City Council candidate views on light pollution

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Questionnaire

We asked all 12 candidates for Northampton, MA City Council the following questions in October, 2019,  before the November election. 

  1. Do you believe the City of Northampton should pay more attention to scientific studies showing that light pollution is linked to serious human health problems such as hormonal cancers, diabetes, obesity, depression, and sleep disruption, and is harmful to wildlife, such as pollinating insects and other nocturnal animals, including 80% of mammal species?  If not, why not?
  2. If elected, what will you do to reduce light pollution in the City of Northampton?
  3. Some cities have Outdoor Lighting Committees that draw public health, police, planning, environmental protection, and public works officials together with concerned citizens to inform municipal lighting choices.  Do you support the formation of an Outdoor Lighting Committee, with city government and citizen representation, to advise the City of Northampton?  If not, why not?

Responses

Karen Foster (Ward 2)

1. I do believe that studies that show the harm to human health wildlife, pollinators, and other nocturnal animals are important for the city to consider while making decisions regarding lighting.


2. As new projects are considered and funding and opportunities for new lighting present themselves, I will consider the impact of light pollution as an important factor when making decisions. 


3. One of Northampton's incredible strengths as a community is its informed and civically engaged citizens, and I do believe that we as a city should be drawing upon the resources and energy of our community while making important decisions.  At the same time, I recognize that an Outdoor Lighting Committee would draw municipal resources in its formation and execution. I would first support integrating the work of a lighting committee into existing boards or commissions - such as the planning board or energy and sustainability commission - or as a citizens advisory commission to be called upon to evaluate lighting for specific projects.  As a city we should be considering the skills, interests, and academic knowledge that our residents bring to the table as we evaluate projects, particularly for potential impacts on human and environmental health.


Pennington Geis (Ward 7)

1. I'm enthusiastically in favor of incorporating the science of how light affects animal and human health and safety into the decisions we make about lighting. Both immediate safety and long-term safety matter. Both lumens and kelvins matter. Reducing the amount of electricity we use reduces both our carbon footprint, and the cost to our city budget.


2. If elected, I will ensure there is a discussion about forming an Outdoor Lighting Committee, and I will vote in favor of it. Once it is formed, I will support that committee's recommendations. 


3. A city-wide working committee on how to reduce light pollution is a terrific idea, especially with representatives from various relevant disciplines and perspectives, as you propose. In addition, I think it would be critical for that committee to meet with people who live in the area affected by a particular decision, to listen and learn how changes in lighting could impact that neighborhood. 


Alex Jarrett (Ward 5)

1. We as a society have embarked on a grand experiment in human and animal health by lighting the night to levels never before seen. I am a firm believer in the precautionary principle and since there is evidence of safety concerns, I believe we must pay attention to the science of the issue and adjust our city policies accordingly.


2. I will speak about the issue, make sure people are aware of our current light pollution ordinances, work with city departments, Northampton City Lights and the public to consider updates to these ordinances, especially around the color temperature of lighting. All new municipal infrastructure must follow current scientific best practices, and we need to retrofit existing infrastructure whenever possible.


3. Yes.


Marianne LaBarge (Ward 6)

1. As the longest serving City Councilor, Public Health and Environmental Protection are two things I have always valued significantly and my record proves that.  It is my understanding that municipal officials are aware of and follow the latest lighting recommendations from pertinent organizations, such as the International Dark-Sky Association, when installing new outdoor lighting fixtures. The city has a long-standing outdoor lighting code written to the best knowledge available at the time and is in the process of updating that code to take into account recent changes in lighting technology and incorporating recommendations from such organizations as the International Dark-Sky Association.



2. If re-elected, I will make sure the city's updated outdoor lighting code follows the latest dark-sky recommendations and base my approval of city budget appropriations for new outdoor lighting on the same. While maintaining lighting levels needed for safety, I will support installing dimming controls on outdoor lighting fixtures and removing light fixtures that serve no safety function in order to restrict lighting to that which is needed for public safety.


3. Yes, I do support the idea of having an Outdoor Lighting Committee in our City of Northampton.  I feel residents should be part of the decision making for what lights should be used in our city.  We have many knowledgeable residents who would bring great expertise and knowledge to make informed decisions for the health and the environment in our city.


Rachel Maiore (Ward 7)

1. I believe that Northampton needs to be doing all that can to mitigate ever-increasing light pollution. 

The science is clear on the negative impact of light pollution on human physical and mental health as well as its disrupting effect on migratory birds, mating and migration patterns of many animal and insect species, and the negative safety impact of night time glare for drivers. 

