Spotlight shines on San Diego as dark-sky debate rages on

SAN DIEGO: Light pollution and the Milky Way Galaxy are at the

center of an ongoing debate in San Diego about the future of the city's

night sky.

Weighing in on one side are the Palomer and Mount Laguna observatories

outside San Diego and the International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA), a

coalition of 7,000 astronomers from 69 countries whose mission is to

"protect the nighttime environment and preserve the heritage of dark


The group has orchestrated a media initiative to inform the public about

a proposal by the city's council - the other side in the debate - to

change 25,000 streetlights from yellow to sodium bulbs. The new lights

would greatly limit the ability of the observatories, as well as alter

the night view in San Diego.

"We believe that there are better solutions for San Diego than getting

rid of yellow lights that make it easier for people to enjoy the night

time," said Robert Gent, PR counsel for the IDSA.

City officials however believe that brighter lights are needed for

aesthetic purposes and because the yellow bulbs make it difficult for

police to spot criminals in the darkness.

The IDSA claims that San Diego is falling prey to the US pattern of

"overlighting its cities." The group argues that the new lights will

waste energy, endanger nocturnal species and dazzle astronomers, making

them unable to observe the "beauty of the night."

To get its message directly to the citizens of San Diego, the IDSA has

started a light pollution education program. It is also handing out

brochures and economic information. (The light change would cost the

city a proposed $2.8 million dollars.) In addition, the IDSA is

talking to zoning committees and state legislatures about the issue and

has created an information sheet so that journalists and others

interested in the issue can have fast access to basic facts.

As a compromise, the group has suggested that the city intersperse some

high sodium lights among the yellow lights in areas around business

fronts or heavily-trafficked areas.

For its efforts, the group has been profiled in The San Diego Union

Tribune, Audubon magazine, ABC News and USA Today, among others.

The city council will vote later this month on whether or not to change

the lights.

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