How to see clearly in a Dark Town

Bruce Arlen

Forty-plus supporters of the Dark Sky Non-Binding Resolution to investigate becoming an International Dark Sky (IDA) community witnessed an unexpected 4-3 defeat at Cave Creek’s Council meeting on August 19th. Cave Creek’s attorney, Bill Sims understood what the resolution meant, stating, “… this is only a first step… it’s simply a statement of intent of goal… but to reach closure… you can pass this unanimously because its voluntary… you cannot amend your zoning code by resolution…  that requires a formal process – you can pass this and work with IDA… which is free of charge…” I’ve since spoken to all council members and they have agreed to work with us to clear up any of their Dark Sky questions.

For years the town has said they need to upgrade our lighting ordinance. Passing the Resolution and exploring IDA membership gives the town the opportunity to finally make these changes. The town receives no-cost ordinance revision assistance from the IDA. Plus the ordinance can be tailored to Cave Creek’s characteristics. This shortens staff research and writing time and any consultant fees are eliminated. Planning and zoning will also review and make their recommendations. IDA lighting standards have already been adopted and work well in Flagstaff, Sedona and Fountain Hills.

The IDA is NOT a Governmental agency. It is NOT an HOA, not even like an HOA. HOA’s are regulated by the state and are state law. The IDA is an unregulated independent association that has created guidelines for an accreditation program. The IDA is an educational association and research group that advocates best lighting practices, the newest and best lighting technologies, and promotes an understanding of how light pollution effects people and animals alike. They work closely with municipalities. To be a part of IDA, we join freely, we stay freely and we can leave freely. All is 100% voluntary.

There are no fees, no outside enforcers and there are no knocks on the door. However, if we, Cave Creek want to maintain our membership status, we will be required to perform a yearly self-audit. The audit is about 10-pages long. In addition we would be required to distribute educational materials to the community. And we would agree to host two events per year, for example, a Star Party looking through telescopes in Spur Cross Conservancy, or an event at our own Star Barn Planetarium in Cave Creek. Citizens of Cave Creek are already doing these things.

As far as local enforcement goes, nothing changes because we will still have a complaint driven system, and a friendly informal neighbor-to-neighbor communication system. Its that kind of thing. The IDA realizes that persistent enforcement is not workable… it’s all about EDUCATION. It’s all about active thinking- up front.

Cave Creek’s Town Core Businesses will benefit due to better visibility of illuminated signage as new lighting technology reduces glare. At first it seems counter intuitive, but I saw first hand in Fountain Hills where glare is cut significantly so that signage is more distinct, visible and readable. This allows for safer conditions on the ground for drivers and pedestrians, a particular issue in our town corridor at night. Additionally, visitors seeking dark sky communities should add to the positive column. Did I mention residents and businesses have ten-years to switch out any non-compliant lighting? Town Hall has five-years to comply with changes to our few municipal buildings.

At the time of Cave Creek’s Incorporation, several residents serving on an early lighting ordinance committee, traveled to Tucson for a Dark Sky seminar hosted by the founders of the IDA, Dr. David Crawford, Professor of Astronomy at Kitt Peak Observatory, and Dr. Tim Hunter, MD and amateur Astronomer. Apparently, this was just before the IDA was officially formalized. Cave Creek did the right thing back in 1986 and learned from the IDA forebears. Cave Creek incorporated lighting knowledge they learned at that time. Of course, new updated information and technologies have been established in the thirty-three years since then and we would adopt the new information and continue the earlier efforts and leadership into the future. With the help being offered by the IDA the task is so much easier to accomplish.

IDA’s expectations and rules are completely transparent to the public – IDA Program Guidelines Link is the entirety of their requirements. With all this comes a status that we can promote and have a natural healthy civic pride too. We are working with staff and council to clear up any questions so that another non-binding Resolution will be brought before council again. Let’s keep it dark to see clearly.