Tonight, the City Council will decide whether to overturn the Planning Commission, which on San Juan Creek Road.
This is the third time the golf course has tried to add lights at the driving range. In 1996, the Planning Commission unanimously said, "No," and in that case the City Council also unanimously upheld the Planning Commission when it was appealed. Will the current City Council uphold the "No-Lighting" vote this time?
Fundamentally, nothing has really changed from the unanimous City Council denial of lighting back in 1996. The reasons for that denial are still valid today, and the difference in technology does not overcome those previous problems.
The 1996 findings that still apply today are:
1) The proposed lights will have a negative impact on the Loma and Mesa Vista hillside homes in that the driving range is in the foreground of the view of the valley below them. The lighting would significantly impact the view from these homes.
2) The lighting is not consistent with the Community Design Element of the City's General Plan, which specifies the minimization of night lighting along main roadways, especially Interstate 5. The range lighting would be clearly visible from the freeway at a point which is central and clearly identifiable to motorists as being in San Juan Capistrano.
3) The lighting is not consistent with the Scenic Highways Element which identifies San Juan Creek Road as a scenic drive, and as such should not be subject to negative visual impacts, such as that from outdoor recreational lighting.
In 1996, the proposed lighting cited in the denial is actually less than what is being proposed today. Back then, it apparently was only three 1,500-watt, metal halide lamps behind the tee boxes. Now we have three 1,500-watt, metal halide lights behind the tee boxes PLUS 10 more lights five-stories high on the netting poles.
The argument that the lighting spillover outside the range will be minimal is of little comfort. The same argument was used for the sports field lighting at , yet the adjacent residents would take exception to the engineers and that argument.
– Mark Nielsen, former City Councilman
The reason this is claimed to be better is that the lighting fixtures are shielded so the light only falls on the driving range. However, we are going from 4,500 watts to 19,500 watts! I may not be an electrician, but that certainly is a lot more light than what was previously denied. Even staff states,"...fixtures which appear to mitigate some of the night-time 'Halo' concerns..."
In addition, we have the negative impact the lighting would have on the adjacent homes in San Juan Hills West due to inadequate landscape cover and gaps in the trees to block out the lights, as well as the impact on the adjacent . The argument that the lighting spillover outside the range will be minimal is of little comfort. The same argument was used for the sports field lighting at , yet the adjacent residents would take exception to the engineers and that argument.
The other consideration is weighing the improvement to the quality of life for our residents. Should we overturn decades of no lighting at this location to benefit a private business and those who wish to hit golf balls after dark? There is really no meaningful additional sales tax revenue generated for the city. While the golf course has arranged for saying how this would be nice for them instead of them having to go to (which already has a lighted public driving range), what is the real-world benefit to our community as a whole for permanent lighting that only very few San Juan students or residents will ever use?
Compare these minimal community benefits to the permanent, negative impact to 1) residents who will nightly have their view impacted, 2) further degrading the current hallmark of our town's identity, which is darkness along our open space view corridors from the freeway and major roads, and 3) the introduction of almost 20,000 watts of lighting along the San Juan Creek wildlife corridor. Which of these relative benefits or impacts are more compelling for the citizens overall?
And do we really want to dilute our Community Design Element in the General Plan when it comes to future requests from other applicants to add lighting along this natural creek corridor? The precedent seems by itself a compelling argument against opening up this kind of lighting being allowed along San Juan Creek. And if this council overturns the ban on night lighting at this location that has been upheld for over 15 years based primarily on an argument that it is to assist a few students or worse, that we want to be "business-friendly," we are setting an even worse precedent where the benefit to a very small minority of the community (one business and a relative handful of residents) will be sufficient to trump the negative impacts on a much larger segment of our community and on our community's rural character.
If you care about night lighting and the loss of our rural, unlit swaths of land along our open space, you might want to let your City Council know now. After tonight, the lights may become a lot brighter.
Mark Nielsen is a local business executive who was Mayor in 2009 during his four years on the City Council. He is a director of the and has lived in San Juan Capistrano for over 20 years.