Last fall, Silverado residents on Grundy Lane and Anderson Way complained when two long-dormant street lights sprang to life, obscuring the stars.  Southern California Edison (SCE) agreed to remove those lights.

By February 14, with one light apparently dead and the other seriously ill (blinking slowly), the Inter-Canyon League (ICL) asked SCE for an update.  There was no reply, but SCE workers removed both lights on Feb. 24.

ICL also requested information about the street lights on Silverado Canyon Road, which are now LED models like the Grundy/Anderson lights. These replacement lights seem so much brighter than the old lights, that people have called them “hazardous” to drivers and pedestrians.  ICL has asked for specifications for the old lights as well.

One advantage of LED lighting is that it uses less electricity for the same amount of light. 

A question is whether Silverado’s new lights actually are brighter:  nominal brightness (lumens) is not the only way that light sources can differ. A light fixture’s BUG (Backlight-Uplight-Glare) rating indicates the amount of wasted light spilled behind the fixture, up into the sky, and toward the front.

A 2016 report from the American Medical Association (AMA) notes: “Unshielded LED lighting causes significant discomfort from glare. ... Discomfort and disability glare can decrease visual acuity, decreasing safety and creating a road hazard.”

Blues in the night
Noon daylight color temperature is about 5500 degrees Kelvin (K). Yellower incandescent light is around 2400K, and amber low-pressure sodium (LPS) street lights, 1700K. 

Astronomers prefer LPS because the light is nearly all the same wavelength (color), making it easier to filter out, and the warm color does not contribute to light pollution nearly as much as blue/white light does.

Exposure to artificial light of any kind after sundown can lead to poor sleep in humans, but light with a high blue component seems to be especially disruptive. That is one reason that the AMA recommends an upper limit of 3000K for street lights. (Windows 10 computers can be set to use warmer screen colors at night automatically.)

Artificial night light also affects wildlife. Birds that navigate by the moon or stars lose their way. Sea turtle hatchlings attracted to lights on shore fail to find the ocean. Insects, like fireflies, require darkness for reproduction. And a 2006 OC Register article (“Let There Be Dark”) cited two Orange County snake species facing possible local extinction due to light pollution.

A 2018 USC study of four unrelated species also found that, in general, animals were more disturbed by blue or white light than by amber or green. Yellow light bulbs for porch lights were invented for a reason.

Safety measures
Engineering standards design guidelines state that street lights may be unnecessary on roads where the speed limit is below 30 mph—headlights are sufficient. Studies have also shown that increased light does not affect accident or crime rates. Despite this, though, people who are used to the glare of excess light sometimes “feel safer,” even though they aren’t.

Government agencies may also “feel safer” following standards previously adopted elsewhere. But Bob Parks, founder of the nonprofit Smart Outdoor Lighting Alliance, writes: “Lighting that introduces glare in order to meet uniformity goals defeats the basic function of lighting.”

If fear of the dark is the bogeyman of some residents, fear of lawsuits may be the bogeyman of some bureaucrats. Bob Parks again: “The fear of litigation continues to dictate public policy. ... The kicker is that there is also no evidence that any litigation based on illumination levels has ever resulted in a legal judgment against a municipality. Ever. Anywhere.”

LED street lights, more like Silverado’s old lights, are available. If necessary, Orange County could specify their use via an ordinance similar to San Diego County’s 2009 light pollution ordinance. Since this would improve safety on Silverado Canyon Road, liability costs should decrease. Perhaps the savings would cover the cost of the eight light bulbs.

News flashes
A celebration of life for Silverado’s summer concert announcer Caryn “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching” Brinegar will occur Sun., March 8 from 2 to 6 p.m. at the community center. The whole canyon is invited.

The Silverado-Modjeska Recreation and Parks and District will offer rattlesnake aversion training for dogs on March 15 in Modjeska, and April 5 in Silverado. 

Springing forth
Small roadside flowers now include purple lupines and/or orange poppies, depending on the road. OC Public Works apparently admired the white ceanothus and wild cucumber blossoms along Silverado Canyon Road so much that they harvested them by the truckload, leaving fresh gravel in return.

Even last year’s weeds can be recycled into handsome floral centerpiece arrangements, as demonstrated recently at Waste Management’s Silverado/Ladd Creek occasional al fresco café and furniture outlet. “Why pay Ikea prices?”.

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March 2020

Canyon Beat:

The light in the forest