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.
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