Debate over outdoor lighting shines on

The City Council on Tuesday took a somewhat dim view of a proposed amendment to the city code to regulate outdoor lighting on private property.

It decided a draft of the proposal recommended by the Planning Commission needs some tweaking. Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly was appointed to work with the sub-committee that created the draft. She will report back at the July 12 council meeting.

"Hundreds of hours have been devoted to this," Mayor Toni Iseman said. "What can be salvaged? We want to send a message that this is an important thing. How can we make it work and not sit in a round file?"

One of the major objections was regulation by complaint.

"It bothers me that it is complaint-driven," Councilman Kelly Boyd said. "I had a neighbor who complained about five houses in the neighborhood because he wanted it all dark."

Boyd said he agreed with dissenting Planning Commissioner Norma Grossman that voluntary compliance should be tried first.

"Complaint-driven [enforcement] keeps code enforcement from being pro-active," said Monica Tuchscher, staff liaison to the sub-committee.

Compliance could be as simple as changing a light bulb to a lower wattage and each case would be treated individually, Tuchscher said.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson opined that city buildings should be reviewed before the council starts dictating to residents. Iseman added that street lights on Coast Highway in Laguna are the biggest violation.

"I agree the city should set a good example, but I also would like to see a change to prohibit light trespass and protection for wildlife," Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said.

Louise Thornton, a representative of the Ocean Laguna Foundation, pointed out that the draft did not address the impact of night lighting on the marine life.

The purpose of the draft ordinance is to establish general lighting standards that reduce or prevent light pollution, glare and light trespass — light that spills from one property to another, conserve energy, preserve neighborhood character and night-sky beauty, according to Tuchscher's staff report.

"It's about time," said resident Walker Reed, an ardent amateur astronomer. "Light destroys night vision."

Outdoor lighting, under the terms of the draft, would be required to be hooded, fully shielded and aimed downward.

Exemptions include low voltage landscape lighting that does not exceed 400 lumen, which is 35 incandescent watts, seasonal decorations, lighting associated with historical resources, safety lights controlled by a motion sensor and accent lighting for art in public places.

Rollinger said the number of holidays in a month and who decides on what safety light is should be spelled out in the ordinance.

The subcommittee, composed of two planning commissioners, two Design Review Board members and two Environmental Committee members, attempted to create an ordinance that is simple to understand and simple to enforce, Tuchscher said.

"The first ordinance [draft] was more strict, but we had visions of throngs of people showing up here," said sub-committee member Caren Luizzi. "This is a stepping stone.

"We just wanted to get it on the books and see how the public received it."

Iseman said the committee had illuminated the issue.

The draft is available for review at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net. Click on meetings and then on the May 3 council meeting agenda documents or audio.

In other council news, electric car drivers will be able to charge their vehicles in Laguna.

The council voted to install two charging stations in the city-owned Laguna Canyon Road parking lot, to be operational by June 1. Charging will be free, but parking in the spaces will be limited to four hours.

"I have a hard time seeing your time and energy expended on a product that is weak," resident Dennis Myers said. "I suggest you start with [a fee] of $2 an hour and double it every hour."

The charging stations will cost the city an estimated $775 in electricity if two cars are charged for three hours each day, June through September, Senior Water Quality Analyst Will Holloman told the council.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson said the electrical costs combined with a loss in parking fees revenue amounts to a substantial reduction in revenue.

"We get $10 for some spaces," she said

If a $10 space was occupied every day for year, the parking fees would total $3,600.

The charging stations will be metered for time and electricity use.

Data will be collected and a report will be made to the council at the end of the September.

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