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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

City of Davis seeking community feedback on how to improve downtown lighting

The city sent out a survey inviting residents to provide feedback on three proposed new lighting options


By HANNAH SCHRADER — city@theaggie.org


The city of Davis is asking residents to fill out a survey to choose among three potential lighting fixtures to help illuminate the downtown area. The survey was opened to the public on Jan. 2 and will close on Jan. 31 at 5 p.m.

There are three proposed options to improve lighting that residents can vote for in the survey: option 1, a laser unit attached to the ground that will project moving lights onto trees, option 2, lights that are strung along poles and option 3, lights that are strung along trees. 

Jenny Tan, director of community engagement for the city of Davis, discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each option and said the city is balancing concerns of being cost-effective and environmentally friendly. 

“The city of Davis looks at ensuring that the work we do is something that can be maintained, is cost-efficient and, in this case, prevents deterioration of the trees downtown,” Tan said. “Of the three options, the cheapest option is likely to be option 3 (lights strung on trees) as it only requires the string lights to be purchased. Option 2 is a bit more expensive with the purchase of the lights and the poles, and option 1 is the most expensive with the base unit costing $130 each. We may need to buy two units for option 1 if one unit is not bright enough or provides enough ambient lighting.”

Tan said that previously the city would wrap lighting along the trunk of trees which was less beneficial for the tree and the new options will be better for tree health.

“The new options presented would not be strung around the trunk, but would either be a light shining up [option 1], from pole to pole [option 2] or from a single branch in each tree [option 3],” Tan said. “The three options try to balance ambiance with tree health and were selected after research by city staff and local groups or commissions.”

The survey comes after an Oct. 3 city council meeting regarding the possibility of new lighting fixtures being installed downtown in order to enhance safety and promote business during the limited daylight hours in the winter. This agenda item sparked debate during the public comment section as the proposed lighting would be installed in the trees and possibly result in the natural landscape being harmed.

Roberta Millstein, a professor of philosophy at UC Davis, believes there are shortcomings in the survey the city provided. Millstein shared that additional lighting might not make residents actually safer

The first thing that strikes me is that the survey lacks a fourth option: do nothing (no additional downtown lights),” Millstein said via email. “Note that, as the preamble to the survey admits, the proposed options do not meet the city’s Dark Sky ordinance. The city seems to be presuming that we are safer with more lighting, but this assumption has been called into question. Lights mainly make us feel safer; they might in fact make us less safe.” 

Millstein believes these options may be harmful to wildlife and take away the night sky views Davis residents enjoy.

“The city seems to be overlooking the harm to humans and wildlife from excessive nighttime light, as well as the loss of our night sky views that have inspired humans for millennia,” Millstein said via email. 

The city of Davis has a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) that guides the city into making environmentally friendly decisions and reaching carbon neutrality by 2040. Millstein is skeptical that the city can achieve this and adopt more lighting.

“More lighting means using more electricity and thus increasing the city’s carbon footprint, undermining the city’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040,” Millstein said via email. “Finally, money spent on downtown lighting is money that can’t be used for other needs, such as fixing crumbling bike lanes or park structures, like Slide Hill Park or for things that would reduce our carbon footprint.” 

Millstein believes that there shouldn’t be additional lighting and that the city should have had more discussion about the decision. 

For all of these reasons, it is my opinion that no additional downtown lights beyond the current street lights should be added,” Millstein said via email. “Before even doing this survey, the [city] should have held a robust conversation that actually considered the pros and cons of having additional downtown lighting at all.”

The city is currently piloting each of these options downtown that way residents can view them before voting. 

“Community members can also view a test pilot of these three options in person before providing input,” Tan said in a press release. “The three options are located downtown at three of the four corners at Second and E Streets.”

Tan shared that once the survey is over, the results will be shared with local organizations; city commissions and the city council will need to approve the decision.

“After the survey is over, there are still other steps that the city will need to take, including creating a guideline or protocol for lights, tree care and long-term maintenance, among other items,” Tan said. “Staff will also need to discuss the lighting options with local commissions and organizations, as well as bring the survey results and any research or draft protocols back to the city council to approve.”


Written by: Hannah Schrader  city@theaggie.org



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