Sirens wailed in the distance as the crowd slowly assembled in the gathering darkness. The screech of the sirens blared louder as two fire trucks tore around the corner, narrowly missing a couple on their way to join the demonstration. Once safely across the street, the newcomers were each given a small white candle. As the group grew, the light from the candles illuminated the faces of the protesters.
A young woman with a megaphone addressed the crowd, speaking first in Spanish, then English.
"What do we want?" asked the woman.
"Light!" the crowd responded.
"When do we want it?"
"Where's our City Council?"
"Asleep!" one person cried.
"In the dark!" shouted another.
The protest, organized by the group Barrios Unidos Hoy Organizados (BUHO), was held at night to underscore the need for better public lighting on the streets of Barrio Logan. Because children and elderly residents usually have no alternative to traveling the streets on foot after dark, safety was the primary issue at the demonstration.
Neither the BUHO volunteers nor the residents appear to be exaggerating about the lack of proper lighting. The lamppost at the corner where the protesters held their demonstration, the intersection of Cesar Chavez Parkway and Julian Avenue, is the only city streetlight along Julian Avenue as far as the eye can see, and the surrounding blocks are similarly ill equipped. Other than a few scattered porch lights, most of the visibility is provided by light emanating from the distant high-rise towers of downtown.
Bertha Olivas, a longtime resident of Barrio Logan, said vehicles-like the fire trucks-traveling too quickly down poorly lit streets are only part of the problem. Stabbings are common in the neighborhood, she said, and she believes that the lack of streetlights makes pedestrians easy prey.
Gary Gonzales, a San Diego Police Department spokesman, told CityBeat that although he knows there's crime in the area, he hasn't heard any complaints about crime being caused by lack of lighting.
Nevertheless, residents say they shouldn't have to settle for substandard lighting; they pay their taxes just like citizens in other parts of the city.
"I work in Little Italy, and they have a lampposts and lights everywhere," one young woman told the crowd. "This neighborhood is unlike any part of San Diego I've ever seen. We pay our taxes, too, and it's just not fair."
City Councilmember Tony Young, who attended the protest, agrees. "It's ridiculous that you all have to walk down these streets with no lights," he told the group.
One City Heights resident came to the demonstration to show support for her friends from the neighborhood. One of the few non-resident protestors, she said she thinks most people who live in other parts of the city don't really understand the extent of the problem in Barrio Logan.But BUHO volunteers are working to put an end to the silence surrounding the public-lighting inadequacies in their neighborhood. Their goal is to see more lights installed within the next three to six months, and, to that end, they plan to address the City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 11.