City Lights Across North America

The United States at night from space, where the amount of light radiating up into the sky is quite evident.

Although San Diego is blessed with good weather and good astronomy, our proximity to the population density of Southern California produces a sky glow that can overwhelm the night sky. Both the City and County of San Diego have adopted laws and regulations to preserve our night skies. County regulations apply to unincorporated areas, but not to Federal, State or BIA reservations.

The City of San Diego has an Outdoor Lighting Regulations (click for link) web page with links to the San Diego Municipal Code effective July 24, 2012. Chapter 14, Article 2 Division 7 Offsite Development Impact Regulations Code regulates glare and lighting. Section 147.0740+ regulates light trespass and establish standards for light shielding and brightness (lumens) incorporating the California Energy Code power requirements. Click here for the 2016 City of San Diego Municipal Code Art 2, Div 7 regs. Click here for the California Energy Code Outdoor lighting regulations, go to page 47.

Bright light shining onto your property is a legal nuisance. For neighbors with bothersome lights, San Diego Municipal Code provides:

§142.0740      Outdoor Lighting Regulations

 (a)  Purpose and Intent

 (1) Outdoor lighting fixtures shall be installed in a manner that minimizes negative impacts from light pollution including light trespass, glare, and urban sky glow in order to preserve enjoyment of the night sky and minimize conflict caused by unnecessary illumination.

 (2) Regulation of outdoor lighting is also intended to promote lighting design that provides for public safety and conserves electrical energy.

If a violation of the Municipal Code is noted, such as unshielded outdoor lighting, call the Neighborhood Code Compliance Department at 619-236-5500 to lodge a complaint. Generally, they will not release your name to the offender, but you will need to leave a name with the City. A Code Enforcement officer will then visit the site (at night). Or, if you are on good terms with your neighbor, the International Dark Sky Association has suggestions and a draft letter for a neighborly conversation.

For City of San Diego street lights shining on your property, you can request the City Street Division install a shield. Shielding is an option only if the street light is on the same side of the street as your house, but if you don't get a shield, escalate the issue to your city councilperson.

The County of San Diego regulates outdoor lighting in the unincorporated portions of San Diego County. The County's Light Pollution Code was passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2009 to:

"Sec. 51.201. The purpose of this chapter is to minimize light pollution to allow citizens of the County to view and enjoy the night environment and to protect the Palomar and Mount Laguna observatories from the detrimental effect that light pollution has on astronomical research.”    

Both the City and County have special standards for a radius around the Palomar and Laguna Observatories with a radius of 15 miles. The table below is from the San Diego County Planning and Development Services web site, a pdf of Private Outdoor Lighting regulations. Zone A is around the observatories while Zone B is the rest of the county, if applicable. (Federal, State, BIA excepted)

“SEC. 51.204. REQUIREMENTS FOR LAMP SOURCE AND SHIELDING.

The requirements for lamp source and shielding of light emissions for outdoor luminaires shall be as provided in the LAMP TYPE AND SHIELDING REQUIREMENTS PER FIXTURE

CLASS I-COLOR RENDITION IMPORTANT

LAMP TYPE

ZONE A (15 Mi.)

ZONE B

Low Pressure Sodium

Fully Shielded

Fully Shielded

Others above 4050 Lumens

Prohibited

Fully Shielded

Others 4050 Lumens & Below

Fully Shielded 1

Fully Shielded 1

 CLASS II-PARKING LOTS, SECURITY, ETC.

LAMP TYPE

ZONE A (15 Mi.)

ZONE B

Low Pressure Sodium

Fully Shielded

Fully Shielded

Others above 4050 Lumens

 Prohibited

Prohibited, except fully shielded HPS is allowed for private roadways

 Others 4050 Lumens & Below

(a) Fully Shielded Fixture with motion sensor, or

(b) Unshielded Luminaire, 2000 lumens maximum with motion sensor or

(c) Residential Entrance Light, 2000 lumens maximum

(a) Fully Shielded Fixture, or

(b) Unshielded Luminaire, 2000 lumens maximum with motion sensor or

(c) Residential Entrance Light, 2000 lumens maximum

Federal, State, and BIA reservation property is not subject to County regulations, however the County requests voluntary compliance.

At the Federal level, legislation mandates that the States establish outdoor advertising regulations along Interstate and other designated primary highways. Generally, the States are required to implement their own regulations in exchange for Federal Highway Funds. In California, that's The California Outdoor Advertising Act. USC131 (h) applies to Federal reservations and public lands--such as Bureau of Land Management land--but does not apply to BIA reservation signage, such as the billboards near Boulevard/Tierra del Sol along I-8.

CalTrans issues permits for Interstate highway advertising and controls billboards on scenic highways and licenses outdoor advertisers. Most towns and cities have sign ordinances that may also be effective near the freeways, but some use billboards as revenue generating opportunities. Federal or State owned property such as San Diego State University are exempt from local sign laws and can erect billboards, on-premises, along I-8 without any permit at all.

The International Dark Sky Association

The best single resource is the International Dark Sky Association (www.darksky.org) The San Diego Astronomy Association is a member and encourages SDAA members to support the organization. SDAA member Jim Traweek, Lipp Observatory Director, has been honored by the IDA "for his ongoing efforts educating the public about light pollution in the San Diego, California, area.” (click for link)

Jim Traweek

Jim Traweek, IDA Honoree and SDAA Lipp Observatory Director

San Diego International Dark-Sky Association

The San Diego chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association is a local association of experts in support of the international IDA. It has a very good list of San Diego area ordinances and resources with links to the Palomar Observatory web site at CalTech, also active in preserving our night shy.

 For other cities within San Diego County, look at California Skykeepers database (click for link) at http://www.skykeepers.org/index.html

"The moon and the stars no longer come to the farm. The farmer has exchanged his
birthright in them for the wattage of his all-night sun. His children will never
know the blessed dark of night."

-- Leslie Peltier in his autobiography, Starlight Nights

 

Bangor Daily NEWS Article
An article by Clair Wood titled "Light pollution has unforeseen consequences to nature". (PDF, 10Kb)

California Outdoor Advertising Act
California B&P Code Chapter 2 (PDF, 73Kb)

City of San Diego Outdoor Lighting Regulations
Chapter 14, Article 2, Division 7 (Effective September 6, 2012). (PDF, 168Kb)

County of San Diego Light Pollution Code
Division 9. Light Pollution Code. (Effective October 25, 2012). (PDF, 142Kb)

Federal Highway National State Standards
Title 23, Chapter I, Part 750 - Highway Beautification. (PDF, 25Kb)

Federal Highway Outdoor Advertising Control Legislation
23 USC Sec. 131 (01/26/98). Title 23, Chapter 1, Section 131 - Control of outdoor advertising. (PDF, 52Kb)

County of San Diego Private Outdoor Light Regulations
An overview of the County of San Diego light pollution code (PDF, 93Kb)

IDA Lighting Complaint Form
Light Tresspass Complaint Form for San Diego County (PDF, 119Kb)

San Diego Chapter IDA October 2004 Newsletter
Word Document format file of the October 2004 issue of the San Diego Chapter of the International Dark Sky Association. (DOC, 38Kb)