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Theft, vandalism of vintage street lights around Oakland's Lake Merritt raises safety concerns

Street light thefts near Oakland's Lake Merritt have residents concerned
Street light thefts near Oakland's Lake Merritt have residents concerned 02:47

Though the days are getting longer, it's getting darker around Lake Merritt in Oakland after almost a dozen light poles were stolen by vandals. 

The missing lights are creating safety concerns for locals who spend time at the lake on a regular basis.

The poles themselves are almost 100 years old have a green patina from their original copper plating, something that's also attractive to thieves.

Michael Stadler lives only a few blocks from the lake and works from home most of the time. He regularly comes down to the lake, sometimes twice a day.

"Sunshine, a little bit of nature, and the people. I really like being around the people. It makes me feel like part of the community," said Stadler. 

Recently he and others who regularly walk or run around the lake have noticed some of the light posts and string lights are missing.

"I think I would feel more comfortable if the lights were up. But also my wife likes to run really early in the morning and I think that does concern me more. I think I'm generally more concerned about her. Lighted spaces always seem safer. I think dark spaces seem like places you can get away with stuff more," said Stadler. 

There are 126 lamp posts holding up more than 4,000 string lights that wrap the 3.4 miles around the lake. They were first installed in 1925 and are affectionately called the "Necklace of Lights." 

"The lake is our crown jewel and I do remember when they put up the lights, and it was so beautiful and I love driving buy it and it's magical," explained Maureen Molmen, a volunteer with the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club. The community group cares for the lake and the lights.

"I took great pride in them. And then when I started noticing they were down, I was very traumatized," said Molmen. 

On Wednesday. Oakland public works employees were out at Lake Merritt putting up temporary poles and lights.

The city says a total of 10 original poles are damaged or missing. Some of the poles came down when trees fell on the lights during recent storms. Others were vandalized, cut-off at the base. Wires have been ripped out or damaged at 34 curb electrical boxes, possibly to steal the copper.

"Replicate what they had, but make it out of a metal that isn't something that thieves would like. If we can't keep up our beautiful jewel, then all hope is lost, so to speak," said Molmen. 

For those like Michael, a replacement is worth the cost.

"I think the lake is an incredible amenity for Oakland. It's something that I really love about living here, and I think anything we can do to make it better is worth the investment for sure," he said. 

The original lamp posts were installed in 1925, so the city can't just order more. They have to be custom made at a price of about $15,000 a piece.

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