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San Diego County Supervisors consider upgrading 'Dark Skies' ordinance for Julian, Borrego Springs

Posted at 7:27 PM, Oct 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-28 22:27:52-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday heard a proposal to reduce light pollution in two rural communities.

The proposed amendment to the county's Light Pollution Chapter ordinance would cover the Julian and Borrego Springs Community Planning Areas.

Both would be considered "Zone C" to receive a Dark Sky Community designation, which is generally more restrictive, according to a presentation at Wednesday's board meeting.

Along with unanimously approving the ordinance amendment on first reading, the board also found it to be exempt from the state's Environmental Quality Act, as it does not affect land use or density.

It would also support Julian in becoming an International Dark Sky Community and update Borrego Springs' light pollution standards.

The board will consider formal adoption at its Nov. 18 meeting. If approved, the amended ordinance would take effect in January.

Zone C is generally more restrictive and limits total amount of light per acre and has more restrictive standards for signage or nighttime sports.

Proposed changes would include new lighting standards (for color type, levels and shielding) and sign illumination. The county would give existing developments 10-year grace period to come into compliance.

Dark skies are important to astronomers for better viewing in rural communities, along with businesses that benefit from related tourism. San Diego County adopted a light pollution policy in 1985.

Public outreach sessions found that residents in Borrego Springs and Julian were supportive of new regulations, according to the presentation to the board.

Ordinance enforcement would cost an estimated $20,000 in fiscal year 2021-22.

The cost for residential property owners to upgrade their lighting would range between $50 and $460, while a retail store owner might pay between $110 and $2,600, according to the county.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, whose district includes Julian, said the ordinance would be good news for expert and amateur astronomers.

"It's time to go look at the stars," she added.

Jacob also requested that county staff work with San Diego Gas & Electric to resolve any issues the utility may have over an upgraded ordinance.

Supervisor Jim Desmond said he would gladly support the ordinance, adding that dark skies are a big draw for Borrego Springs, which is located in the district he represents.

"I go out there frequently, and it's fantastic to see the Milky Way," Desmond said.