By Alberto Garcia and Andrea Lopez-Villafana
The San Diego City Council last week approved a $30.2 million project that will retrofit 14,000 street lights to LED units, but the program also includes 3,200 surveillance camera and microphone units that were discreetly referred to as “sensor nodes.” The project has been described as the world’s largest smart city Internet of Things (IoT) sensor platform.
During presentations at the City’s Infrastructure Committee on June 29, as well as before the full City Council on July 17, city staff from the Environmental Services Department described the project as an “Intelligent Cities Outdoor Lighting Program” with the stated goal of supporting the City’s Climate Action Plan.
Nothing in the presentations, though, referred to the system’s surveillance camera capabilities and audio sensors. Lorie Cosio-Azar, Program Manager of the Energy and Sustainability Division, Environmental Services Department, instead focused on the program’s energy efficiency benefits, including energy cost savings of $2.4 million per year.
In a telephone interview this week, Cosio-Azar referred to a “type of camera” used by the system that “collects data and images” and stressed that the cameras did not capture video. In a follow-up interview this week with Public Information Officer Jose Ysea, he clarified that the units do, in fact, provide video streams.
An executive summary sheet prepared by Cosio-Azar and her supervisor, Jack Clark, Deputy Director of Environmental Services Department, on February 13, outlined the total project costs as $30,273,755, with approximately $9 million “allocated to the sensor nodes, analytics platform, and one year license for operation.”
No information about the camera sensor nodes was provided to the City Council during its public meeting on the project on July 17. None of the Councilmembers asked any questions about the cameras before the Council voted unanimously to approve the program.
This week, four City Council offices told La Prensa San Diego that they were not presented information about the cameras during staff briefings before the vote. The official resolution presented to the City Council for approval, prepared by the City Attorney’s Office, did not refer to cameras or sensor nodes.
One of the program’s main advocates is David Graham, one of the City’s three Deputy Chief Operating Officers. In a February 17 article in the Urban Land Institute magazine, Graham talked about the City’s ability to implement smart technology would depend on the public’s buy-in.
“If people aren’t brought within the organization or the community, then we will have resistance, and we won’t be able to deploy as much as fast or as broadly,” Graham said in Urban Land Institute magazine. “If we forget about people when it comes to smart cities, then we will have forgotten about why we did all this.”
The project utilizes General Electric’s Intelligent Cities Lighting Master Lease funded through GE’s Government Finance, Inc., and will be designed and installed by five companies: Barnhart-Reese Construction, Inc.; HMS Construction, Inc.; Select Electric, Inc.; Siemens Industry, Inc.; and Southern Contracting Company.
In the resolution approved by the City Council last week, the descriptions focused exclusively on the energy efficiency aspects of the project.
“Whereas, the GE Intelligent Lighting Master Lease provides for the City’s lease financing of energy efficiency street lights, adaptive controls, and supporting network software (Intelligent Cities Equipment) from Current under the Master Purchase Agreement, and for costs of installing the Intelligent Cities Equipment,” the resolution reads.
When reviewing the estimated energy savings outlined in the staff report, the $2.8 million in annual savings would result in a 10.8-year return on investment.
The approved resolution outlines that the City will receive “$30,273,755 from GE Government Finance,” and expend the same amount for “the purpose of retrofitting outdoor lighting citywide with energy efficiency technology.” The resolution does not describe the length of the GE lease or the repayment amounts due.
According to Cosio-Azar, other reasons for installing the fixtures include having more data and real-time information available for the public.
Cosio-Azar could not be reached for further comment on why the cameras and microphone sensors were not explicitly mentioned during the City Council meeting or the presentation to the City’s Infrastructure Committee.