On Tuesday, March 10, 2020, the Amador County Planning Commission passed a draft outdoor lighting ordinance on a 4-1 vote, with minor amendments. If later approved by the county board of supervisors, the ordinance would require newly constructed buildings to incorporate warmer-colored, shielded, energy-efficient light fixtures that shine on surfaces where they’re needed, not up into the sky or into drivers’ eyes and neighbors’ windows.
The vote followed the fourth public hearing on the ordinance, which was initiated as part of Foothill Conservancy’s general plan litigation settlement with Amador County. Since late last fall, we have been working with the Amador Astronomical Society, members of the International Dark-Sky Association, Tri-County Wildlife Care, and concerned local residents to secure its passage.
The outdoor lighting ordinance would also apply to broken or deteriorated light fixtures in existing buildings. Although we pushed for gradual phasing in of better lighting for existing buildings, as drafted the ordinance would “grandfather in” existing light fixtures. Because the ordinance would amend the county zoning code, it would apply only in the county’s unincorporated area.
Downward-facing lights are safer because they illuminate areas that might conceal animals, hazards, or criminal activity, and they light up house numbers for emergency responders. In a March 8 e-mail to the Amador County Planning Commission, recently retired Amador County Sheriff Sergeant John Silva said, “Simply put, excessive and poorly directed lighting makes a property less safe from crime because it creates shadowed blind spots that can easily conceal criminal activity,” and, “… excessive and poorly directed lighting can also hamper law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical responders from being able to quickly see your posted address, which is critical because in an emergency every second counts!”
The type of lighting described in the ordinance would produce many benefits. Energy savings would lower local PG&E bills. Residents would not be bothered by neighbors’ light fixtures shining into their yards or homes. Wildlife, fish, and migratory birds would be less disrupted by the adverse effects of light pollution. The ordinance would help protect our views of the dark, night sky which is important to local, rural residents. Our dark skies also attract visitors from cities where the nighttime view of stars, planets, and the Milky Way have been obliterated by light pollution.
While there were a few nay-sayers at the planning commission hearings, there was a notably broad-based show of community support, including from an articulate sixth grader who encouraged elected leaders to make sure our night sky is protected for future generations to enjoy.
The next step for the ordinance will be a public hearing before the Amador County Board of Supervisors. Considering the uncertainties about public meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t say for certain when that hearing will occur. Please watch your e-mail inboxes for related e-mails from us.
If you’re not on our current e-mail list, have questions about the draft ordinance, or would like to help secure its passage, please contact us at 209-223-3508 or by e-mail.