The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Sacramento weighs installing Capitol Mall lights that change color

The Public Eye
The Public Eye

Many of the streetlights lining Capitol Mall in downtown Sacramento date back to an “urban renewal” project that led to the thoroughfare’s redesign in the 1960s. The lights resemble a top hat perched atop a 30-foot pole.

Over the years, many of the lights have failed. Some were knocked down. And now the city of Sacramento is beginning to discuss how to replace the lighting system along the city’s gateway connecting the Tower Bridge with the state Capitol.

City public works officials are debating two options, one far more expensive than the other.

The pricier option would involve installing lights identical to those that are there now. That would mean hiring a company capable of using wooden molds to artfully create the spun aluminum caps on top of the lights.

That option would likely cost about $7,000 a light and a total of more than $400,000, said Norm Colby, an operations general supervisor with the city’s Department of Public Works. The city plans to order 55 lights for the street, he said. Poles and labor costs must also be funded.

The other option under consideration is installing new lights that are similar in appearance to those in place now, but not exact replicas. Colby said city staffers have discussed adding technology that would allow lights on top of the fixtures to change colors. He said Capitol Mall could glow purple for Kings games or red and green around Christmas.

Those similar lights could run between $2,000 and $3,000 apiece, according to Colby.

The city has $334,000 available for light maintenance on Capitol Mall that it received from the state when the city took control of the street in 2006, Colby said. That money could be used to buy new lights.

“I have to be respectful of getting the best bang for the city’s buck while honoring the time period (when the lights were installed),” Colby said.

Colby and Mary Maniery, the president of PAR Environmental Services, a cultural resources management firm, briefed the city’s Preservation Commission on Wednesday about the lights.

Maniery said the current lights “reflect the modernistic feel that is inherent in the mall.” She recommended the city “identify and install lights that have similar design materials (as those in place now) and that are compatible with the existing streetscape.”

Preservation Commission members urged that the new lights resemble the current luminaries as closely as possible. Member Mark Huck said the loss of the current lights is “regrettable.”

“I feel the loss of these unique fixtures somehow diminishes the integrity of Capitol Mall,” he said.

Some commissioners suggested that the city should explore raising money to fund the $7,000-per-light option. Others raised concerns about the idea of placing multicolored lights on top of the fixtures.

“I think installing color dramatically alters what we have as a historic landscape,” said Chad Moffett. Another commission member, Jon Marshack, said the colored lights could lead to a “Disney-fication” of Capitol Mall.