Need your help: guiding Santa Fe toward better street lighting choices

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Sam Finn

Mar 7, 2021, 2:38:50 PM3/7/21
to Capital City Astronomy Club
Dear Capital City Astronomers - 

I’m writing to ask for your help in guiding Santa Fe City to a streetlight replacement choice that is simultaneously healthy and safe for residents where they live, work, walk, and drive, and preserves - perhaps even improves upon - the night sky environment in the Santa Fe City and its environs. 

As you may be aware, on Feb 24 the City was prepared to accept a recommendation from the Department of Public Works to replace all city streetlamp with high color temperature (3000 K - 4000 K) LED lighting. This particular choice of lighting would have placed Santa Fe well outside the public health warning of the American Medical Associations that LED lighting color temperatures of 3000 K or higher have adverse health effects, and the US Naval Observatory, National Optical Astronomical Observatory, American Astronomical Society, and International Dark Sky Association strong recommendation that lighting color temperature be kept below 3000 K to best preserve the night sky environment for everything from casual stargazing to amateur astronomy to serious observing.*  It would have also been a choice at odds with most cities throughout the country who have made the switch to LEDs - including large, car/highway-centric cities like Los Angeles, and smaller cities like Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff - all of whom have chosen lower color temperature lighting in line with the recommendation of public health, public & highway safety, and night sky preservation authorities. 

Many of us became aware of this imminent action just one week before the meeting that would have fixed the decision in a contract. Owing to la last minute lobbying and education effort by a large number of area residents the Mayor and the Council have agreed to delay the final decision on the lighting plan for three months of public engagement. During the next three months a number of us who were involved in the initial effort to avert a bad decision on lighting are preparing to guide the city toward a more responsible choice of LED lighting, with the goal of keeping the good - better streetlamp shielding, the ability to selectively dim lights when no cars of pedestrians are present, and the clear cost savings to the city - and relieving the bad - keeping the lighting color temperature to no more than 2700 K for main thoroughfares and 2200 K for neighborhoods, without increasing the lighting brightness except where necessary for public safety. 

If you are interested in helping out, please subscribe to the mailing list <>. You can join this list by completing the form at <> This list will be used only to distribute information about the city’s streetlight project: e.g., opportunities for public comment to members of the City Council or the Mayor, information on the choices that the Department of Public Works is considering, locations of “demonstration project” lighting choices, etc. This list will be deactivated once the City’s choice has been made. 

You may also wish to consider joining a standing effort - “Save the Night Sky 285!” - which is focused more broadly on lighting issues that affect the 285 corridor, roughly between I-25 and the Galisteo Basin Preserve. You can learn more about this effort at <>. 

I hope you will join us. I am glad to answer any questions you may have about either of these efforts - the streetlamp “project” or “Save the Night Sky 285!”. 

Stay safe and best regards, 


* For those who are interested, the Department of Public Works said its recommendation was based on three assumptions. These were all shown to be based on either misunderstanding or misinformation. The first was that color temperature has no effect on the night sky environment, in plain contradiction to the statements of professional observatories and astronomers, and more than 140 years of understanding of the behavior of light scattering with frequency (i.e., Rayleigh Scattering). The second was the proposed lighting was IDA compliant, in plain contradiction to the IDA recommendations and guidelines posted on their web site. [To correct this misrepresentation required a letter from IDA Executive Director Ruskin Harley to the Mayor and members of the City Council.] Finally, the Public Works Department claimed that the color temperature was a “non-negotiable” requirement imposed on the City, first by PNM, then - when this was shown to be false - by the PRC, and - finally, when this was shown to be false - by the New Mexico Department of Transportation. This last was only set to rest on the day of the Council meeting  by a member of the Council who received, in writing from the State Highway Engineer, a statement that there was no such requirement and that NMDOT would welcome working with the City on a plan to keep the lighting temperature to 2700 K. 

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