County In Effort To Keep The Desert And Mountain Night Dark

In action both hailed and denounced by residents and business owners of the county’s remote and rustic areas, the board of supervisors this week moved to repeal and rewrite a chapter of the county development code applicable to the mountain and desert regions relating to lighting standards between the hours of 11 p.m. and sunrise.
According to a staff report covering the agenda item the board considered and gave passage to on Tuesday, “The protection of San Bernardino County’s dark skies has been a prevalent concern amongst its residents. With community growth and development arises concerns for light pollution and light trespass.”
Based upon a staff report and a recommendation by the county planning commission, the board of supervisors considered and gave approval to repealing Chapter 83.70 of the development code formerly titled “Glare and Outdoor Lighting” and replacing it with new Chapter 83.70 retitled “Light Trespass.”
The alteration of the code language is intended, the staff report, written by Magda Gonzalez of the county’s land use services division, stated, to clarify and expand standards to regulate glare and what was referred to as “light trespass.”
Within their lifetimes, individuals yet alive say the night sky visible from various points in the desert and mountain region in San Bernardino County was far more spectacular than it is today. What is considered “light pollution” makes stellar illumination much less pronounced to the naked human eye because of the optical effect of more intensive nearby lighting drowning it out. That light pollution is a product of the lighting that has accompanied the explosive development of the county’s remote areas that has taken place over the last 70 years.
The county’s land use services division employees consulted with the International Dark Sky Association in preparation for amending the code.
The revamped ordinance will become effective on January 6, 2022, but will not be immediately enforced, as the owners of commercial and industrial properties will be given 18 months – until July 2023 – to acclimate themselves to the regulations and come into compliance. Residential landowners will have 24 months – until January 2024 – to meet the standards.
With the ordinance, the county is declaring an accelerated depreciation schedule on private noncompliant lighting fixtures to force their removal, thereby asserting it is not bound by the constitutional requirement to compensate those lighting fixture owners for the fixture replacements they might be required to undertake to comply with the law.
The ordinance is enforceable only in unincorporated areas of the county that fall within the desert and mountain regions. The ordinance is not applicable in urbanized portions of the county’s unincorporated expanse.
Commercial and industrial businesses will be required to turn off, block or shield light emanating from their properties onto adjoining or neighboring properties or the public right of way. This casting of light is referred to, in the ordinance’s parlance, as trespassing.
Outdoor lighting must be extinguished by 11 p.m., when businesses close or upon employees and customers leaving the site. In some cases, this is later than 11 p.m.
The ordinance spells out an exemption for entry or exit lighting, parking structures, driveways and lights activated by a motion sensor that go dark within five minutes.
Shielding will be required to keep light on residential properties from moving beyond the confines of those properties. String lights in residential areas may not exceed 4,000 lumens and 3,000 Kelvin, a color temperature on the spectrum between yellow and gold.
The ordinance exempts temporary campers.
Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe, who previously resided in the mostly rustic 21,949-population desert community of Yucca Valley and who has since moved to Redlands, was enthusiastic about the ordinance’s unanimous passage. Perfecting the ordinance, she said, “has been one of my top priorities since serving on the board.”
However, Ted Stimpfel, the executive director of the Newberry Springs Community Alliance, on December 6, the day before the board voted, dashed off a letter to the five supervisors on behalf of the alliance. In the letter Stimpfel stated, “The proposed amendment’s reduction and restriction of visible nighttime lighting has substantial negative impacts upon the economic, social, mental health, physical safety, and long-established cultural quality of life of residents and businesses. This proposed amendment targets the High Desert’s rural disadvantaged communities.”
Stimpfel called upon the county to carry out an environmental impact report on the ordinance change prior to effectuating it.
“Diminishing the public’s safety by reducing lighting, including turning lights off at 11 P.M., certainly creates hazardous circumstances and deters the public’s cultural utilization of businesses, community, and residential land,” Stimpfel wrote. “The county’s self-serving declaration that this proposal is California Environmental Quality Act exempt is not justified. A full California Environmental Quality Act study by law is required.”
Furthermore, Stimpfel propounded, “The proposal is a symbolic feel-good initiative. Skyglow primarily originates from the large urban cities that are not covered by this amendment. And, there are very few problems with light trespass in rural areas that require this draconian governmental overreach that creates more harm than good. This revision is being promoted by a few individuals in a small area of the county. This code amendment’s purpose should be accomplished within the local community plans that may desire it and not be allowed to create unwanted burdens upon the remaining county.”
Stimpfel wrote that “By prohibiting the public’s right to spread necessary light for safety, the county is creating a serious danger risk. Through its direct culpability in creating foreseeable hazards, the county is promoting injuries and subjecting itself to lawsuits.”

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