On a personal level, I intrinsically feel what the science is telling us to be true. I am sensitive to ambient light in my own environment and know it significantly impacts my quality of sleep. I have a roll of black duct tape I use on humidifiers, air conditioners, computers, etc,  as it seems every appliance is built to glow these days. 


2. The good news about light pollution is there is so much we can do at the local level. 

Many of the solutions to light pollution can actually save the City money by stipulating less lighting overall. 

As an elected offical I would work to require the city to use amber hued (non-blue) light bulbs in municipal lighting, as well as down-lit lighting fixtures, banning upward facing billboard floodlights.

Other legislative initiatives I would like the city to explore are implementing lighting zones and limiting the amount of light non-residential properties can use.

As a Public Health professional I know the value of educational campaigns in modifying behavior and would like to see such a campaign for Northampton residents on the impact of light pollution and simple steps we can take now to reduce it on our own properties and residences.


3. I wholeheartedly support establishing an Outdoor Lighting Committee and would gladly serve on such a committee. We are so fortunate to have such involved, thoughtful, and educated residents in Northampton and our city government should utilize these local resources to make Northampton a model for other municipalities in light pollution mitigation. 


Michael Quinlan (Ward 1)

1. Yes.  We know that our environment is constantly evolving and the man-made influences are always effecting that, so I firmly believe it is vitally important that we continue to study and learn about what is happening and what steps we can take to combat any negative effects of man-made influences on our planet.  The city has very good lighting protocols written into the zoning and building laws now, but those can change to suit the needs of the community.


2. I would propose that we study our streets for safety and where we have straightaways and where we can safely do it, we shut off 50% of streetlights after 1:00am

I would also propose that we install amber lighting as the current white/blue lights burn out.


3. Yes.  The entire municipal government is set up with boards and committees that study and make decisions around specific issues.  If elected to the City Council and this is proposed I would see it as a positive to our evolving city.


Gina-Louise Sciarra (At-Large)

1. I am proud that the City of Northampton has shown care and has engaged current scientific research when making decisions about municipal energy efficiency and working towards our necessary goal of carbon-neutrality, including regarding decisions about outdoor lighting.


In 2006, the City Council passed a Dark Sky ordinance that has since guided our strict lighting code using recommendations of the New England Light Pollution Advisory Group and International Dark-Sky Association. The streetlight conversion to LEDs implemented in 2016 brought our streetlights in compliance with the ordinance, as they had been previously grandfathered in.


The conversion also ​stayed true to principles and goals of the Sustainable Northampton Plan, including: to reduce light pollution; significantly improve energy efficiency in municipal buildings and infrastructure; reduce greenhouse gas emissions (electricity production being the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and the conversion resulted in a ​300 metric ton reduction of CO2​ by Northampton usage); tie municipal capital improvements to the Sustainable Northampton Plan; and make the city more walkable and bikeable. To this last goal, I have received feedback from multiple constituents that the streetlight conversion has led them to walk and bike more after dark instead of driving. Previously the sidewalks were poorly lit by the high pressure sodium lights which created a halo of light all around and which are now better directed downward.


These vitally important goals have been achieved by the departments of Central Services, Energy Resources and Planning and Sustainability all while following the guidance of the International Dark-Sky Association and installing LEDS specifically approved by that organization. Additionally, they met the recommendations by the American Medical Association to reduce harm to humans and wildlife from LEDs.


In addition to this project being guided by these professional organizations, the city went through an extensive process of community input, which is a hallmark of good governance, and another principle of the Sustainable Northampton Plan.


This last round of streetlight review began in 2013 with ​Community Energy Strategies Forums​, which identified 12 strategies for the city to pursue to lead us towards cleaner energy. One of them was to ​implement LED street lighting retrofits​ because the high pressure sodium street lights accounted for 30% of the city’s energy costs, and changes in regulations and pricing now made the switch feasible. From there, there were other opportunities for public input, including the installation of sample lights for residents to review and advise on through a community survey. The resident feedback was then used to inform the final decisions based on the lights available to the city for purchase that were approved by the ​International Dark-Sky Association​.


I think that going forward, the city should continue to follow best practices and procedures set forth by leading and reputable expert organizations, stay apprised of the current scientific research and emerging technologies, and continue to engage the community.


