Saturday, May 23, 2009
Meeting Highlights - April 23, 2009 (These pages are based on the editor's notes - they are not official minutes)
Dark Skies Northwest discussed the hazards of light pollution at night. Dark Skies N.W. is a member of the International Dark Skies Association, a world-wide organization that seeks to reduce excessive night lighting. Dark Skies has a three-fold program: supply the public information; work with illumination engineers; and design model codes and standards. It defines light pollution as an "adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night and energy waste." Quality lighting would let people have enough lighting to accomplish their affairs without lighting up the sky. It's a matter of good design and energy conservation.
Fifty years ago, people in Seattle could see the Milky Way on a clear night and wonder in awe at the clusters in the night sky. Now, people in Seattle and most of our major cities see only a few stars in the sky and view the nebulae on the Internet and in photographs.
Lights from Tucson and Phoenix began affecting observation at Kitt Peak, a famous national observatory, 50 miles away. The astronomers went to the city officials and public telling them about the environmental and human impacts of excessive night lighting and its waste of energy; and the cities responded with building codes requiring good lighting design. Military weather satellite photos show bright light clusters over all of the Eastern United States and the I-5 corridor from San Diego to Vancouver, B.C. The brightness increases about 7% per year and doubles every ten years.
Light pollution breaks down into various categories: glare, light trespass, light clutter, sky glow, and energy waste.
Glare is a brightness of light so intense that it obscures features in the area. The brain gets distracted by the light; and fails to notice hazards that would otherwise be seen. Aging eyes are more sensitive to glare; and the retinas take longer to adjust to changing light levels. Eyes scatter the light as they get older. On average, a person of 70 has double the scatter of light that a young person has; people at 80 have triple the scatter. Glare may effectively blind a motorist for 5 seconds. A motorist will travel 220' in 5 seconds at 30 mph.
" Light trespass" describes shining light were it is not wanted, e.g. a spotlight from an athletic field that shines into a neighbor's room and requires the neighbor to draw shades to sleep.
"Light clutter" is a massing of light sources that radiates excessive brightness, e.g. the car lot that seeks to attract attention by outshining other businesses. Service stations need 3 candlepower to pump gas; they often have 50 candlepower, rivaling the intensity of auto headlights.
Sky glow is a shine that penetrates above building levels, e.g. unshielded lighting of roadways and parking lots radiates lighting upward as well as to the ground; advertising signs broadcast lights in all directions; and billboard lighting from below shoots and reflects skyward. 70% of sky glow comes from roadway lighting. Seattle has 84,000 streetlights; most have a 100-watt bulb and cost the City about $ 60 per year per bulb or about $ 7,000,000 per year. It could bring the same surface illumination with a lower wattage bulb directed to the ground (Illinois is requiring that.) More light radiates skyward from the bulbs than reflecting from the ground. The typical urban ground surface reflects about 10% of its illumination. Ornamental globe lights (like those in the Pike Place market) cast light directly in all directions and light the underside of trees and buildings. The old time lights used a gas flame; and to be true to history, the bulbs should have the candlepower of the gaslights.
The school district has done a better job of light engineering than most private developers. It has found that keeping walls dark discourages graffiti because the tigers can't see their spray painting in process; and, outdoor lighting does not reveal the perpetrators because those inside, who might look out, typically draw their blinds --- people inside draw.
The Port of Seattle now consults with the Queen Anne Community Council about lighting and finds that installation costs are higher but saves on energy use in the long run.
Vulcan illuminates some of its buildings in South Lake Union so much that the clouds show the outline of the buildings. Clear Channel lights its billboards from a distance and from below; the light hits the target and much more; when seen from the backside the billboards are a dark wall in a halo of light. ATM's need light at the machine, but light the entire area to give an impression of lighting and security.
Well-designed lighting reduces crime and accidents. It's not the intensity of lighting but focusing it to the areas where it is most useful. Unfortunately, hardware stores carry many bulbs and fixtures rather than shielded and those that are focused.
