Inyo, community look at lights, despite the glare

By Deb Murphy

Inyo County opened up a dialogue on lighting, more specifically, on whether to regulate lighting, at the first of three community meetings Wednesday evening in Lone Pine.

The small but determined Dark Sky Group has been advocating for controls on bright lights that threaten to obscure the wonders of night skies in the Owens Valley. The group provides educational materials and set-up a dark sky park to the north of the Independence campsite. April Zrelak and Earl Wilson lobbied the Board of Supervisors and Bishop City Council. The County’s response was the series of workshops to get community input.

Associate Planner Tom Schaniel ran through the issues: dark skies are a rarity and therefore a tourist attraction; glare doesn’t make us safer, it limits visibility; light trespass is annoying; 24/7 security lights waste energy and night lighting impacts human and environmental health.

None of the range of regulation models would be retroactive; most of the solutions are relatively simple.

The real villain is the blue-spectrum LED, once expensive but now the go-to bulb because it lasts forever, is no longer costly and uses less electricity. The worst case scenarios are unshielded LEDs that throw light everywhere—into the sky, into the eyes of motorists and in neighbor’s windows.

This is not a new concept. According to Schaniel, Tonopah, Flagstaff and Tory, Utah have all initiated lighting ordinances to protect the tourism value of their dark skies. Mammoth Lakes also has ordinances. Troy’s efforts took two years and focused on shielding warmer-spectrum lights.

Back in 2001, the County’s General Plan went into lighting guidelines but the concept was never translated into ordinances. “They have no teeth,” explained Planning Director Cathreen Richards.

Schaniel went through a list of what other communities have done: Light Zones with different regulations for different scenarios, ranging from rural to business zones; Light Classes defined by land use and Lighting Plans, the option chosen by Mammoth Lakes and Mono County, defining general guidelines and requiring a lighting plan as part of the permit process.

To a large extent Schaniel, Richards and the Dark Sky Group were preaching to the choir—about two dozen residents with a range of issues from light trespass.

Whatever the outcome, everyone agreed education was a big component of the process. Some examples: A slide showing bright security lighting with very dim surroundings, including an open gate. The next slide: the same scene with a warmer, shielded light and a scary dude now visible at the open gate. Zrelak put together a model of unshielded bright lights on a white building front. The harsh light was modified with a warm filter, downward shielding and dark, non-reflective building surface. The entrance was still well lit, but the glare and light pollution were greatly reduced.

The County will be holding lighting workshops in Bishop, Wednesday, October 10 in City Hall Council Chambers and in Independence Thursday, October 11 in Legion Hall. Both workshops run from 6 to 8 p.m.

 

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