A dark county island in the heart of Turlock, rife with crime and safety issues, could soon be home to a new system of streetlights.
Residents of the Kenwood Park island, just west of the Turlock Police Department and Turlock Irrigation District headquarters, centered on the intersection of Starr Avenue and Kenwood Avenue, will be asked to tax themselves to pay for streetlights in a self-help solution to security concerns.
“I've gotten a call from someone who lives in that area specifically talking about some problems,” said County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, whose district includes the Turlock area.
The area has become a hotbed of gang activity, Chiesa said. As county property, Turlock police seldom patrol the neighborhood, while county sheriff deputies rarely have the opportunity to do patrols of their own in the tiny area, remote from the county. Given declining tax revenues, the county is unable to devote further resources to the area at this time.
In touring the neighborhood, the safety problems quickly become apparent. With no streetlights, overgrown trees, and alleys to hide in, criminals can sink into the shadows with ease.
Chiesa recalled a recent effort to improve safety in Keyes, where voters established a lighting assessment district to tax themselves and keep the streetlights on. Pursuing a similar strategy in Kenwood Park – named the Kenwood Park Lighting District – Chiesa hopes to force criminals into the light.
“Lighting is one of the few things we can do,” Chiesa said. “But it is going to be a lot of self-help from the residents.”
The draft plan calls for the installation of between eight and 12 streetlights on existing power poles. The county has identified a potential funding source for set-up and installation fees, according to Chiesa and his staff.
Monthly operating costs would be split between property owners, at an approximate cost of between $3.33 and $5 per month, which would appear as an annual assessment on property tax bills of between $50 and $60. Chiesa said those costs are still preliminary, and will change based on actual costs.
To approve the district, two-thirds of the property owners of 51 parcels in the island must vote yes on a Proposition 218 ballot. That vote could come as soon as May.
Chiesa expects to begin public outreach and education in April, walking door-to-door and holding community meetings to discuss the district and its potential benefits. In addition to reducing crime, streetlights would also improve property values and improve traffic safety in the pitch-dark area, Chiesa said.
But Chiesa has already started the effort, paying TID out of his own pocket to install a streetlight on Kenwood Avenue in front of an apartment complex. He hopes that light will show residents the positive benefits streetlights can have for the neighborhood.
“It's a safety issue for cars driving in the neighborhood, it's a safety issue for the residents,” Chiesa said. “We hope to help.”
Chiesa said the area is unlikely to be incorporated into the City of Turlock any time soon, given the lack of curbing and other city standards. But the installation of streetlights could be one small move toward that day.
“It’s all baby steps,” Chiesa said.
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