Light pollution raises health concerns: it may disrupt sleep and upset circadian rhythm. It may affect a person's melatonin; melatonin suppresses cancer. People who work the graveyard shift have a statistically higher rate of breast cancer. Studies in Israel show that the brightest communities had a 73% higher rate of breast cancer than the darkest communities. Night shift workers have higher rates of breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. These studies have attracted the attention of the United Nations, World Health Organization.
Night lighting confuses some wildlife. Sea Turtles rely on moon glow off the ocean for direction, and house lights may trick them into dashing inland. Migrating birds fly into buildings. Night owls find it harder to get rats, who can spot their prey in the shadows. Moths that die in light fixtures are not available at the bottom of the food chain for bats and birds. Lighting attracts fish as the old time fishermen knew. The authorities are now working with riparian owners on lighting so as not to confuse migrating salmon. The mercury vapor bulbs and halide lights emit an ultraviolet light that is particularly confusing to those insects that rely on that spectrum and may attract swarms. Human eyes don't see the ultraviolet light and so that part of the illumination is wasted for us.
Representative Pat Lantz of Gig Harbor introduced House Bill 1069 in the 2009 legislative session to set up a working group to recommend legislation. As a youngster, Lantz enjoyed watching the bioluminescence in Carr Inlet in the South Sound; the night glow now obscures it. When the bill came on for hearing, Clear Channel testified that regulating lighting would hurt its billboard business; the Ski Lodges, the Mariners and the Seahawks said it would impair their lighting and sports; Vulcan claimed that it would no longer be able to light up the outline of its skyscrapers; and the Department of Transportation feared it might have to change the way it lights highway signage.
At the national level, Congressman Jim McDermott and ten others have written to the Environmental Protection Agency asking that it adopt a formal definition of "light pollution", incorporate it as a consideration in EPA research programs and make it a part of its Energy Star publications and Standards for outdoor lighting Energy Star; and include light pollution in its information, outreach and grant programs.
Dark Skies Northwest is working with City Light to reduce energy consumption and encourage smart lighting. City Light is conducting surveys. It is changing its lighting standards replacing the older "jelly bean" and "gum drop" fixtures with newer more efficient cut-off lighting. L.E.D. lighting is replacing mercury vapor lighting. White lighting is more efficient. Low pressure sodium uses the least energy, but its orange tinge distorts colors. The conversion will take about 30 years. An informal working group is developing a model ordinance and guidelines for new construction. The guidelines would be incorporated as design criteria in building codes. Good night lighting would save millions of kilowatt hours for even a city of modest size. Dark Skies is going to the State Parks Commission seeking to create a dark skies area around the Goldendale Observatory patterned after that by Kitt Peak
C-1: Dark Skies should make a presentation to the Park Board and include a discussion of new playfield lighting.
C-2: The Parks Department relied on a lighting consultant for sports field lighting, who recommended a product on which he had a financial interest. It needs independent, objective advice.
C-3: Discouraging construction at night would reduce light pollution. The City Council (Burgess, Clark, Drago, Godden, and Rasmussen) recently amended the noise ordinance to allow nighttime construction. It did not consider lighting impacts.
C-4: City Light will put shields on street lights if neighbors complain.
C-5: Parks should stress turning off lights when the fields or tennis courts are not in use. Automatic timed off switches would save enough in electric bills to justify their installation cost.
Motions passed that the Federation propose or support an amendment to the Seattle Growth Management Plan to reduce light pollution, and that the Federation support the efforts by Congressman Jim McDermott and ten others to persuade the Environmental Protection Agency to take steps addressed at reducing light pollution. [Ed's Note: the deadline for proposing 2009 amendments is May 15th. The Federation plans to send in text to meet the deadline, and may amend it later.]
President's Report: The Laurelhurst Community Club secured a remand on its appeal to the Hearing Examiner from a decision of the Director of Planning and Development that had upheld an amendment to the Major Institution Master Plan and the Final Environmental Impact Statement ("FEIS") on doubling the size of Children's Hospital. The Hearing Examiner ruled that Children's had failed to provide necessary information on the scope and details of the impact of demolishing 136 units of moderate income housing in Laurelon Terrace; and that the land use section of the FEIS failed to review the nature, significance and interrelationship of all parts of the land use elements. Children's prevailed on its aesthetic and transportation elements. It's a significant victory.
