RIVERSIDE (CBS) — Concerns about spoiling holiday displays and hindering agricultural operations prompted the Riverside County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to postpone — for a second time — a decision on whether to impose fines up to $500 on residents or businesses whose outdoor lights create a nuisance.

“I had no intention to restrict people from lighting their houses for Christmas,” Supervisor John Tavaglione said of his proposed “light trespass” ordinance. “I don’t care how long they want to leave their lights on. The more holiday lights we see, the better.”

One of the measure’s provisions stipulates that outdoor holiday decorations are to be turned off by 11 p.m. That restriction, along with concerns that wine growers might face penalties if they use mobile lights during nighttime grape-picking in vineyards, led County Counsel Pamela Walls to request additional time to modify the proposal so that exemptions could be put in place.

Supervisor Jeff Stone mentioned during a hearing on the measure last week that homeowners’ associations and community centers are also worried about being fined for running high-intensity security lights.

Corona-area resident William Larsen inspired Tavaglione to start researching a light trespass law in February 2010 when he presented pictures to the board demonstrating how a neighbor’s security lights were illuminating the second-floor of his home every night, all night.

Mead Valley resident Jeff McKinley said he has the same problem, and his only current remedy is to file a lawsuit against his neighbor, who has refused to adjust his exterior lights.

“I can’t do anything about it,” McKinley told the board Tuesday. “I don’t have the resources to go to civil court.”

Tavaglione said when he introduced the ordinance last month that it would provide the county with the necessary tools to “to deal with individuals who want to harass neighbors through lighting, or who have lighting in place that impacts communities.”

The proposal would set penalties for property owners who allow their exterior “luminaires” to shine too brightly, infringing on neighbors’ lots. Tavaglione said excess lighting not only wastes resources but affects people’s health.

The proposed ordinance would require that all outdoor light fixtures “be located, adequately shielded and directed such that no direct light falls outside the parcel of origin, or onto the public right-of-way” and “shall not blink, flash or rotate.”

Exceptions would be made for street lights and lights utilized by public safety agencies, as well as lights used for public or private monuments.

A complaint of light trespass would have to be filed with the sheriff’s or code enforcement departments, whose personnel would conduct a follow-up investigation to confirm a violation.

The first two violations in a six-month period would be classified as infractions. A third offense in a six-month period would be treated as a misdemeanor.

The minimum fine for a first offense would be $100. The penalty for a second offense would be $250, and the penalty for three or more offenses would be $500 — with the possibility of up to six months in county jail.

The board will reconsider the ordinance at its final meeting of the year — Dec. 20.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

Comments (3)
  1. Lisette Hunton says:

    Evening lighting is recommended to be pointed towards the ground – this was to protect birds – holiday lighting being an exception. I feel for Mr. Larsen that the lights shining on his house create a nuisance. But that holiday lights might be impacted county wide is not necessary. What I call a nuisance is that in my situation every weekend 1 of our neighbors has parties with bands and music and lots of party goers that can be heard in the entire block, until 4.30 in the a.m. Now that I call a nuisance, and the fact that we have to call the police (who have better things to do) to stop the noise. Why does “right to peaceful living” not enforced in both cases?? I hope Mr. larsen’s issue can be resolved without restricting the holiday lights.

    1. Bill Larsen says:

      Lisette, for the record, my complaint was towards obnoxious, glaring, in-your-face, brighter than the White House lights … so bright that you could read a book in your second story master bedroom 175 feet away from the offending light source. It had absolutely nothing to do with Christmas lights or thoughtfully aimed Security Lights, both of which I am in favor of. The Christmas light part was added by a County employee BUT eventually deleted from Ordinance #915 that was passed unanimously in late December 2011.
      Also for the record, I was very embarrassed and publicly apologized to the Board of Supervisors for having to them on this subject. But obnoxious lights have gotten out of hand. Nobody has ever explained to me how lighting up my bedroom makes their bedroom more secure. And they make viewing the stars impossible too.
      Regarding your comment on noise … there are noise laws. Even in the middle of the day you can have YOUR obnoxious neighbor’s music turned down.
      I hope this helps you understand some of the background behind this new Ordinance (#915) and that is was done in good faith and not meant to inhibit anyone but those imposing their outrageous lights on others’ properties.

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