Streetlight wire theft hits neighborhoods

| May 30, 2024 | 0 Comments

VANDALIZED STREETLIGHT at the corner of Arden Boulevard and Third Street.

THREE STREETLIGHTS are out at the intersection of Ridgewood Place and Wilton Drive.
Photo by Kate Corsmeier

Lights out after crooks steal copper wire

Streetlights in the neighborhood are going dark. Sometimes, lights are old and just malfunction, or the new LED bulbs don’t last as long as they should. But these days, the primary reason they don’t work is because thieves are stealing the copper wire from inside them. “They sell the wire to make a quick buck,” according to a spokesperson in Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez’s office.

Dark streets leave some residents feeling vulnerable, unsafe and frustrated. When a light fixture is vandalized, the most challenging part is getting the city to repair it.

Outages in the area

Although many more lights are probably not working throughout the larger Greater Wilshire neighborhood, a substantial number are out on both Plymouth and Irving boulevards and Beachwood Avenue between Beverly Boulevard and Second Street. The area that has been hit the hardest are the streets of the Ridgewood Wilton Neighborhood Association (RWNA).

According to RWNA President Bob Reeves, who walked the area the night of May 16, “Fifteen of the lights are out; that’s more than half [of the lights in the area].”

Late-night streetlight vandalism has been a hot topic on a Ridgewood neighborhood text thread. Residents share eyewitness reports of streetlights being rummaged for copper wire. Surveillance video and photos show a thief coiling the copper wire, as well as pictures of the vandalized light poles and their junction boxes, from which the wires emanate to power the bulbs above.

On Ridgewood Place, the same thief has returned numerous evenings and damaged many lights, making them inoperable, and thus creating dark streets.

RWNA is particularly upset about having a majority of their lights vandalized because, in 2013, residents voted to tax themselves and establish an official city lighting district specifically to keep the area safer. Lights were installed in January 2014, and each home was assessed a one-time fee ranging between $7,500 and $15,000. Their lights are the newest in the neighborhood. That is in addition to a $95 annual maintenance fee every homeowner with streetlights pays.

More than just streetlights

IN THE MIDDLE OF the night, a suspect coils copper wire from a streetlight on Ridgewood Place.

Windsor Square residents and members of RWNA have also reported that landscaping and security lighting is being stolen from yards. The good intentions of neighbors to keep their homes and the sidewalk well-lit is being sabotaged by bicycling thieves. These actions add to a street’s darkness.

Frustration reporting nonworking lights

Reeves, along with Ridgewood Place resident Kate Corsmeier, has been very frustrated by the city’s complicated process for reporting damaged lights. What both found out is that residents cannot file a police report for a streetlight damaged because the crime is against the city. This means that either the Bureau of Street Lighting (BSL) or someone else from the city has to report the defacement.

A SEALED JUNCTION box on Ridgewood Place.

Reeves had been told that the police can’t do anything until a report is filed. It’s a classic case of a catch-22, he said.

Corsmeier also tried filing a police report electronically. After spending a substantial amount of time with the online report, it was rejected and sent back to her, since she isn’t the victim.

AN OPEN JUNCTION BOX, after the copper wire has been stolen from it, making the light inoperable.

Her annoyance with the situation led her to dial numerous random numbers from the Olympic Community Police Department webpage. She finally got through to a detective who was interested in the footage. After multiple attempts, she was able to upload some footage to a site the detective sent her. But still, no police report.

Council District 13

With this sort of frustration, the Chronicle reached out to Councilmember Soto-Martínez’s office. According to a spokesman there, streetlight outages are the third biggest complaint his office receives after housing / landlord issues and homelessness.

“The BSL has the highest [staff] vacancy rate of any department in the city at 30 percent,” said the representative. There are not enough BSL employees to make repairs. Citizens have to wait up to six months for streetlight repairs.

The Los Angeles City Council adopted a Soto-Martínez motion for his Council District 13 to utilize an additional $200,000 from the councilmember’s discretionary fund to pay for BSL overtime. The councilmember is hopeful that this will reduce repair time to two months.

“We know that well-lit streets are safer streets, and extended outages can make a neighborhood feel unsafe or scary to walk in. We’re prioritizing these repairs so we can ensure safe and walkable streets at all hours of the day,” Soto-Martínez said in an email.

His office, as a city entity, can file a report to get outages repaired. His office encourages residents with streetlight issues to first report outages, along with pictures and video if available, to 311 and then to the CD13 office at These reported outages will be placed on a priority list.

Future of streetlights

Once the streetlights are repaired, how will BSL keep the fixtures safe from criminals and theft?

According to Soto-Martínez’s office, there are plans underway to deter thieves and fortify the lights. But with more than 400 different kinds of streetlights in Los Angeles, there isn’t one easy answer.

One tactic that BSL and residents of RWNA are using is cementing the junction boxes shut. This makes stealing the wire more difficult. There’s also the possibility of making some lights solar-powered, but that’s expensive and not all lights have that capability.

The Chronicle reached out to BSL numerous times for comment, but didn’t get a response. The author is a resident of Ridgewood Place and was instrumental in getting the lighting district adopted in 2013.

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