Comment period extended on RSF Association’s new lighting regulation

RSF Association offices
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association is seeking more community involvement in its proposed updates to the regulatory code. The latest chapter to be posted for public comment is on outdoor lighting, addressing uplighting, the hours of use of lighting and the inclusion of lumens, a direct measurement of light output or brightness. The regulation seeks to permit the use of outdoor lighting for safety and security while minimizing its impact on neighboring residences, light pollution and protecting the natural environment.

After the Association posted the draft of the proposed lighting regulation on Aug. 6, the board received 20 comments which has resulted in some amendments and clarifications.

“Because of the interest that has been expressed in this chapter, we are proposing that we extend the comment period for another month,” said Building Commissioner Maryam Babaki at the board’s Sept. 3 meeting.

RSF Association Director Rick Sapp said the comments have demonstrated that the community seems to be divided on the concept of how “dark skies” are defined in terms of both hours of operation and the presence or non-presence of uplighting. Discussions about lighting in Rancho Santa Fe have always included references to a “dark skies policy” but the phrase is actually not included in the Association’s governing documents: There is no mention of “dark skies” in the Protective Covenant.

As Babaki explained, in the mid-1980s San Diego County came up with the first codes about dark skies in relation to protecting its two observatories in Palomar and Mount Laguna from the detrimental effects of light pollution on astronomical research, as well as minimizing light pollution for county residents’ outdoor enjoyment. The San Dieguito Community Plan recognizes the dark night sky as an essential element contributing to the rural character of the area.

Dark skies are mentioned in the Association’s residential design guidelines and the existing regulatory code: “The dark sky standard includes the maintenance of predominant rural darkness characterized by limited and controlled emissions of light that distinctly differ from more intrusive suburban lighting patterns.”

With the revised regulation, Babaki said the Association is trying to bring some understanding and standards to how they want to accomplish the dark sky, whether that means by fixtures, lumens or time restrictions.

“We want to find a happy medium that makes sense but we also want to put something in place that actually can be policed within reason. If we put something in that’s so stringent that nobody pays attention to it, it’s like having nothing,” said newly-elected board President Mike Gallagher.

Per the proposed regulation, uplighting would remain generally prohibited, however, there is a proposed language that a maximum of five lights may be approved by the Art Jury for address markers, specimen trees, fountains, or in a courtyard given that the lights are shielded from the sky.

Lights on the tops of entry pillars or monuments are prohibited, as are colored or neon lights and lighting for recreational facilities. The Association may permit lighting of recreational facilities if it does not adversely effect neighbors and it should be turned off by 11 p.m. The limited use of flood or spotlights is permitted as long as they are motion-activated and equipped with an automatic timing device that turns the lights off after 10 minutes.

Per the proposed regulation, exterior lighting except for security and safety lighting and address markers shall be turned off from 11 p.m. through sunrise.

“So much of it has to do with how the properties are situated. What it really comes down to is light pollution on your neighbor, that is the thing that we need to try to avoid,” said newly-elected Vice President Sharon Ruhnau. “How we get there without being too restrictive is the issue we need to continue to examine.”

Ruhnau said if possible, the regulation needs to be simplified so that the average homeowner can determine what they can and cannot do on their properties without being a lighting professional. Director Bill Strong said in addition to being less complex, the regulation also needs to be more consistent to ensure everyone is treated the same way.

“There will probably be 1,800 different opinions but I think we saw in the responses to lighting that people like the dark skies but want a little more freedom around the house,” Strong said. “As a board member I just don’t want anybody picking winners and losers where one person gets 10 times what the next-door neighbor gets and we’re put in the situation of arbitrating a dispute between neighbors.”

Board Director Laurel Lemarie shared her concerns that if approved, this will be the first time that hours of exterior lighting will be included in the Association’s regulations. As the policy has always been dark skies, not dark skies after 11 p.m., Lemarie said what is proposed could be “sea change” to the community’s character.

“If you look out today over the vista from your properties, you’ll see that it’s the new houses that are all lit up…the new people moving in are lighting up like Disneyland. And if we all we’re told ‘Ok light up til 11 p.m’., everybody will do it and the whole community will change,” Lemarie said. “We’re supposed to be rural, we’re not suburban…people move here for that serenity.”

All board members agreed that they would like more community input on the proposed changes to guide them in their work and they proposed circulating the lighting regulation changes and their clear objectives to Association members. They also proposed circulating the proposed Covenant interpretation regulation regarding architectural types, which is still in a working draft phase.

In the last month, the Association has seen more input on its regulatory code changes. The Covenant interpretation regulation regarding architecture so far has received 10 comments. The new building materials regulation only received two comments over the summer, however, since it was passed in August, the board has received an additional 15 comments.

“I was impressed at the member comments that we received on several of these regulations and also the diversity of comments,” said Bill Weber, board treasurer. “Anything we can do to encourage that participation I think would be very important.”

To provide public input email