2. I will continue to support our our Dark Sky ordinance and strict lighting standards in our code for all outdoor lighting - residential, business and municipal. Our municipal streetlight survey in the 1990s resulted in a large reduction in streetlights and a decrease in overall lumens. When the 2006 Dark Sky ordinance was passed, it was not feasible or yet recommended to convert the streetlights, so they were grandfathered in. The next municipal streetlight review considered new technologies that were becoming economically feasible and had incentives for conversion to more energy efficient lights. The conversion of the remaining high pressure sodium lights to LED has resulted in a very significant energy savings and less spill light. I support our continued forward thinking and responsible review of our municipal lights on a periodic basis, and our continual pursuit of grant funds and rebates to achieve our sustainability goals.


3. The Energy and Sustainability Commission (ESC) consists of many of the stakeholders listed in the above question. This well-established commission, enacted in 2008 by the City Council, has city government and citizen representation and has been and is a place for research, discussions and recommendations on outdoor lighting.


In addition to the ESC, the Planning Board maintains the strict lighting standards established in our code​. And ​there is ​a city staff person who very regularly is out at night checking with a light meter to ensure that the standards are being enforced.


I encourage interested residents to apply for one of the ESC citizen positions, and additionally the commission is seeking ​applications ​for associate members for subcommittees on specific topics.


The next large lighting project will be replacing current lights with LEDs in seven city buildings, thanks largely to a $250,000 Green Communities Grant received last month. But, that is not an outdoor lighting project. In the future if there was to be another large-scale capital investment in outdoor lighting, like the conversion of the streetlights, then perhaps a subcommittee of ESC would be advised.


Andrew Smith (Ward 1)

1. Yes, but there are two ways to address it. I think it's generally good that we've transitioned away from High-pressure sodium to LEDs. Energy costs and GHG emissions have dropped as a result of this shift. I think the solution that we need to come to, as a community, is a smart-grid that has automatic dimming feature that can be programmed into streetlights and/or motion-activated sensors for streetlights. I support full cutoff light standards for private development.  


The second solution is to just turn-off the lights. I don't know if that is politically feasible due to public safety concerns. I will say that lighting is a key component of public safety, but  a lot of that depends on the quality of the light being used. Some lighting can create shadows or blind pedestrians to risks or threats. Normally, full cutoff lighting with a low FC value can be a safe addition to the streetscape.


2. In the short term, I don't know how much could be accomplished. As a society, we've mostly become inured to the glow of City lights. Do we need to see the stars again? Absolutely. Is there a technical solution? Probably. 


The effort that it took to get investor-owned utilities to agree to LED improvements on streetlights was a multi-year process. We would have to use the (with any luck) successful effort to establish a municipal broadband utility as a starting point for creating a smart grid that could be used to enable dimming of streetlights. So, in a roundabout way, I'm going to say that I will support the establishment of a municipal broadband utility and work to craft procurement standards that require new streetlights to be equipped with dimming switches. 


3. I do. If a group of citizens is passionate about a topic and are willing to volunteer their time and effort to make a change occur in their community, then I see it as a duty of elected officials to support and encourage that effort. It's not something that I am passionate about, but I'm smart enough to realize that I don't have all the answers. From my perspective, any solution that I support must not increase carbon/GHG emissions. That's my starting point for all public policy decisions.


John Thorpe (Ward 4)

1.  I always welcome additional input, but my understanding after review of northamptonma.gov web- site is that there is a problem with light pollution and I believe Northampton has paid attention to this and has started to address this problem when the city converted it’s streetlights to LEDs. LEDs reduce light pollution and the city followed the guidance of the American Medical Association lighting options that was issued in 2016 to minimize potential harmful human and environmental effects. The LED street lights have a color temperature of 3000K which was the warmest color and met the American Medical Associa- tions recommendation. Northampton’s streetlight conversion to LED’s have met Northampton’s Dark Sky requirement and received community input through an online survey and it is my understanding that the new LED lights were certified by the International Dark Sky Association.


2. If elected, I will seek public input on ways Northampton can continue to reduce light pollution and that includes hearing from and listening to members of the citizens group Northampton City Lights.


3. I believe collaboration and input from various organizations and citizens is important and if elected I would like to hear from everyone as to how best deal with the issue of light pollution. I would like to hear from constituents including the citizen group Northampton City Lights as to the formation of an Out- door Lighting Committee and how that could be formed and would like to look further into the cities that do have Outdoor Lighting Committees.


Bill Dwight (at large)

No response received

Jim Nash (Ward 3)

No response received

David Murphy (Ward 5)

No response received