The city’s first outdoor-lighting ordinance that calls on neighbors to cooperate before complaining to police about glaring night lights was given the green light by the City Council Tuesday night.
In a 3-2 vote, the council favored keeping lights low and shielded to avoid “light trespass and glare” on neighboring property and the beach as well as to save energy and improve starry sky visibility.
The ordinance, which requires more spot lighting rather than flood lighting, is scheduled to become effective next February, giving neighbors six months to talk to each other about light issues. A pamphlet and a sample good-neighbor letter will be enclosed in the city’s fall recreation schedule that is mailed to residents. The final hearing on the matter will be held at the Aug. 16 City Council meeting.
“This isn’t a ban on lights,” explained council member Jane Egly, who recently finalized the two-year draft ordinance with members of a subcommittee. “This is to use better lights that work better and more directly. If no one complains about your lighting, it’s ok. And if they complain, it may mean some modification in the lights that you use.”
Due to illegal late-night parties, drinking and beach fires, some residents above Table Rock Beach in South Laguna told city officials they want to continue to light the beach, serving both as a safety measure and a deterrent. Although admitting he also enjoys the esthetics of lighting the surf from his home, resident John Thomas said his lights have helped presumably inebriated beachgoers from getting knocked off sea rocks during high surf at night.
Council member Elizabeth Pearson, who opposed the ordinance, echoed Thomas’ sentiment, describing complaints she has received from beachfront homeowners about nighttime activities. “They say, ‘You wouldn’t believe what goes on at the beach at night,’” related Pearson. “They all have said they have to have lighting to make them feel safe. They tell you people go to the bathroom in the back of their house, they leave all their trash.”
Pearson also withheld her vote because of an unresolved concern that coastline hotels might be asked to remove surf lighting. She said she understood that the lighting would not be prohibited, but “tamed” if there’s a complaint. “In some places, they may have to make those adjustments,” Egly responded. “The gestapo’s not going to go out tomorrow and tell them they have to change that.”
John Stevens, a subcommittee member and vice-chairman of the city’s environmental committee, explained the ordinance’s intent. “If you’re not in compliance and you’re not affecting somebody else, you’re fine,” he said. “If someone complains, you fix your lights and they can’t complain anymore. It’s not a difficult step. It’s changing a fixture, adjusting a fixture and, in most cases, changing a light bulb.”
Council member Kelly Boyd, who also voted against the measure, said he was bothered by complaint-driven enforcement. “My big concern is Big Brother calling, pitting neighbor against neighbor,” he commented, “because we’ve seen that for so long now with the tree and view issue.”
Greg O’Loughlin, who used to regularly swim along the coast at night, said he was concerned about references to beachgoers as inferior to beach homeowners. “My concern is listening to the other public comments, ‘Get those people out of there, get them off the beach,’” he said. “If it’s a safety issue, I completely agree, especially at Table Rock. It’s a mess down there.”
When it comes to safety, O’Loughlin said homeowners need to be less possessive and note the differences between people who use the beach at night. “If they’re turning on the lights and the cockroaches are scattering, that’s a good thing for safety,” he commented. “I’m not the cockroach. I don’t need to scatter. For John Q who’s just walking, looking for a quiet edge-of-the-continent darkness experience, that’s more than just a light encroachment. It’s saying, ‘I own this and you don’t.’”
At the draft ordinance’s first hearing last month, Laguna Ocean Foundation environmentalists raised issues about night-lighting disturbing shoreline wildlife. No representatives attended Tuesday’s meeting.