How Much City Money Does It Take To Install 44 Lightbulbs?

Editor’s note: This commentary was written by Hawaii Kai CPA and “Bike Mom” Natalie Iwasa, who has monitored the Lunalilo Home Road Street Lighting Project from the start.

My foray into the inner workings of our city government began with this project, which I thought would end shortly after the city announced it would reduce the amount of lighting from a planned 300-percent increase to about 40 percent. A recent communication from its Department of Design and Construction, however, has put this project back into the spotlight – a change order to replace the planned 150-watt fixtures with 70-watt fixtures was just recently executed, well over a year after the change announcement.

The last significant work done was last summer, when the old lights on the second part of Phase I were removed. Most Lunalilo Home Road motorists now may think the job is done, but some of us recall the commitment the city made to the community to reduce the amount of poles and signage along the route. In exchange for three times the number of new lighting poles, we were told that some signs would be moved to the new poles. To date, that has not been done.

At the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board’s May meeting, I asked about the job’s status and total cost. We were told it was $2,042,285.02, and that $37,000 recently had been paid to the contractor. Based on prior information I had and knowing the project had not yet been completed, this payment prompted additional questions. Hence the revelation of the change order dated Aug. 27, 2012.

The change order includes replacing 44 lights with the lower wattage flat-lens fixtures for about $21,400 (almost $500 per fixture) and $5,002 for installation of conduits and wiring for one light on Anapalau Street that was connected to the old lighting system. (It appears this was another change required because of poor planning, along with placing lights directly above tree canopies and too close to a fire hydrant and a fire station driveway.)

Why did it take so long for this change order? Why wasn’t the neighborhood board informed that there was an unprocessed change order that would increase the total cost? (For the record, the cost is now up to $2,068,670.41.) What is the city going to do with 44 150-watt globe fixtures? Is it standard policy to accept job materials that are not used as originally contracted? Why are we paying so much per fixture? (Kolmart Lighting Solutions sells 70-watt HPS Cobra Head Light fixtures for $132.88 each, plus shipping, handling and tax.)

And given that the city hasn’t been forthcoming with us on this “measly” $2 million project, how in the world are we supposed to believe them when they provide status updates and planned costs for larger projects such as rail?