After moving into his new contemporary home on a bluff overlooking White Rock Lake, Chip Northrup was riding his bicycle when he noticed 20-foot-tall light poles sprouting on the west side of the park.
The closely planted poles triggered alarm bells in his head.
As a former member of the White Rock Task Force, which in 2005 considered installing security lights around the lake's 9.5-mile perimeter, Northrup thought the idea had been dropped.
In addition to 46 lights now being installed on the west-side parking lots, 90-100 will be planted around the lake in the next two years.
"This is a nature preserve," says Northrup, who lives in the Peninsula neighborhood. "The police were not asking for it. The park board didn't have the budget to pay for the electricity to run the damn things. I thought it was a dead issue. When I left [the task force], there would be some lights on critical areas only, such as parking lots."
The project was spearheaded by the White Rock Lake Foundation; board member Susan Falvo says the impetus was safety.
"The lake is very safe," Falvo says. "This is strictly something to make sure we are proactive on security before there is a problem."
Northrup calls the project pointless and says the proposed "security lights" will cause light pollution and won't increase safety.
"There's no statistical evidence there's a lot of crime committed on the lake," he says. "Show me the body count from the lake last year. I think it's zero. The only argument for security and safety is on the lots."
Northrup was surprised to discover that without any polling of the public or meetings with neighborhood associations, an expanded lighting project went into the park department's master plan for White Rock Lake.
Richard Stauffer, parks department project manager, says that 46 lights are now being installed at five parking lots off West Lawther Drive and down by the old pump house. The 150-watt lights are specially designed for White Rock Lake, with spun-concrete poles and acorn-shaped fixtures. Each costs $6,120. Where they will be placed is still being decided.
"It's dependent on location and getting service to them," Stauffer says. "We have to extend service with TXU to get power to the location."
The first phase includes money for repairs to the spillway, at a cost of about $400,000 from the 2003 and 2006 city bond issues. The next phase will put 90-100 lights in east-side lots and dark areas on the trail; these security lights will be paid for by about $400,000 in funds from the November 2009 bond program.
"They are intended for portions of the trail that need security lights on the east side where the trails go through the woods and security might be a concern," says Willis Winters, assistant director of the parks and recreation department. "The park staff has walked the trail with the Dallas Police Department as to where the lights should be placed. I don't know if 100 lights will address the needs at White Rock Lake. There are still a lot of parking lots on the east side."
The lights shed a "golden white color that renders in the earth-tone colors" matching the native stone and landscaping, Stauffer says.
Northrup calls their "dirty orange glow" ugly.
"These are the standard orange crime lights used in many secondary street fixtures," Northrup says. "They cost less to buy, last longer and use less current. The lake is going to look like a maximum security prison at night. This will effectively ruin night views on both sides of the lake."
Northrup says that during task force meetings the project was pushed by a sales consultant for Hossley Lighting, not Dallas police.
"He was at every meeting with slide presentations and all," Northrup says. "If someone had an objection, he'd stand up and defend it. So this is not a comprehensive plan so much as a good sales job."
Realtor Janice Parsons, who also lives in Peninsula, fears that the lights will attract more visitors to the park after nightfall by "insinuating" safety.
"Is that really what we want to do?" Parsons says. "So far, the park has been a pretty safe place. What will people do at the park at night?"
Midnight jogging, anyone?
Most crime at the lake involves daytime burglary of motor vehicles, Winters says. The lake is also known as a gay hangout. "We're just trying to keep illicit activity out of the parking lots. Most of the parking lots throughout the [parks] system harbor illicit activities."
Falvo says that the parks department and police asked the White Rock Lake Foundation, a nonprofit group, to look at the lighting issue.
But in a 2005 story in The Advocate, a neighborhood monthly, Falvo said that no money existed in the park budget for lighting and the group was coming up with a strategy to "add light fixtures to trails, at the dock and pier, and parking lots."
She pledged that the group would "privately" raise up to $1 million for the lights.
Instead, the project was written into the park master plan, with a few making decisions for the many.
"There are a lot of people who didn't want lights," says a longtime lake advocate, who asked not to be named. "They never went to the public. The task force is a small group of people from various neighborhoods [set up] to give opinions. But people don't make all the meetings. It's a casual thing. The foundation just did it."
Like the "monstrosity" built to replace the Dreyfuss Club, the advocate says, the lighting plan "was just forced on everybody."
"None of the people who live around the lake have been talked to," says Robin Herndon, who lives on West Lawther Drive. "I like it to be dark and quiet at night. The lights aren't attractive. They look like stainless steel coffins. I just think it's just encouraging people to be here after dark. It's all being pushed forward by users of the lake."
Winters says that the parks department is sensitive to neighborhood residents and will be installing "bollards," 42-inch-tall fixtures that illuminate low to the ground, along the west side of the lake, to minimize their impact.
"Most of this $500,000 will be implemented on the east side of the lake," says Winters. "Winfrey Point doesn't have lights. The lots at Sunset Inn and the Big Thicket don't have lights. When we determine those locations, it will be with an eye toward surrounding residents to make sure the lights are not a nuisance or spill over lights on their property. We're very concerned and sensitive about that."
Northrup is calling for lake lovers to "Stop Crime Lights at White Rock Lake." He wants the parks department to electrify one parking lot so the area residents and lake lovers can see what impact the lighting plan will have before proceeding with the rest.
And meanwhile, he says, the parks department can fix the lights already installed at the piers that are not maintained.
"It's just another contractor selling staff a pricey project that the city in turn can cram into a bond package," says Northrup, "while existing lights, trails and benches just fall apart."