Authorizing detached accessory dwelling units ("DADU's) citywide: The Mayor and the Director of Planning and Development have sent a draft ordinance to the Seattle City Council to authorize DADU's anywhere and everywhere in Seattle. The ordinance would also rename "DADU's" to "backyard cottages;" permit waiver of the current requirement that the lot owner live in one of the dwelling units; empower the Director to waive ordinance standards for conversion of any existing nonconforming structure; and authorize the Director to waive off-street parking requirements. When parking waivers are allowed, DPD does it almost automatically. DADU's are now allowed in Rainier Valley and some neighborhood plans authorize them. This ordinance would override those neighborhood plans that don't allow them and govern areas without neighborhood plans. There would be no notification to the neighbors and no limit on the number of DADU's in a block. Density standards now allow eight unrelated persons on a lot and set no limit on related persons. Under the Mayor's DADU ordinance, one family could live in either structure and seven in the other. The ordinance says nothing about the minimum size of the lot for a DADU, but 4000 square feet would be the practical minimum. It sets the stage for the conversion of garages (including those that are non-conforming) and sheds to DADU's. The Mayor/DPD report says that state law requires "accessory apartments" in single family zones. That does not warrant the Mayor's proposal. The City's ordinance already fully complies with state law. The statute does not mandate DADU's be allowed on every lot, waiver of requirements otherwise applicable to housing, or prohibit allowing them on a conditional use basis.
Motion passed to re-affirm the Federation's opposition to allowing any more DADU's unless the neighborhood plans expressly calls for them.
Décor and artworks of Sound Transit Stations: Sound Transit designed its UW Station south of Husky Stadium to totally set itself apart from the surrounding campus: no reference to the UW or its achievements, no Husky colors, no UW paraphernalia, nothing about Husky sports or the medical facilities nearby in the building, its decor' or decorations, or any of its artworks; the name "University Station" confined to a 4" letterhead over the ticket box office. It disregarded citizen comments to complement the campus and campus architectural elements and decor.' The University District Community Council wrote to Sound Transit urging it to adhere to the Design Guidelines and University-related themes in the University Community Urban Center Plan.
Motion passed to write to Sound Transit to urge that it consult with the surrounding communities about decor' and artworks in designing future stations, consider the adopted neighborhood plans, and complement the surrounding neighborhood.
Housing Levy: The Oversight Committee of the Housing Levy is comprised of realtors, bankers, brokers, government employees, and non-profit developers --- but no representatives of tenants' associations or advocates for low income housing who are not affiliated with builders.
Motion passed to raise the issues of balance of viewpoints, of the lack of diversity in perspectives, and of potential conflict of interest in the composition of the Committee. The Committee has. an important role in setting and implementing policy.
District election of the City Council: The initiative committee was slow in getting organized, but now is seeking volunteers to assist. Call Pat Murakami or e-mail her at 774.9146. See www.actionseaattle.org for more info.
Candidates' Questionnaire: Chris Leman will head a committee to develop a questionnaire for candidates for City offices. It will use a format that encourages Yes/No Format or simple multiple choice responses so that the answers can be abstracted and posted on the Federation website.
Initiative 100: Initiative 100 would require the City to require an election before it could build a new jail. It would emphasize rehabilitation over incarceration.
Motion passed to support Initiative 100. Copies of the petition will be available at our May meeting.
Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee: Motion passed to approve a letter critical of the way the updating of neighborhood plans is proceeding. The letter would reassert the Federation's consistent insistence that neighborhood plan revisions be done by representatives of the affected neighborhood, through an open and public process, with broadly-based participation of residents of the area, supplied with accurate information and objective technical assistance.
Streetcar to First Hill: A City committee is looking at potential routes between the Pike Place Station and First Hill. Neighborhood residents are raising many issues and concerns.