Los Altos council sheds light on Dark Skies Ordinance 

When I read the title above, I found myself wondering why the Los Altos Town Crier hated Eric Close.  Then I realized they weren’t talking about an obscure TV series.

“Los Altos council sheds light on Dark Skies Ordinance” is straight from my weekly e-mail from the Los Altos Town Crier.  Don’t bother clicking that link.  As far as I can tell, there’s nothing on the site about this story.

What follows is straight from the e-mail.

Los Altos council sheds light on Dark Skies Ordinance 

Screenshot via Los Altos City Council presentation

Los Altos City Council members discussed potential lighting restrictions Tuesday (Oct. 24) under a Dark Skies Ordinance.

Members referred the matter to the city’s Environmental Commission for further study and specific direction.

Intended to address encroaching light from neighbors and potential threats to wildlife, nearby communities including Cupertino and Portola Valley have already adopted such ordinances. Outdoor lighting restrictions also are in place in Los Altos Hills. Currently, Los Altos does not have lighting restrictions in residential areas.

“Dark Skies utilize smart and efficient lighting in warmer color tones with shields preventing skyward flow and can help restore the sights that we cannot enjoy from light polluted skies,” said Nick Zornes, the city’s development services director, in a staff report.

The council discussion included consideration of other potential impacts, including code enforcement issues and whether darker skies could trigger an increase in crimes, such as burglaries.

But public comment at the meeting unanimously supported enacting such a law.

“We know that light at night interferes with bird migration, and it disrupts other biological behaviors as well,” said Los Altos resident Ann Hepenstal, a volunteer with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. “Lighting also interferes with people’s sleep and impacts human health. You probably read the news reports about 1,000 birds dying in Chicago in one night from hitting buildings in the migration time. I would like the council to move forward on a Dark Sky initiative and to apply the ordinance to private property, office and consumer and commercial buildings and government buildings. I want the council to also add requirements for bird-safe design for new and remodeled buildings.”

For more on the story, see next week’s print edition.

– Bruce Barton

Reading carefully, you can find a hint of possible problems in the third paragraph from the end:

… whether darker skies could trigger an increase in crimes, such as burglaries.

There’s are reasons criminals mostly work nights.  Here’s a top-of-my-head list:

  1. Fewer people around to see what you’re doing.
  2. Darkness combined with dark clothing makes you difficult to see.
  3. The same darkness makes it more difficult for law enforcement to find you.
  4. For home robberies, few people are awake at 3 a.m.

As always, there are tradeoffs. Most of the e-mail above details the alleged benefits, while disparaging the costs.

Los Altos already suffers from too few streetlights.  So let’s make the problem even worse.  Some people will stay home instead of going to an outdoor night activity.  Others will take defensive measures.  But things will not remain the same.

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