Meandering
Thoughts
 

Posted: February 16, 2021
Newberry Springs Community Alliance
by Ted Stimpfel

Dark Night Skies May Become
Costly For Newberry Springs

    A dark night sky is a pleasant attraction in the remote desert.

    During warm Summer nights, I love to walk the desert under a stary canopy.  It is a time to enjoy the incomprehensible universe of our Creator.  For me, the stary sky is a Cathedral dome for worship.

    So, it is understandable that some folks in the Morongo Basin want to preserve their "Hi-Desert" Dark Skies by having the County of San Bernardino establish a proposed ordinance to limit artificial light that can lead to obstructive sky glow.

    Some of the promoters of the Dark Sky movement have a financial interest in the ordinance's passage.  The biggest promoter has lodging rentals and he entices city folks by advertising stary nights.  Joshua Tree National Park and the nearby Marine Base have also been solicited for their support.

    The proposed County ordinance was first worked on by the Morongo Basin Dark Sky Alliance (years 2010-2013) and presently by the Morongo Basin Conservation Association.  Previous Third District Supervisor James Ramos appointed a Dark Sky Committee which has been re-initiated by current Supervisor Dawn Rowe.

    The results of the 10-plus-year-old movement came before the County's Planning Commission on February 4, 2021, for approval of an ordinance drawn up by the County's Land Use Services Department.

    With this seemingly wonderful ordinance supporting the environment, eco-tourism, and outdoor desert recreation, this ordinance appeared set for fast passage.  Why then was I in San Bernardino at the commission meeting as the sole voice stating opposition?

    Because a small hard-working Morongo Basin group has become so locked onto the cause that they lost the perspective that their poorly written legislation would hurt their neighbors and people elsewhere.

    This is very difficult to write.  I know many of the fine people, in the Morongo Basin group, that are supporting this ordinance.  They have been incredible in benefiting their area.  But in reading the ordinance, I kept asking myself, what are they thinking?  Or has Land Use Services drafted the whole thing?

    The Morongo Basin communities include Landers, Morongo Valley, Joshua Tree, Pioneertown, Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, and neighboring communities.  Click here for enlargement.

Problems with the package.

    I agree with their underlying cause, but the language of their ordinance as written and approved by the Land Use Services Department is ghastly, heavy-handed, and draconian to Newberry Springs and other areas of the county.

    In voicing my concerns, the Commissioners recognized the validity of my arguments.  First District Commissioner Jonathan Weldy seemed especially concerned as to how county Code Enforcement could enforce the proposed ordinance.

    Land Use Services lacked the answers to some of the Commissioners' follow-up questions.

    The proposed ordinance has so many flaws that I would like to see it scrapped.  The commission, however, has ordered it to be returned at a later Planning Commission meeting where time would be given to a Planning Commission workshop to address the problems.

    Because time isn't likely to be sufficient during a Planning Commission session to iron-out the complexities, I have requested Land Use Services to hold its own public workshop before the hearing so that other areas of the county could participate in drafting revisions.  I currently have eleven issues that I would like to see addressed.

Impact upon Newberry Springs.

    So, what has this got to do with Newberry?  The ordinance addresses artificial light glare, light trespass onto adjacent properties, and the hours in which residents can operate outside lighting, to name a few.

    Currently, the proposed ordinance has strict requirements on the allowable lumens, lux, Kelvin temperature, foot-candles, type of fixtures, et cetera.

    There is no grandfathering, if the proposed ordinance passes the Planning Commission and is approved by the Board of Supervisors, all property owners must be knowledgeable of the ordinance and in compliance within two years or be subject to citations.

    For some people, this would require purchasing a photoelectric photometer to measure their light levels.  The requirements can cost a lot of money to be compliant, and this during an on-going pandemic.

    Glare in the ordinance is defined, "Glare" means light or illuminance entering the eye directly from a light fixture or indirectly from reflective surfaces that causes visual discomfort, reduced visibility to a reasonable person, or is in violation of the standards set forth in this chapter.  (Underlined emphasis added.)

    Under this definition, one neighbor disliking another can file a complaint that a light one-mile away is causing nighttime visual discomfort.  The definition is so subjective and illegally ambiguous that it is an enforcement nightmare.  And who is going to subjectively determine who a reasonable person is?

    For many people in Newberry who have outside lighting, they will need to retrofit their fixtures to dark-sky friendly fixtures.  Don't expect to find much at HomeDepot that qualifies as a dark-sky fixture.  I have looked unsuccessfully at HomeDepot and Lowes for a small area light.

    And its lights out at 11 P.M.!  If you want to leave an exterior nightlight on for your family's security, the dog, or whatever, you may get cited to protect the alleged stargazers over in the Morongo Basin.

The problems continue.

    The ordinance also discriminates by establishing two categories, the "Valley Region" and that of the "Mountain and Desert Region."  The proposed ordinance places its draconian weight against the "Mountain and Desert Region" and little upon the "Valley."

    Don't ask where the boundary line is between the regions as the proposed ordinance lacks that legally required definition.

    The proposed ordinance exempts "Lighting solely used to illuminate signs for which a permit has been received."  Why the discriminatory action?  Industrial, commercial, and residential structures all have rigorous permits but they're not exempted!  Why are blighted billboards and other eyesore offenders being given a special status?  Why isn't there an equal playing field?

    Light fixtures that are attached to a commercial building or house structure are legally appurtenant to the structure.  By not allowing for a grandfathering of existing light fixtures, the County is essentially exercising a seizure of the light function that is currently permitted and doesn't cause any imminent hazard.

    The County could be conceivably held legally responsible to compensate for the collective tens of millions of dollars the ordinance will cost property owners.

    This is a countywide landmine that causes a diminution in property values.  Property owners won't be able to use nonconforming lights unless the fixtures are replaced with dark-sky fixtures.  The County should not be unreasonably interfering with the use of one's property.  Property owners also have not been adequately notified of this proposed ordinance.

    The County may additionally be held fully responsible, or as a contributory, for all injuries occurring due to the County not allowing property owners to adequately light their property.  A single paraplegic claim can run into many millions of dollars.

    The ordinance's sole benefit is for the subjective ambiance value to stargazers.  By removing nighttime illumination the County is creating foreseeable hazards (especially for the elderly and the handicapped) and potentially assisting an increase in crime.  Land Use Services has admitted that it has failed to consult with the Sheriff's Department regarding the impact of this ordinance.

Conclusion.

    Yes, dark skies are nice, but I prefer to have lights at night to help protect families and property.  I am not willing to give up safety because some business people an hour drive away want to attract stargazers from the big city.  If them city-slickers from L.A. want to see stars, let them darken their own urban communities.

    Enjoying dark skies isn't a problem in Newberry and we shouldn't be financially impacted by more of the County's overly broad legislation.  If the County wants to turn off lights, it can start with the lighted billboards on the I-15 and I-40.

    Leave Newberry's residents alone.

 

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