My family and I went to Southern California for a week of camping during spring break at the beginning of April. We returned to Berkeley after dark and were driving north on Martin Luther King Jr. Way to our home. I was absolutely amazed by the relative darkness and the difficulty I was having seeing pedestrians as they were crossing our streets at the crosswalks. I have had this experience before in different parts of town, but something about this ride really underscored the risk that our failing streetlights present to pedestrians and drivers alike.

It occurred to me that I recently dealt with an analogous situation in my business as a general contractor. A few months ago, I received a call from a client and learned that the toilet we had installed five years prior was exhibiting a slow leak at the tank to bowl connection. I was able to get my plumber on site that same day to investigate the root cause of the problem. In his professional opinion, there was a manufacturing defect in the porcelain that was causing the leak, and that the responsibility should lay squarely with the manufacturer. I reached out to them through my supplier (Ashby Lumber – who is a great plumbing supplier in case you did not know) and was told that we may, in fact, have a warranty claim, that I should fill out a form, send in a few pictures, and in a few weeks we would get an answer about how things would get resolved.

Unfortunately, that was not an acceptable solution, as we had a leaky toilet above two additional stories of finished space. Should that slow leak turn into a fast leak, there would be a much more significant issue. We decommissioned the toilet that day, I ordered a replacement toilet immediately, and within 72 hours the toilet had been replaced and the risk to my client’s asset and my business was eliminated.

In my little story above, there really was no risk to life or limb, but there was exposure to my client’s property and therefore, as the installer of the toilet, my business and reputation. As a responsible business owner, I did the only thing that made any sense at all in the situation, I addressed the imminent risk to all parties.

As I see it, this is the perfect analogy to the street lighting in Berkeley. We have a known and substantial life-threatening risk in the form of failed street illumination. The only acceptable response from city officials, politicians and, frankly, every single member of the community, is to pound the table to demand immediate resolution by any means necessary. In the face of such enormous risk to our citizenry, and corresponding potential legal liability to the city, it doesn’t much matter who the responsible party for the failure of the lights and costs to replace them is in advance of resolving the issue.

There will be plenty of time to pursue damages against the manufacturer (who does appear to be responsible here), but if, in the meantime, additional members of our community are killed or injured, there really is no one to blame but the leaders of our community who appear to be doing nothing while they wait for a protracted legal negotiation to play itself out. If that means pausing our ban on straws, or deploying money earmarked for studying the impact of a protracted zoning battle on housing affordability, or whatever the distraction from reality du jour happens to be, so be it. I think we can all agree that those things can wait if it means keeping our community safe. I would like to see this issue move to the forefront of every city council meeting until it is resolved. This is a massive fire that needs to be put out immediately.

In case you are wondering how my own warranty claim worked out, I have a brand new Duravit Starck two-piece toilet sitting in my shop just waiting for a client that can use it. I just got it – 6 ½ weeks after this issue first emerged!

Dan McDunn is a builder, a youth sports coach, the father of three boys, and is married to a third-generation Berkeleyan.
Dan McDunn is a builder, a youth sports coach, the father of three boys, and is married to a third-generation Berkeleyan.