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A New Legislative Challenge: Limits on Nighttime Lighting

Date: March 24, 2004

Summary:
Through the years, we have all become familiar with the typical topics in the billboard debate: property rights,taxes, fees, and vegetation control.

Body:

    
David K. Jones is Vice President at YESCO, based in Chandler, AZ. He leads an OAAA task force on night-lighting issues, along with John Barrett of Barrett Outdoor Communications.
 
Through the years, we have all become familiar with the typical topics in the billboard debate: property rights,taxes, fees, and vegetation control.

It is now time to add “dark skies” to the list. Simply put, “dark skies” proposals aim to restrict night lighting – including billboard lighting – in the cause of preserving the celestial vista.

Seven states considered anti-night lighting proposals last year (all were rejected) and “dark skies” proposals have been introduced in four states this year. The February 2004 issue of Planning Magazine (published by the American Planning Association) claims that night lighting is a friend of cancer and insomnia, and an enemy of wildlife.

Background

Several years ago, professional astronomers became concerned that “sky glow” produced by night lighting was adversely affecting major observatories. The main advocacy group, the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), was formed to preserve night viewing for astronomers. “Dark sky” ordinances were enacted near observatories, requiring outdoor lighting to be shielded or focused downward.

Dark sky proposals have expanded beyond down-lighting, in an attempt to protect backyard star gazing, and now include restrictions on the amount of outdoor light, mounting height limits (such as 14 feet), and curfews on outdoor lights.

These regulations can have a profound impact on outdoor advertising. Retro-fitting billboards for down-lighting is costly, produces shadows in daylight hours, makes installation of sign faces more difficult, and increases the potential for light trespass onto nearby properties.

What the Industry is Doing

In legislative and regulatory debates, one of our strongest assets is quality research to develop critical message points backed by factual data. OAAA has made the dark skies issue a research priority and has work underway.

Highlighting the industry’s minor role in night illumination is part of our defense. However, effectively making our case also includes affirmative points about the overall value of lighting:

  • Security: Night lighting enhances safety.
  • Mobility: Our society is mobile, day and night.
  • Commerce/jobs: Lighting is fundamental to night business. Turn off the lights, and the cash register suffers.

For more information about this issue, please contact OAAA. In addition, an Outdoor Lighting and Dark Skies issue brief can be accessed via the government affairs section of the OAAA website.

 

 

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