South Lake Tahoe considering Dark Sky Places recognition |

South Lake Tahoe considering Dark Sky Places recognition

Laney Griffo
A map of light pollution for South Lake Tahoe and the surrounding communities.
Screenshot from presentation

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — South Lake Tahoe is taking steps to becoming a dark sky city after City Council received a presentation during its Tuesday meeting.

The presentation was given by Michael Marlin, an author and consultant on astrotourism about the steps to becoming a dark sky city and the benefits of doing so.

Dark sky recognition is given by the International Dark-Sky Association, which is the recognized authority on light pollution and is the leading organization combating light pollution worldwide.

Dark skies are measured on a 1-9 scale, called the Bortle Scale, with one being an excellent dark sky site and nine being an inner city sky. For example, Sacramento and Reno are nine and South Lake Tahoe is a seven on the scale.

“Light pollution caused by the inappropriate or inefficient use of outdoor lighting is costly, and affects people, wildlife, and outdoor environments — most noticeably, it limits our view of the starry night sky,” Marlin said during his presentation.

The impetus for the presentation was an agenda item on the Oct. 21 council meeting in regards to a contract to purchase and retrofit LED light installations. There are currently about 150 pedestrian lights along the U.S. Highway 50 corridor and the Ski Run Boulevard corridor that the city wants to retrofit to LED as a energy saving measure, as well as to meet climate action plan goals. The city recommended switching to LED lights that were the same color and output.

The council decided to postpone signing the contract and explore getting warmer lights that would be dark sky compatible.

Newer lights in the city are at 4000 kelvin, which is a cooler temperature and brighter, bluer output. Marlin recommends 2000-2700K which is a warmer, orange light.

When the light is on the warmer side, the human eye is able to adjust to the darkness better than in brighter light. So, Marlin said, the city wouldn’t appear darker, despite the warmer light.

In addition, shielded lights provide a more focused light, rather than unintentionally lighting and polluting surrounding areas.

One public commenter expressed concern that crime would increase if there were dark areas between each light pole.

“There are no studies to show darkness creates crime,” Marlin said.

In fact, he added, with the human eye adjusting to the darkness in the warmer light there is less chance of someone hiding in the darkness.

“It’s not about less lighting, it’s about better lighting,” Marlin said.

Being a dark sky community could help the city save money. Marlin said dimming the lights by 50% after hours can save up to 75% of energy costs and extends the life of the LED.

In addition, astrotourism is on the rise. According to the IDA, “as of August 2021, there are over 180 certified International Dark-Sky places in the world.”

Resorts and parks around the world, such as in Jackson Hole, Wy, Ely, Nev., Pellworm Star Island in Germany, and Moffat in Scotland has been boasting stargazing tours and experiences.

The council was very receptive to pursuing the recognition. The city would need to rework standards for the city’s lighting and standards for commercial lighting.

The council directed staff to first go out to bid on replacing the original 150 lights that were intended to be replaced. However, now the council wants to replace them with bulbs that are 2000-2700K.

Staff will begin developing a plan to replace all the lights in the city, as they need replacing, which Jim Marino, capital improvements manager, said could take 7-10 years.

The city will also begin looking into having the business community retrofit their lighting, or change standards for new businesses.

Steve Teshara with the Tahoe Chamber said they would help communicate the benefits to the business community.

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