Friday, October 15, 2010

Riverside County Considers Regulating Light Trespass

Riverside County is considering a light trespass ordinance that will give a property owner some legal recourse to deal with an intrusive light. In doing so, the County will be recognizing the concept of "light trespass," a term I first heard used by the International Dark-sky Association. It's a good term, accurate, simple to understand, and describes a pervasive mis-use of light. I've been approached many times by people asking me if there's anything they can do (legally) about a neighbor's annoying light. "No," has always been my answer. Now, I'll say "wait."

It should be noted that a light trespass regulation doesn't stop anyone from lighting their own property; rather it stops them from lighting their neighbor's property. I've never met anyone who likes having a neighbor's bright light shining into their bedroom windows; and I've never met anyone who insists on the right to light a neighbor's property. I think a lot of people, however, will fall in between: they will want to retain the right to not have to care what type of light fixture they install; thus, they see their right not to care as greater than another's right to enjoy darkness.

I do foresee some challenges, depending on the scope of the ordinance. If the ordinance will not be retroactive on home owners, then it will be difficult to invoke. How does one prove that an intrusive light was installed after the ordinance went into force? One would have to photograph the surrounding properties before the light was installed. Not many people would think to do this before the offense.

Businesses will balk at anything that's retro-active, yet they are some of the worst offenders. Some consider it their right to shine bright white light beyond their property and into the sky as an indirect means of attracting customers or to cater to the perception that light makes for safety, and therefore, more light makes for more safety. (I accept that well aimed light may enhance safety. Businesses should be allowed prominent signs and well lit entry ways. It's when they neglect good design and illuminate indescriminately that the net gain is reduced by the nuisance, glare, waste of energy, and light pollution.)

Billboards are very indescriminate about how much light they use and where they shine it. A downlit design is available. We should require that it be used, especially in the 45-mile radius of Palomar Observatory. No light trespass standards applied to new construction can save money and energy, as well as protect the nightsky. All of these are benefits in addition to the intended goal of freeing people from intrusive lighting.

I recommend that cities encourage the County of Riverside and leverage it's efforts in order to adopt their own lighting trespass regulations. Residents should consider contacting their county supervisors to support the development of light trespass regulation. This issue os schedule for discussion on Oct 19, 2010.



Update: 16 Oct. 2010: I've added some light trespass examples.
This is the type of lighting that the ordinance would address. Notice how far beyond the property these lights shine. Here's a close-up taken with a zoom lens:

The grand opening of Gerrome's Furniture in Murrieta demonstrates a business thinking the sky is their advertising space that they have the right to stomp on research at Palomar Observatory.

The search lights are a violation of Murrieta's civic code. The night I took this photo, I went into the store and had a promising chat with the manager. I said intervening via code enforcement would be a lose-lose situation, and perhaps Gerome's would consider after their opening to bring the lighting the store inherited within the city's code. The manager struck me as genuinely concerned and gave me contact person at the corporate office. However, the contact number didn't work and so I tried contacting other departments at Gerome's corporate office and made polite inquiries via their phone message system. None of my inquiries were acknowledged, and since then, Gerome's has added more snshielded white lighting to their building.

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