OCEANSIDE — Decorative streetlights installed in the Rancho del Oro neighborhood in the 1980s need to be replaced. About one-third of the 640 streetlights have been removed by the city because they have fallen down or deteriorated.
The city and the Villages of Rancho del Oro Association have differing views on whether homeowners or the city are responsible to pay for the replacement of the streetlights.
The HOA filed a lawsuit against the city, charging the city with the obligation to replace the lights. The lawsuit was dismissed and it was determined that the city was not responsible to provide additional maintenance for the streetlights beyond the standard it maintains over other city lights, namely providing electricity and light bulbs.
The city is moving forward with actions to allow Rancho del Oro homeowners to vote on a lighting assessment district to fund the installation and maintenance of its neighborhood streetlights.
Although the lawsuit against the city is already dismissed, Attorney Carrie M. Timko, who represented association members in their lawsuit, said she stands by the belief that the lights are on city property and were dedicated to the city when they were originally installed making them the city’s responsibility.
Furthermore, she said an agreement was signed that stated the city was responsible for maintenance of the streetlights.
“The association never had responsibility to maintain them, ever,” Timko said.
The city has maintained the lights to citywide standards.
Now that the lights need to be replaced opinions are split on who should have to pay.
“The court found the city didn’t have a legal obligation to replace the lights,” City Manager Peter Weiss said. “The expectation is that Rancho del Oro would provide funding to maintain the lights.”
It was included in the 1980s city/homeowner agreement that the HOA would collect fees for any repair and maintenance costs beyond those of standard city streetlights. These funds were never requested by the city. The contract expired after 10 years and was never resigned.
City Attorney John Mullen said the court case never went into discovery to determine how much money the HOA had collected. The court dismissed the case and said the city had fulfilled its obligations to upkeep the lights.
The decorative streetlights are metal and require routine maintenance to withstand the weather. Standard city streetlights are made of concrete and are therefore significantly more durable.
“They (RDO streetlights) require more maintenance,” Timko said. “The key is that they were not maintained. Their idea of maintenance is changing out light bulbs.”
Mullen said the HOA never requested additional maintenance on the lights.
To provide streetlights throughout the city, Oceanside has established lighting assessment districts. Homeowners pay a minimum sum for streetlights. The city then supplements the cost of supplying electricity and changing light bulbs with gas tax funds and city general funds if needed and available. This year, $400,000 in gas tax funds was designated to supplement citywide lighting costs.
The proposed RDO lighting assessment district will collect fees from homeowners in that neighborhood to pay for replacement of downed lights and routine maintenance.
“We don’t have an obligation to replace the decorative lights without a funding source,” Mullen said.
Timko said the city had an opportunity to form a lighting assessment district when the streetlights were first installed, but failed to do so.
“Now they’re trying to backpedal and do it now,” she said.
Timko said the HOA filed a lawsuit against the city after City Council “shot down” a tentative agreement reached by the HOA and city staff.
“The association had to file a lawsuit to preserve their right to do things,” Timko said.
She said this included their right to obtain requested documents and public records.
Mullen said he strongly disagrees with Timko’s statements about why the lawsuit was filed. He said the city proposed solutions to replace the lights before the lawsuit was filed and prepared 1,731 pages of requested documents for pickup. Upon being notified the documents were ready, Timko’s firm, Epsten Grinnell & Howell Attorneys at Law, refused to pay the 10 cents a page copy fee for the documents.
Timko also said that she objects to what she calls City Council, “coming out in full force” against the HOA following the lawsuit.
“Association members are not the bad guys,” Timko said. “They didn’t do anything wrong.”
Mullen said he could not speak to Timko’s comment about the city, “coming out in full force” against the HOA, because he does not know what she is referencing.
Mullen added that the city has been trying to resolve the issue and is continuing to do so with the establishment of a lighting assessment district.
“We’re back to square one,” Mullen said. “I don’t see any funding.
“They can’t compel spending of general funds proceeds,” Mullen added. “The city is the only one offering solutions. The big concern is they’re loosing their lights one by one. I’d rather be engaging in productive dialog.”