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Toledo to install LED Lighting citywide

By La Prensa Staff

 

An initiative that started with the FLOC Homies Union a few years ago that led to a pilot project in the Broadway Corridor will now expand citywide. That could mean brighter lighting and safer streets across Toledo—because teens fought for a better neighborhood.

 

“Especially in the winter, when it gets dark early, trying to walk home from school, they were complaining about feeling insecure and also stumbling over broken sidewalks,” recalled Baldemar Velásquez, founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and cofounder of the FLOC Homies Union.    

 

The FLOC Homies Union, consisting of youth, ages 14 to 23, started the effort by meeting with a Toledo Edison official, asking for 20 to 30 broken streetlights to be fixed. That led to the idea of LED lighting to brighten the entire neighborhood to make it safer for all.

 

Toledo city officials conducted a pilot project in the Old South End in 2017, by converting 200 streetlights to LED—and at the insistence of the FLOC Homies Union, focused that effort on alleys that ran three blocks on either side of the Broadway Corridor. That pilot project led to a nearly 25 percent reduction in crime within a year, according to Toledo Police statistics.

 

“The significance was immediately seen,” said Velásquez. “People raved about the lighting and, lo and behold, crime immediately dropped ten percent. We later heard the 25 percent figure.”

But the push to convert all of the city’s 28,000 streetlights to LED had its fair share of bumps in the road, mostly over finances. FLOC even convinced the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority’s leadership to offer to finance the project for Toledo’s top brass. The port authority would have issued long-term bonds to pay for the upfront costs, with Toledo repaying the debt over 10 or 15 years. The mayor’s administrative team determined that wouldn’t work because Toledo Edison owns the light fixtures, not the city.

But the FLOC Homies Union stayed after city and utility officials for the project “to keep on track,” according to Velásquez. Since another argument was the conversion to light-emitting diodes (LED) would be too cost prohibitive, the group did some homework.

 

FLOC learned Toledo was being charged more by First Energy, Toledo Edison’s parent company, for LED light conversion than a similar project in Akron. The FLOC Homies Union took that dispute all the way to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) in Columbus.

 

“We had to go there to lower the price,” said Velásquez. “Once the city and (Toledo) Edison agreed to it that really was the trigger that made it happen, because the city was not going to pay that higher amount.”

 

In fact, the PUCO decision in December to lower the replacement cost per streetlight dropped the overall cost of citywide LED conversion to $5.8 million from an initial estimate of $9.6 million.

 

That made the price more palatable, so Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz announced Wednesday, Jan. 15, that every streetlight in the city would be converted from existing bulbs to brighter, more energy-efficient LED lighting by the end of 2021.

 

The mayor stated the city would recoup within a decade its investment in swapping conventional high-pressure sodium streetlight bulbs to LEDs, because the upgrades would save an estimated $580,000 each year in energy costs. There are 28,000 streetlights citywide. LED lighting consumes 50 to 75 percent less electricity than sodium streetlights.

 

According to the mayor, the streetlight conversion will begin in the Junction neighborhood, with lighting upgrades in the central city and East Toledo finished by the end of 2020.

Toledo City Council will be asked to authorize an agreement with Toledo Edison at its January 28 meeting to facilitate the conversion and allocate necessary funding. The city has set aside $1.5 million in the 2020 budget for the first year of the changeover.

“Our next mission is to make sure this is implemented citywide,” vowed Velásquez.

 

“The deal we had (with a previous mayor) was that we would have it done in the inner city first and we’re not going to put up with it going the suburbs like they always do for everything first, then they forget about the inner city, if they ever get to us. Inward-outward, that’s the deal—and so we have to keep the pressure on them. This thing is not a done deal, so we’re not going to celebrate until the whole city is done.”

 

But the FLOC founder did admit the success of the LED lighting campaign to date has given the Homies Union the confidence to keep pressing forward—and to organize more grassroots campaigns among themselves to make a bigger difference in their neighborhoods. 

 

“It also gives them a purpose and helps them overall as a person—retaining jobs, staying in school, getting their GED,” said Velásquez. “When a person gets a purpose in life, no matter how little, it helps to organize everything else around your life. That’s what the Homies Union program is all about—to get them involved in something that gets them outside of themselves.”

 

More than 120 young people have gone through the Homies Union training program since it started a few years ago, including 11 in the current class. FLOC’s president emphasized the biggest success has been helping individuals within the group to find their collective voice.

 

“To me, it’s self-determination—empowering the kids, empowering the youth, empowering the community, the poor people who have nothing, to become a part of something bigger than themselves,” said Velásquez.

 

The FLOC Homies Union was formed, according to Velásquez, partially out of a request by former Toledo mayors Jack Ford and Carty Finkbeiner to use his skills organizing migrant farmworkers to do something locally to help young people overcome poverty.

 

The youth-oriented Latino grassroots group achieved official 501 (c) 3 nonprofit status last year with the state and federal government, which will allow them to accept donations, grants, and other funding sources for their activities.

 

The FLOC Homies Union also has formed a work co-op, allowing members to do side jobs for homeowners and businesses along the Broadway Corridor, such as small home repairs, painting, lawn maintenance, housekeeping, and other work to earn extra money.

 

“That’s what makes my day. When I see people taking control of their own lives and they’re doing something for themselves, that’s great. That’s one less Latino I have to worry about,” said Velásquez with a chuckle.

 

Editor’s Note: Maybe the FLOC Homies Union can get involved and pressure the authorities to reduce the speed limit on the 1200 block of Broadway Street, from 35mph to 20mph—especially since passing motorists routinely drive 50mph to 70mph down the Broadway Corridor. Maybe the authorities can install their infamous cameras to control speed.  

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2020 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/04/20 12:40:34 -0800.

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