Lighting up Sun City

Reason for missing lights a mystery

One of the street light poles installed in Sun City during the 1960s.
One of the street light poles installed in Sun City during the 1960s.

The story of the missing fire hydrants between Grand and Peoria avenues was told in previous issues. Yet another of the long-forgotten stories of Sun City involved a second missing utility — streetlights.

The missing hydrants were installed by early 1966. The last of the missing 735 missing streetlights were not installed until early 1970. Thirty-five hundred homes and all businesses between 99th and 111th avenues, and south of Grand Avenue and north of Peoria Avenue sat in the dark for a full decade. Why?

Like the fire hydrants, the reason for the missing streetlights will likely be lost forever. There was a notation in the Sun City newspaper of December 1965 that the question was asked directly of John Meeker, Del Webb Development Corporation president. Mr. Meeker’s reply to a gathering of hundreds of residents at Sun City Home Owners Association’s December membership meeting was, “I have no idea why the streetlights were not installed.”

In the articles written about installing the missing fire hydrants and establishing of the Sun City Volunteer Fire District, the name of George Meade often appeared. Mr. Meade headed SCHOA’s fire hydrant committee and became the first fire chief. The respected leader then moved on to serve two terms as SCHOA’s president, and it was under his watch that SCHOA spearheaded a successful petition drive to procure lights for the “dark area” of Sun City.

In late-1968, Mr. Meade announced he had taken the map of Sun City and divided the non-lighted area into 75 different sections and began recruiting team captains. Each captain in turn recruited their own helpers. The goal was to obtain signatures from over 50% of all title holders of property in the identified dark area and to then present the completed petitions to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. State law mandated the minimum number of signatures and was set at 50%. The required number of signers were obtained with little difficulty. Eighty-five percent of those asked gladly affixed their signatures.

During interviews in later years at gatherings of Sun City’s “pioneers,” some recalled they were aware of residents who refused to sign petitions because they preferred the lovely solitude of darkness. Others feared a pole would be on their property and would provide too much light. Still others speculated the proposed lights might be 14 feet tall or taller and proposed a compromise of five-foot poles instead — something closer to patio lighting and more discreet. That idea gained little traction.

The supervisors quickly approved the petitions, and Arizona Public Service released a detailed map showing proposed locations for 735 lights. All the new lights were connected by underground wiring via easements already in place across backyards when original plots were filed. Additional side lot easements had to be acquired from the 735 owners of property selected for installation of the new lights. Very few owners refused granting the easement, as more than 700 of the required easements were on the properties of petition signers.

Before leaving the topic of streetlights, it might be of value to explain how streetlight costs for electricity and maintenance are financed. That requires a quick look at a recent property tax statement. The final section of the yearly statement lists several tax levies for services like flood control, the county library district, county health expenses and tax collected to support the Sun City Voluntary Fire District. The final item listed will say, “Sun City No. 50” or 49 or 48 — depending on the location of the specific neighborhood — followed by a tax of about $50 for the year. That is the charge for streetlights.

By 1970 Mr. Meade established his credentials for immediate induction to a future Sun City Hall of Fame. While Fire Hydrant Committee chairman at SCHOA, he found an obscure state statute that allowed significant yearly refunds to Sun City from state taxes that were used to pay for both fire hydrants and were sufficient to totally fund fire department operations for years. He served as fire chief those early organizational years for the fire department. During his time as SCHOA president, not only did Mr. Meade organize the successful drive to light the “dark area” of Sun City, he found yet another obscure state statute that reduced everyone’s Sun City street light bill by $4 annually for many years. Sun City apparently was the only community in the state that qualified.

Meade Drive was named after Chief/President George Meade.

The Del Webb Sun Cities Museum, 10801 W. Oakmont Drive, is currently “dark” and complying with COVID-19 guidelines for public safety. Look for announcements of resumption of activities once the virus concerns are abated.