INITIATING A LIGHTING ORDINANCE IN YOUR MUNICIPALITY
by C. Stanley Stubbe
One of the most effective ways to wage war against light pollution is to have your local municipality put an effective outdoor lighting ordinance on its books. In Pennsylvania, such ordinances are originated and enforced at the municipal (e.g., township, borough, city) level, rather than state or county level, so you will have to work through your municipality.
Making Contact – Unless you already know someone willing to go to bat for you, the most effective approach will probably be to make direct contact with an individual in the municipal government, e.g., a councilor, supervisor, manager, mayor or commissioner. Explain what you would like to do and ask for suggestions on how to initiate the process. They may suggested that you write a letter to the governing body, the code enforcement officer or the planning commission or that you be placed on their meeting agenda to make your case. Be alert for signs of being pawned off on someone whose goal is to keep you from getting close to an official.
Creating the Need - Ordinances, lighting or otherwise, seldom “just happen.” A need has to be identified and someone has to be willing to take action to satisfy that need. You should be prepared to create that need and to inspire someone to go to bat for your cause. Through letter or spoken word, explain why the municipality should have a lighting ordinance. The initial response might be “We’re quite happy with what we have, thank you,” so be prepared to explain through example how neighboring municipalities have adopted ordinances and how such action has benefited them. Slides or photos of examples of local installations of bad lighting can be very effective. Assure them that you have several model ordinances that could be used as the basis for the creation of an ordinance to meet their specific needs. Offer to work with them in crafting the ordinance. Most elected officials will not share your enthusiasm for astronomy or the environment, so while selling the concept, be sure to give sufficient weight to the health, safety and welfare issues that are typically of concern to them. Keep in mind that you have to sell the concept with enough force that the municipal leaders not only will request the creation of an ordinance but will also be willing to enact it and then enforce it; not an easy job. Time and time again, what has worked best is having someone, a champion, within the system, e.g., elected official, municipal engineer or planning commission member, shepherding the ordinance through the gauntlet to thwart attempts to derail the process along the way.
The Process – Typically the planning commission is responsible for creating and revising ordinances. They may either initiate the process on their own or may be instructed to do so by the governing body. The planning commission may assign responsibility for creating a draft ordinance to one of its own members or perhaps to the municipality’s engineer. When the commission is satisfied with its content, the draft is submitted to the municipality’s solicitor, the municipality’s engineer and the county’s planning commission for review and comment. Other points of view may also be solicited. After receiving that input, reconciling differences and making the necessary changes, the planning commission votes to recommend to the governing body the adoption of the ordinance or ordinance amendment. If the governing body is in agreement, they must advertise and hold a public hearing to obtain public comment. Thereafter, they vote whether to enact, modify or reject the statute.
Follow Through – Once enacted, implementation of the approved statute may rest with the municipality’s code enforcement officer, governing body, engineer, the planning commission and/or Zoning Hearing Board, depending upon where the ordinance resides and other factors. Now, having gone through the creation process, you will do well to assume a continuing role as a watchdog to be sure the ordinance is being followed and to report ordinance infractions to the code enforcement officer. You may even wish to offer your services in supporting the code enforcement officer in assessing whether existing and proposed lighting installations comply with ordinance requirements.
Getting a good lighting ordinance on the books in your municipality can be a worthwhile project, but be prepared for some hard work if you want to make it happen.