A divided City Council has approved the "Good Neighbor Outdoor Lighting" ordinance, which one council member thinks is a dim way to reduce conflicts over so-called light pollution.
The complaint-driven ordinance, approved Tuesday on a 3-2 vote, will be enforced by the city on private property, only if adjacent neighbors cannot come to an agreement about how to reduce glare without compromising safety.
Complaints about lighting on city property, rights of way, beaches or open space will be lodged directly with the council during the public comment period at the beginning of each meeting.
Specific holidays will be exempt.
"This is another ordinance that pits neighbor against neighbor," said Councilman Kelly Boyd, who voted with Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson against the ordinance.
He envisions situations where the ordinance might be used to get even with a neighbor who declined to trim a tree, which would lead to the kinds of feuds generated by view blockage.
However, supporters believe the ordinance will lead to amicable resolutions, rather than confrontations.
"I see it as ending disputes," said Mayor Toni Iseman.
City staff recommended approval of the ordinance, in which the council declares that outdoor lighting increases safety and enhances nighttime character.
But those benefits must be weighed against lighting that is improperly designed and/or installed, creating excessive glare and energy use, and light trespassing — fixtures that illuminate beyond the property on which the fixture is installed, according to the ordinance.
Other goals include energy conservation and enhancement of the night sky that is bleached by electric lights.
A sample letter for communicating a concern about lighting on a neighbor's property without arousing anger was included in the staff presentation. The letter will be available at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net.
"In the meantime, I would be happy to provide copies," said city Principal Planner Monica Tuchscher, who can be contacted at (949) 497-0745 or at City Hall, 505 Forest Ave.
Oceanfront property owner John Thomas, who had reservations about the ordinance when it was first introduced, said he favors it with the changes made since the July 12 council meeting.
The limitation on who could complain was the major factor in Thomas' switch. Now, for private property, only adjacent neighbors can lodge a complaint.
Tuchscher said the modification was based on testimony at the earlier hearing and a meeting with Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau representatives.
An outreach program to educate the public will include a brochure to be mailed next week to residents. The brochure will include the exempt holidays: Valentine's Day, Independence Day, Halloween and the weeks between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15.
"I want to thank you for clarifying the holidays," said resident Annette Huling, who had complained about the duration of a neighbor's outdoor decorations at several council meetings.
The brochure also will contain what staff described as ideas for neighborhood-friendly lighting, sensible outdoor lighting principles and practices, and what to do about problematic lighting.
"I tend to think we should let people become aware of the proposal before we make it a law," Pearson said.
Boyd concurred. He pointed out that only two people out of a population of 25,000 attended meetings on the ordinance.
Tuchscher said public outreach would continue for the next six months before the ordinance takes effect Feb. 1.