The struggling economy has caused dark days for many and -- along one stretch of busy road, at least -- it is the reason for darker nights.

MacArthur Boulevard between Estudillo and Dutton avenues has been without functioning streetlights since last week, when thieves stole about 10,000 feet -- nearly 2 miles worth -- of underground copper wire, police Lt. Jeff Tudor said.

Since then, the one-third-mile stretch next to Interstate 580 in the Estudillo Estates neighborhood has been dark every night, city officials said.

The city is spending $16,000 to rewire the ornate, old-fashioned light poles, Public Works Director Michael Bakaldin said.

San Leandro officials have awarded a contract to St. Francis Electric to do the repairs after quickly putting the job out for bid, he said.

The San Leandro-based electrical contractor next week will be rewiring the light poles and installing security locks and other measures to prevent theft, city officials said.

It should take a few days to complete the job, Bakaldin said.

"The light poles have to be repaired because San Leandro has a policy of lighting its streets," he said. "There are federal and state regulations for certain streets; it's a driving-safety feature."

Simon Tung, who has owned a dry-cleaning business on the street for 30 years, said the damaged light poles have not hurt his business.

He said he and other nearby merchants have been lucky that the theft happened during the long daylight hours of summer.

"People don't want to drive or walk down a street that's dark," Tung said. "It doesn't feel safe."

On either the night of Aug. 3 or early morning Aug. 4, the thieves cut the copper wire and pulled it out, Bakaldin said.

"It's time-consuming and a lot of work for something worth less than $1,000," he said. "But that's how desperate people are, I guess."

It also was potentially dangerous, as the thieves could have electrocuted themselves, Bakaldin said.

"There is some high-voltage wire in some areas," he said. "You can grab something that's pretty serious if you don't know what you're doing."

Copper wire theft is one of the Bay Area's most common crimes.

Schools, industrial warehouses, model homes, construction yards and even Little League fields have been hit in recent months.

Now, you can add San Leandro streets to the list.

"It's the second time that we've had this kind of theft," Bakaldin said.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011.