UC Hastings Law Students Help Brighten Tenderloin Streets

The five-block walk up Leavenworth Street between McAllister and O’Farrell streets in the Tenderloin neighborhood isn’t as dark as it once was. Along those once dimly lit streets now stand dozens of new streetlights. Throughout the Tenderloin, city officials have erected a total of 97 new streetlights meant to make the neighborhood more inviting and safer.

The path to sufficiently lighting the Tenderloin wasn’t easy, according to the UC Hastings Law faculty and students who helped make the call for brighter, safer streets a reality. In fact, it took eight years from when students in the Community Economic Development (CED) clinic launched a survey that would become the basis for the installation to when the lights were officially unveiled in January.

“I didn’t think we would be seeing any changes that came out of the survey eight years later,” said Temnee Wright ‘12. “It’s great to hear that the community and its residents are getting what they need and deserve.

“I believed that issues we found related to pedestrian safety would be addressed in the near future because the statistics on pedestrian accidents and incidents were persuading,” Wright said.

A Community Effort

In the spring of 2011, the CED clinic answered the call of Randy Shaw ‘82 of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Good Neighbor Coalition, who, at the time, were looking for help investigating implications of the development and eventual opening of Sutter Health’s new California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) Cathedral Hill Hospital, says Professor Emeritus Mark Aaronson, who helmed the clinic at the time.

Part of that investigation, Aaronson said, involved surveying Tenderloin streets to determine where there was an under-positioning of street lighting “according to standards typically used for urban areas.” From that survey, a 10-page report was prepared and delivered to Shaw.

The Coalition, Shaw and UC Hastings eventually brought the report to city hall. And by the summer of 2013, CPMC agreed to pay $4.25 million for Tenderloin street lighting as part of a development agreement with the city.

“Having our students work on this city project shows the work UC Hastings can do in a supportive way,” Aaronson said. “We were able to provide these organizations with resources and talent that they may not have had access to otherwise.” Those resources helped set in motion a project intended to enhance the quality of life in the tenderloin.

“Lighting is important for an urban area,” Aaronson said. “It’s an easy, uncontroversial thing, but it doesn’t get done unless you have people advocating for it. This project was done by Shaw, the community coalition and it was done with the help of UC Hastings.”

In a January interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Shaw said: “You want people to come to restaurants and bars at night. When it’s dark, it feeds into the perception that people don’t feel safe.”

“People feel like lights mean safety, and perception becomes reality.”

A Finished Project

Although beset by a series of frustrating setbacks, those who worked on the project and those who live in the neighborhood say they are glad to see it finally completed.

The lights were designed to match the historic poles that sit along Taylor Street and Golden Gate Avenue, according to city officials. Each of the poles have two lights–one light illuminates the street while the other illuminates the sidewalk.

And while insufficient lighting is now less of a cause for concern for pedestrians in the Tenderloin, the streetlights also stand as a visual emblem of not only the city’s dedication to improving the Tenderloin, but also the hard work of UC Hastings students.

“Working on this project has made an impact on my work outside of the office volunteering for my community,” said Wright who serves on a non-profit board.

“I can draw on my CED experience in acting as an advocate for the community. My approach now is not only to work for the community, but to work with the community, which is what made our work successful in bringing about change for years to come.”