RSF Association board approves lighting regulation, considers uplighting policy

The RSF Association board meets on Dec. 1.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association board finally approved its new lighting regulation, simply changing the dated language of watts to modern lumens. The process spanned multiple drafts over the last two years and included lively town halls and workshops.

“We’ve fixed a major problem with the lighting regulation with our action today,” Director Phil Trubey said at the Dec. 1 meeting.

Up next the board will consider a total of nine lighting policy topics including uplighting, tree lighting, safety lighting, outdoor chandeliers, hours of exterior lighting and maximum lumens. “The most controversial one has been uplighting,” said Planning and Development Director Maryam Babaki as the board took up the uplighting policy first, considering several options from very restrictive to moderately restrictive.

In the code now, uplighting is prohibited but up to 12 can be allowed under minor construction and, as Babaki said, it is not clear what is truly permitted. The board had its own lively discussion at the meeting, leaning toward a policy that would permit uplighting subject to Art Jury discretion—the Art Jury will determine the number of lights and lights are to be low voltage and covered with a tree or wall.

Bright lights are to be prohibited and uplighting to the extent that it is allowed should be focused on a specific object to prevent light spill onto neighboring properties.

Many in the community do have uplighting on their properties and many have not been approved by the Art Jury. During public comment, Art Jury member Beth Nelson said the majority of the Art Jury does not support uplighting: “This would be a major change to the community character and further we did not have applicants asking for this change,” Nelson said.

Nelson noted that Rancho Santa Fe is part of the San Dieguito Planning Area, whose community plan recognizes the dark night sky as an essential element contributing to the area’s rural character —she believes uplighting to be in violation of that plan.

During the board’s discussion, Director Lorraine Kent wanted to make a motion not to change anything with the policy, saying she didn’t understand why they were spending so much time on the topic.

“I just want to call lighting a day…and move on to issues in the community that are major goals and things the community wants and needs,” Kent said. “I’m not hearing people wanting more definition on this, they don’t want more regulations.”

“I just don’t know where it’s coming from…Is this the biggest issue in our regulations?”

RSF Association President Dan Comstock said he was a little confused by Kent’s comments as the board has discussed the topic about six times this year, has directed staff to spend countless hours on the regulation and hundreds of residents attended the town halls—right now it is one of the biggest issues in their regulations, “To say it’s of low importance seems bizarre,” he said.

“The goal of this is to give the Art Jury and homeowners an idea of where to start if they want to have some landscape lighting,” Comstock said.

With the board’s direction, Association staff will work on clarifying the uplighting policy language and the board will revisit it at the January meeting.