Too close to call

Here’s one for the political junkies out there—all two of you.

Homeowners in the too-dark parts of Curtis Park and Land Park are voting by mail this month on whether to tax themselves for new streetlights. And Upfront is predicting a nail-biter.

The city estimates that it will cost about $10 million to install 740 “historic looking” street lamps. They’re similar to the ones that line the streets in other (more expensive) parts of Land Park—but made out of aluminum instead of cast iron.

That works out to about $14,000 per streetlight, or $4,940 per homeowner. The votes will be counted January 3. If the assessment passes, homeowners can choose to pay the bill all upfront, or pay it over 30 years, with interest. That would work out to about $250 a year.

That’s not cheap, and a lot of people in the neighborhood are organizing against the assessment—most vocally Craig Powell, who owns an apartment building in the area, and heads up a group called “Coalition to Stop the Streetlight Madness.”

“The city is trying to pawn these costs off onto the neighborhood. They should at least be trying to get the best deal,” Powell complained.

Ironically, Powell will get more votes than most of his neighbors, because his property takes up most of a city block. More “frontage” means a bigger tax bill, about five times that of the average in Powell’s case. But his vote is also worth five times that of the average homeowner.

Here’s the weird part: The city gets more votes than anyone. That’s because it owns the Sierra 2 community center, and a parking lot next to the Wayne Hultgren light-rail station. The City Council has already instructed the city manager to vote “yes” on the tax.

The city doesn’t want to pay for the streetlights, and wants property owners to decide on the tax themselves. But if the vote is close, and this one could be, the city would probably tip the election in favor of the tax. And that would raise questions about just how democratic the whole process was. It’s not exactly Florida 2000—for one thing, no hanging chads have been reported. Yet. But it would not be good.

“We’re really hoping we won’t be the tie-breaker,” said Tim Mar, an engineer with the city’s Department of Transportation.