planting trees.
“We are often in react mode,” she says regarding how to make proposed developments smaller or better. “Why not think of a project to help the neighborhood.”
Since the Presidents Row residential streets are quite dark, Lindsey came up with the thought to install solar-powered street lights.
“Here we live in a place where the sun does shine many, many days of the year,” she says. “Why aren’t we coming up with solar-powered street lighting?”
What started as an innovative idea, actually turned out to be quite successful, but not without a few snags along the way. This lighting concept for residential streets was fairly new then, as it still is today.
The first step was to find an appropriate vendor. At the time, there weren’t many available and, based on Lindsey’s research, those that did deal in this type of product were not even in California. Finally, after much investigation, Solar Outdoor Lighting, Inc. (SOL), a company in the solar business for 18 years and located in Florida, was selected for the first light.
At the same time they were looking for the right kind of light, Lindsey and her neighbor, Harris Levey, needed to secure funds. After an anticipated neighborhood windfall fell through, they approached then-Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski about their idea and she provided a grant to cover four lights, including the installations costs.
“Her office believed in it and wanted to see the project go forward,” says Lindsey.
The grant money was put in an account with the Bureau of Street Lighting, which selected the vendor for the second light.
“We were to be the pilot program to test several different vendors using our streets as the showcase,” says Lindsey. “We set this up as a trial for the City of Los Angeles to hopefully embrace solar street lighting as an option for neighborhoods to put in instead of electric [line power].”
A scientific study was done to determine which streets would get the lights. Lindsey and another neighbor drove around several evenings with a map and noted which places were darker than others. They also collected feedback from association members about their thoughts as to where the lights should be placed. Some people didn’t want them.
“There was an unfounded fear that the light would shine in their windows,” says Lindsey. The Solar Outdoor Lighting light was placed on Victoria Avenue and the Bureau of Street Lighting selection was placed on Coeur d’Alene Avenue.
The last five years have seen a change in perception and technology in solar lighting. J.R. Finkle, a sales representative with Solar Outdoor Lighting, finds solar much easier to sell now. There’s more acceptance of renewable energy which includes solar lighting. She remembers that, when Lindsey first called, “People were afraid and it was hard to convince the authorities that this was going to be a viable option.”
These days she is in contact with major cities, including Los Angeles, to look at other projects.
“Any major city you can think of is investigating this type of lighting,” she says.
Although the technology has improved, there are still kinks to be ironed out. Solar lights from different manufacturers may not perform the same way. This is what happened in the Presidents Row neighborhood. While the light on Victoria Avenue had no problems, the battery in the one on Coeur d’Alene tended to have performance issues.
The good news is that the City of Los Angeles, through the Bureau of Street Lighting, has seen fit to embrace solar as a lighting option. According to the bureau’s assistant director, Norma Isahakian, they are looking at other areas to do pilot installations using different manufacturers in order to evaluate them for reliability.
Right now they are working with the mayor’s office on bus stop locations where the solar lights will be installed in the next four to five months and, with locations not yet finalized, there are four solar lights to be installed on currently unlit residential streets.
As with a lot of technology, the newer or more advanced it is, the more expensive it can be. The same light from Solar Outdoor Lighting researched five years ago would cost about the same today, which is $5,000, not including installation.
It is important to remember that the installation would not be as expensive as electric line power light because there is no trench to dig and no grid to attach. Instead, there is the battery and bulb maintenance. Both have had to be replaced every five to ten years.
An example of a technology change is the LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs used by Solar Outdoor Lighting, which decrease the amount of energy needed so they really extend battery life. It is anticipated that prices will go down, once the manufacturers’ products improve their efficiency.
At some point in the future, the Bureau of Street Lighting is going to put together a program for property owners, if they so choose, to adopt solar lighting. It would still involve an assessment to those who benefit, but the electric line power charge would be eliminated. Right now, solar is not any less expensive, but it will be the way to go when prices become more competitive.
Or, as Isahakian says, “We’re excited about seeing how solar is becoming such an important product, especially here in California. We have so much sun. It’s a shame not to take advantage of it.”