By Mary Thurwachter
An effort spearheaded by Hypoluxo Island resident Media Beverly persuaded the Lantana Town Council to change an earlier vote on the intensity of new streetlights.
On July 8, the council approved an agreement with FPL to switch out its high-pressure sodium streetlights with 4,000-Kelvin energy-efficient LEDs, or light-emitting diodes. FPL will cover the expense and the change would save about $1,000 in annual energy costs.
While a conversion was still in the works, the town on Sept. 9 changed its vote on the whiter 4,000K lights, opting instead for 3,000K lamps, a more yellow light.
Council members agreed to reconsider the matter after Beverly provided them with information she had collected, and council members had a chance to talk to residents and do further investigation.
Mayor Dave Stewart, for example, took a road trip to check out comparable streetlights in Juno Beach, Highland Beach, North Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Raton.
Last month, council member Lynn Moorhouse said that since the vote was first taken, he had learned that a light of that intensity (4,000K) does a lot of harm to humans, animals, flowers and fauna and was not a good fit for Lantana. He said the town had received a one-sided story from FPL when the July vote was taken and wanted to hear the other side of the story. He got that in September.
Beverly, who spent several months researching the street lamps, insisted the 4,000K lights would not be in the best interest of residents and would destroy the ambience on Hypoluxo Island. She gave council members and town staff packets of information she had accumulated through her research and rallied her neighbors to fill the council chambers on Sept. 9.
She also encouraged other residents, many of whom spend summers elsewhere, to email the town to express their objections to 4,000K lights.
One of the reasons council members chose 4,000K lights was they maintained the higher intensity lamps would be better for safety.
But Beverly said her research concluded that brighter lights do not guarantee better safety, but can enable criminals to more easily identify high value targets, including contents of homes and well-lit vehicles.
“They won’t need flashlights which alert others to their presence, and it’s not only easier for us to see them, but easier for them to see us,” she said.
Beverly cited a study in Chicago that showed a correlation between brightly lit alleyways and increased crime and a Los Angeles study that found crime increased 0.1% with each 1% of increased light.
“In Illinois, three times brighter lighting was installed with crime fighting as the principal function,” Beverly said. “Over a six-month study in an eight-block test area, nighttime violent crime increased by 32% and property offenses were up 77%.”
In Lantana, Beverly said, that “would translate to our violent crimes increasing from 65 to 85 and property offenses increasing from 128 to 226 based on our numbers over the last 12 months.”
Among those who opposed the 4,000K lights was Kirt Rusenko, marine conservationist of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and a founding member of the International Dark-Sky Association, Palm Beach County.
An expert on LED lighting, Rusenko said blue light (4000K lights contain more blue light than 3000K) at night is environmentally destructive, increases the hazardous impacts of glare, especially in older adults, is a security risk due to the loss of night vision, and disrupts normal Circadian rhythms in humans (with potential unknown health issues).
Before the Sept. 9 vote was taken, Beverly urged council members to “remember that all of us will be stuck with the decision you make here tonight for the next 10 years, so please don’t turn our neighborhoods into well-lit prison yards like they did in New York.”
By a 4-1 vote, the council approved the lower 3,000K lights townwide, except for about 80 streetlights along Dixie Highway and in other places in town where they thought brighter lights would be beneficial for safety reasons. Town staff will work with FPL to determine where those 80 lights will go.
Council member Phil Aridas said safety of residents was a primary concern and maintained that the 4,000K lights, as recommended in July by the police chief, were the right choice. He cast the lone dissenting vote for 3,000K lamps.