A year and a half ago, advocates for dark sky ordinances brought their case before the Inyo Board of Supervisors. After a series of public workshops and research, the Planning Department came back with recommendations at the Board’s November 26 meeting.
The Board opted to go with “recommendations” rather than regulations and easing the new policy in at the new build or remodel permitting process.
The issue is simple: We live in small communities surrounding by nature. Locals, visitors and particularly star gazers sure don’t want to have the night skies blasted with artificial, intrusive lights.
Associate Tom Schaniel explained the County’s General Plan already addresses exterior lighting, requiring shielding that directs the light to where it’s needed for security and safety. But those regs don’t deal with light trespass—defined as light that goes beyond the intended boundaries and into neighboring windows.
LED lights that shine in the blue range were once considered the solution for dark skies, but, Schaniel said, blue light doesn’t occur in nature and plays havoc with wildlife.
State laws go about half-way to dark skies, leaving room for individual communities to go further. Those codes would be enforced at the permitting process for new builds or remodels, assuming those remodels go through the appropriate process. The only area in the County that comes close to the definition of “urban” is Bishop but the County can’t impose lighting regulations within the City boundaries.
Schools are another loophole and some blast light right through that loophole. “You can get a lot of security,” said Schaniel, “without lighting up the neighbors.”
Schaniel said he went to the two hardware stores in Bishop, but couldn’t find exterior lighting identified as “dark sky” appropriate.
Supervisor Dan Totheroh described a night trip through Tucson, with strict night light requirements because of its proximity to an observatory. “I didn’t see any conflict between safety and dark skies,” he said.
But Board Chair Rick Pucci opted for public education and recommendations at the permit process, noting the existence of new and retrofit ordinances in the existing California building codes.
A bitter sweet note to the session was the recent death of Lone Pine resident Earl Wilson, a strong community and night sky advocate and a good friend.