Lawrence City Commission votes to pursue warmer-colored LED streetlights going forward

City leaders voted Tuesday to pursue an agreement to install warmer-colored streetlight bulbs going forward.

At its meeting, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously, with Commissioner Leslie Soden absent, to direct city staff to pursue an agreement with Westar Energy to install warmer-colored LED bulbs instead of the whiter-colored LEDs currently being installed. Westar, which owns about 75 percent of the city’s streetlights, has said the whiter-colored lights are safer and is requiring that the city take on liability for any claims faulting the warmer-colored streetlights.

City Attorney Toni Wheeler said that though she understands there are not many claims dealing with the color temperature of a streetlight, she is not excited for the city to agree to accept more risk or liability. Chad Luce, Westar vice president of customer relations, provided further detail, saying that in his 15 years at the company, he had not seen such a claim. However, Luce said that Westar was not willing to install the warmer-colored streetlights without an indemnification, as it is not considered the industry standard. Westar is in the process of installing streetlights with a color temperature of 4,000 Kelvin.

The discussion about the color temperature of the city’s streetlights began several months ago, when a local resident group, the Lawrence Alliance for Responsible Lighting, pointed to a recommendation from the American Medical Association, based on multiple studies, that specifically warns against light with a color temperature higher than 3,000 Kelvin. Some studies have indicated that the bright white light can create glare for drivers and that the unseen blue wavelengths in the light can disrupt the sleep patterns of both people and animals.

Both the city and Westar have recommended that the commission oppose the group’s request that the city begin installing the streetlights below 3,000 Kelvin in the city-owned and Westar-operated lights going forward.

Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she was disappointed in the way the issue has been handled by staff. Larsen said that in the meetings she’d attended, staff only had representatives from Westar and no representatives from any other point of view.

“It didn’t feel to me like staff tried to get a broad view of what this was all about,” Larsen said. “It was very narrow. Staff was completely focused on what Westar wanted and not broadly looking at it from both a citizen’s point of view as well as Westar’s point of view.”

The city pays Westar to operate about 4,000 streetlights in Lawrence, and Westar engineers previously told the commission that the company had selected the whiter-colored LED bulb for streetlights because it provides the best traffic visibility. Though there had previously been discussion of charging the city higher rates for warmer-colored LEDs, the rates Westar charges the city to operate and service the lights would not change, according to the memo.

• Dec. 4, 2017 — Local group heading effort against city’s new streetlights

• Dec. 6, 2017 — Concerns about blue light prompt Lawrence City Commission to re-evaluate streetlights

• Feb. 19, 2018 — Lawrence City Commission to decide whether to shift to warmer-colored LEDs; cost still unclear

• Feb. 21, 2018 — City leaders cite community concerns in voting against installing additional blue-white LED streetlights

• May 14, 2018 — City leaders to consider installing warmer-colored LED streetlights going forward

In other business, the commission:

• Voted 3-1, Mayor Stuart Boley opposing, for the $17 million first phase of a new police headquarters building to be constructed using a “construction manager at risk” method, in which a construction manager is selected by the city based on a combination of qualifications and cost instead of through the traditional low-bid method. In order to use a method other than the traditional one, the commission had to find that it was in the public interest to do so. Boley said he thought the decision should be made when all five commissioners were present, and that he is not ready to make such a finding in the best interest. Commissioners generally agreed with a recommendation from city staff that several factors, such as phasing considerations and technicality of the design, make the construction manager at risk method the better method for the project.

• Voted unanimously to receive a proposal to add a mural to the southwest wall of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St. The mural project, led by artist team Womxn of Color, collected stories of historical and present-day women of color in Lawrence to create the mural design. After hearing more than an hour of public comment in favor of painting the mural on the library itself (the original proposal from the team was for the wall of the library parking garage), the commission voted to accept the proposal to paint the mural on the library and move it through the review process. The mural proposal will now go to the Cultural Arts Commission and Historic Resources Commission for review, then return to the City Commission for final review.


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