Riverside County leaders give tentative OK to light pollution ordinance

Security light
Security light
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Amateur astronomers are among those speaking out in favor of a Riverside County ordinance aimed at curbing light pollution. The county’s given tentative approval to the so-called “light trespass” law.

Like a lightbulb clicking on above his head, Supervisor John Tavaglione got the idea for the law after getting complaints from William Larsen.

“These are supposedly security lights," Larsen said. "Don’t have ‘em coming into my bedroom allowing me to read a book in bed at 2 a.m. without the lights on.”

Larsen showed Riverside County supervisors pictures of his Corona-area home at night, illuminated by a neighbor’s prison yard-like security lights. He says the lights bring many sleepless nights.

John Garrett says they also bring lots of starless nights. He’s a Wildomar astronomer and member of the International Dark Sky Association. He gets lots of complaints from backyard stargazers.

“'Hey, I used to be able to enjoy the backyard looking at the stars with my children. Now I can’t. Is there anything I can do to get my neighbor to stop shining that floodlight at me?' This ordinance will help change that," Garrett said, "and I hope it becomes a model for our cities to adopt as well.”

The new ordinance would require residents to shield bright exterior lights and point them away from other properties and public streets. Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone supports the ordinance but wants to add some exemptions.

“How will this affect electric billboards?" Stone said. "We have athletic fields on school sites, and I’m concerned about enforceability. Are we going to have the light police? I want to see it enforced but I’m not sure this is going to be a top priority for a sheriff’s department. I understand the motivation but I worry about broad-brushing and the ramifications it can have on us.”

There will be exemptions for public safety agencies, public monuments and some decorative holiday lights. Light ordinance violators could be fined up to $500. Riverside County supervisors will have a final vote on the ordinance next month.