Lighting law moves on, points down

The city council Wednesday unanimously approved a lighting ordinance that it hopes will do a better job of separating light and darkness, and save people money at the same time.

“This is a win-win situation,” said council member Debbie Vancil, the ordinance’s chief proponent. “Lights that are in compliance won’t cost more than their inefficient counterparts, and will be less expensive to operate.”

The ordinance brings together in one section various provisions already in city code. It forbids “light trespass,” defined as any light shining directly beyond the owner’s property, or indirectly with a brightness greater than one-tenth of a foot candle – the amount of light a 60-watt bulb emits at 25 feet.

The ordinance requires that all outdoor fixtures be shielded, so light is directed only at the area to be illuminated, rather that into the sky or away from the owner’s property.

The ordinance also requires that lights be pointed downward – a concern of local astronomers, who backed the law to keep the night skies dark.

“People who keep in mind that lights must be shielded and aimed down will be in compliance,” Vancil said.

The ordinance won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2003. At the same time it passed the ordinance, the council passed a resolution directing the city to undertake an educational program to let people know what the ordinance will require.

The ordinance doesn’t specifically exempt already existing lights, but allows them to be on until 9 p.m. without being in violation.

“It was the lights shining all night that people saw as being a problem,” said Christine Nasser Rolfes, chair of the council’s land use committee, which recommended the ordinance.

Traffic-control lights, vehicle lights, navigation lights and temporary emergency lights are exempt. Existing street lights are exempt, but replacement street lights are required to comply.

Lights burning fossil fuels are also exempt – a concession to exterior gaslights with an old-fashioned motif, Vancil said, but a proviso that would also cover tiki torches for the summer luau.

The committee considered exempting outdoor sports lights – the lights on the high school football field were the prime concern – but determined that no exemption was needed.

“There is so much that can be done with new and existing recreational lights, that we didn’t think it would be necessary,” Vancil said.

The ordinance does give the planning director the authority to approve temporary or periodic exemptions.

Like all ordinances, enforcement will come in response to complaints.

“If the community supports the law, enforcement will be minimal,” Vancil said. “And from what we’ve heard, this is something that the community wants.”

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