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Davis, California

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Darkness breeds discomfort on Davis streets

Although the general sentiment seems to be that the UC Davis campus and surrounding community is relatively safe, many students feel uneasy about navigating the dimly-lit city at night.

The Clery Act Statistics, which show the number of crimes reported on university property over a given year, do not suggest that UC Davis has a particularly disconcerting amount of criminal activity. The report for 2010 shows, for instance, 21 forcible sex offenses and only 13 motor vehicle thefts. There were 11 aggravated assaults and only two reports of arson, compared to eight in 2009. There were zero reported homicides or manslaughter.

And while no city can be completely crime-free, the city of Davis reported similarly low numbers. The latest available quarterly crime summary on the Davis Police Department website, which looks at data from the July to October 2010, shows that the numbers have actually decreased compared to previous quarters.

Regardless of the number of criminal offenses, personal safety remains an issue of great concern when navigating the notably dark streets of Davis.

“As a general rule, we encourage people to stay away from unlighted areas after dark as a safety precaution,” said Davis Police Lieutenant Paul Doroshov.

But what if a well-lit route home is virtually unchartable?

“I am not comfortable with the amount of light in my area,” said Blaire Nasstrom, junior exercise biology major. “I live downtown, around Second and B Streets, and when I’m walking home from campus at night there are many dark streets that make me very nervous to walk by. As a lone girl walking by many large bushes in the pitch dark, it is very unnerving.”

Many of these concerns derive from hearing of or being involved in incidents that may have not warranted a police report and therefore were not reflected in official statistics. Joy Evans, assistant director for education at the UC Davis Women’s Center, suggested that official crime reports may not be an accurate indicator of how dangerous a city can be.

“There are instances of microaggression that make people feel uncomfortable,” she said. “You don’t have to have experienced sexual violence to have felt threatened. Maybe it isn’t as much about the numbers as it is about the feelings of safety on this campus.”

An act of microaggression can take the form of stalking, harassment or any threat short of assault.

“One night, one of my neighbors ran out yelling because she had seen some guy staring at her and her friends through the blinds,” said Nasstrom. “He was standing in the dark alley behind her apartment and she had no clue how long he had been standing there. She called the police, but they couldn’t find him and said they didn’t think they would.”

Junior biotechnology major and ASUCD Senator Amy Martin described one weeknight when she and two of her friends were followed from a downtown restaurant and had to run into another open business so they could call the police.

“Part of the issue is that that stretch downtown is not very well lit,” Martin said. “Normally I would cut through the Death Star, but now I don’t at night because it would be so easy for someone to jump out.”

Indeed, anyone who has ever biked or walked home from campus after sundown knows that being able to see a pothole, squirrel or even another human being is, quite literally, like taking a shot in the dark. So what accounts for the sparse distribution of lights in Davis neighborhoods?

In 1998, Davis City Council passed an ordinance amending chapter 6 of the Davis Municipal Code pertaining to outdoor lighting control. The purposes of the ordinance, as stated in the document, were to “create standards for outdoor lighting to minimize light pollution … while improving nighttime public safety and security … and preserving the night sky as a natural resource and thus people’s enjoyment of looking at the stars”.

While the light ordinance did not prompt the removal of any street lights, it does underline a common preference that may prevent the city from installing new ones. Butch Breault, City Electrician for the City of Davis, said that he receives more complaints about the streets being too bright than about it being too dark.

“The residents don’t like lights shining into their rooms at night, and seem to like it dark,” Breault said. “We tried to put some street lights on Oak Street a few years ago but met some resistance.”

According to Breault, the City of Davis already pays $30,000 a month to PG&E for the 4,200 already existent street lights. But there are some residents who think that their neighborhood could benefit from a few more.

“It is certainly too dark on our street,” said Gerard De Boer, a longtime resident of Eureka Avenue who, like many other neighbors, dismissed the idea of being in favor of the dark streets because they are advantageous for stargazing. “And, I’ve noticed, there’s a light pole on Second and C, the top of which is completely hidden in a tree.”

Obscuring foliage aside, it may be years before students can see 10 feet in front of them after dark. City officials said they do not consider the lack of sufficient street lighting to be an issue, and there are no proposals currently on the table to address student concerns.

Until then, Martin advised students to make use of the campus escort service, which operates from 5:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. and can be reached at (530) 752-1727, and not to hesitate to call 911 if they feel unsafe.

LANI CHAN can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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