Milpas on the Move by Sharon Byrne
We do a lot of fun stuff here on Milpas: Taste of Milpas, the Halloween Trick or Treat, the Parade, and more. The community kept asking us for a holiday tree in the roundabout, and this year, we decided to deliver that wish.
I then spent months navigating planning and permitting hurdles, the insurance requirements, struggles with engineering it all…. I’ll skip noshing over it. Listening to a golf tournament on the radio in Mandarin would be more exciting.
There is no electricity in the roundabout. That’s rather a steep hurdle to lighting up anything, holiday-ish or otherwise.
The city estimated they could electrify the roundabout for $30,000, possibly, if we raised the money. Public Works has a serious backlog of projects, some focusing on pedestrian safety. Usurping those was a non-starter. Plus installing electricity would be a fairly major endeavor. In city time, that means A Long Time.
So we decided to go solar.
Here in the home of Earth Day, I thought that would be, ahem, easier. The only commercial solar that was portable (a city requirement – no permanent installations) cost a small fortune, and required loading up a horse trailer covered in solar panels into the roundabout.
I had visions of the Public Works guys howling with laughter before they issued a flat “NO”. Plus it would be very visually unappealing.
Our budget was modest, and nobody on the team knew how to do a solar implementation.
I called my dad in Puerto Rico for guidance, as he’s an incredible engineer. He lives on a boat, a never-ending engineering project. I am an industrial engineer, not an electrical one. He taught me calculations for volts, amp hours, and wattage conversions. We investigated various LED light strings for watt usage and brightness. We bought individually solar-powered light strands and tested them under different weather conditions. And I spent a lot of late nights with a calculator and scratch pad.
We bought two portable solar generators. If they operated at maximum efficiency, we’d get up to 5 lit hours per night off a day’s charge. This is the darkest time of the year, and the sun hangs low in the horizon, making solar even more challenging. Setting the individual strands to blinking doubled the burn time.
A team of 15 Milpas elves stole into the roundabout in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Some elves strung the individual solar-powered strands in the roundabout.
The remaining elves tackled the tree. It had arrived at 2 AM at Lily’s, next to Tri County Produce. We loaded it, and drove it up to the roundabout. We then hoisted it upright during sunrise. We would have loved to use a tow truck or cherry picker to pull it up, but we had to have all vehicles off the roundabout by 7 AM. So we did it totally old school – with ropes and a fulcrum. It was a Herculean effort.
Santos had more fun than he’s probably had since childhood stringing 1600 LED lights up on the tree (below picture).
We finished at 9:30 AM, having started at 4:45 AM. Our tree lighting was set for Saturday night.
Friday, I got a call from Martha Jaime, an Eastside resident. She loved the tree. But it needed a star!
I groaned inwardly, and explained the struggles we’d already had, and the limitations of solar. She said, ‘Sharon, I will get you a star for that tree.’
And Saturday, right before the evening tree lighting, she did indeed turn up with one. Her husband constructed it, using solar-powered light strands. All we had to do was get it on top of the tree.
John Dixon, Alan Bleecker and Santos Guzman scrounged up a ladder, and rushed to the roundabout. John (the tallest guy) shot up the ladder to put up the star. Martha was thrilled, as were we. The community just has this way of producing miracles on Milpas.
We threw the switch on the solar generators at 6:00 PM Saturday, and the tree was lit!
This is Santa Barbara’s first solar-powered community holiday display. The project cost about $2,300, borne entirely by the neighborhood. The volunteers were a combination of business owners and residents from the area.