Streetlight Update & Call to Action

By Mark Goldschmidt

In an article in AH’s Fall/Winter 2019 Newsletter, “Change Coming to Nighttime Streets,” we wondered what night time lighting would be like with the coming inevitable change to LEDs. When I contacted Inez Yeung, head of DPW’s Street Lighting Division, she asked me to email our questions. One was: “Is Altadena covered by the Dark Sky Ordinance?” Erick Guzman from her office replied: “All new LED lamp fixtures are dark sky compliant, which minimize light pollution by directing the light downwards instead of allowing overspill above the lamp fixture as is common with HPSV lighting.” I was happy to hear this — but did Edison get the same message?

SoCal Edison and LA County are bound by a long standing contract dating from the 1950s, which stipulates that Edison provide streetlights on their poles, and the County pays for the electricity. (The County does own about 10% of streetlights in Altadena, those on concrete or metal poles.) Having Edison take responsibility for Altadena’s street-lighting makes it easier for county officials and public works. Edison does the electrical design and installation and uses the poles it owns, that is their area of expertise. But problems arise when citizens have strong objection to something they are doing. We did not elect Edison, and Edison is not eager to talk to us.

It is not as though we haven’t tried. Over the past two years plus we met numerous times with engineers from Edison and the Dept. of Public works, experts in outdoor lighting, and representatives from our supervisor’s office. We ZOOMed a well-attended public education program that drew on the experiences of experts and other communities transitioning to LEDs. We drafted a letter signed by a coalition we gathered of 10 community groups, (including Town Council, Rotary, Chamber, and others) with a few (we thought) reasonable requests. We gained a single concession, lowering the color temperature of lamps from a harsh, bluish 3000 Kelvin to a mellower 2700 K.

Other requests have been denied. We asked for a master plan for Altadena night lighting that would include information such as how many lights we had before conversion, how many after, and what energy savings would be achieved. We were told there would be no master plan, there had never been a master plan, there was no money for a master plan.

We asked for lights that could be dimmed if neighbors found the light annoyingly bright, and dimmed after midnight for the benefit of wildlife and to save energy. Ms Yeung recently wrote: “Streetlights on local residential streets are designed to meet the minimum national lighting standards and cannot be dimmed.“

We asked for an opportunity for public input, where we could see what new LED fixtures would look like at night, that glare be reduced with a diffuser, that fixtures conform to Dark Sky standards. This is important, we need a chance to see and comment on what Edison wants to give us before it is installed, with or without a masterplan. What is chosen will affect Altadena’s quality of life for many years.

We haven’t given up, and ask that Altadena Heritage members concerned about our future night-time lighting to contact officials and agencies below about this situation and advocate for an appropriate amount of money be budgeted for the development of a Lighting Masterplan for incorporated Altadena. They need to hear from more people. Stress the five top priorities below:

  1. Make certain that street lighting is “Dark Sky Compliant” as we were told all new LED fixtures would be by Erick Guzman three years ago. The County has a “Dark Sky Ordinance,” but only a small area of Altadena in or adjacent to Angeles Forest is so designated. All Altadena should be a Dark Sky Area ––– or at minimum have lighting that is truly “Dark Sky Compliant.” We want to see more stars.
  2. Fixtures should light the street, and have shields as necessary so light does not trespass into people’s homes.
  3. Street lighting should not be too bright. The brighter the light, the darker the shadows, which creates greater safety hazards for motorists, pedestrians, and bicycllists.
  4. Fixtures must have a diffusing cover to mitigate the piercing glare of tiny diode light sources. Efficiency may be lowered slightly, but a diffuser is critical for human comfort.
  5. Give the community an opportunity to have a say in choosing what we will be living with for a generation, with test installations and opportunities for public comment.

Who to write to (and copy all):
California PUC
Southern California Edison
Supervisor Kathryn Barger
Sussy Nemer
Anish Saraiya