Town misleads, leaves public in limbo on QB street lighting

Unlike in other communities, the residents here in Qualicum Beach have been dismissed and misled about street lighting by the arbitrary and inept decisions of senior members of Town administration and Council.

At the February 3, 2021 QB Regular Council Meeting, Town engineer Bob Weir burst forth with a stream of disinformation when the subject of LED lighting came up.

Rather than pass a resolution directing staff to comply, or at least to cease-and-desist any further installation of 4000k lighting until community consultation and a properly informed Council resolution was in place, instead Qualicum Beach Council waffled, leaving the situation completely unresolved with no committed follow-up action plan.

Apparently Weir’s department had previously, and unilaterally, decided to install 4000 Kelvin street lights everywhere — without community or open Council discussion and support. In a departure from standard practice, the Town administration had not brought forward a plan to Council for replacing OB’s street lighting, normally a recommended Council resolution accompanied by a supporting staff report.

Instead, a confused ad hoc discussion took place in response to correspondence from one QB resident who is critical of the “new high-beam monster” street lights on her street.

When asked about toning down the glare and intensity of the replacement street light fixtures, particularly in residential areas, without any evidence Weir boldly claimed: “You could change every light in Town overnight [from 4000k to 3000k] and there would be very little perception of the difference.” Weir continued with another unsubstantiated statement, that a “growing body of evidence now suggests that the 4000k lights are not dangerous.”

Sorry Doctor Bob, but readers might choose instead to ride with the health professionals on this one, including the American Medical Association whose “guidance for communities on selecting among LED lighting options to minimize potential harmful human and environmental effects” is a readable, fact-based, complete contradiction of Weir’s statement.

Newly-installed 4000K LED light bulb in foreground and older street lighting in the distance. Glare from new street lights being installed in Qualicum Beach makes it difficult to see the roadway. Walkers avert their eyes, and drivers lower their sun visors to counteract effects of the glare. February 1, 2021 Qualicum Beach, BC

Near the end of the comprehensive AMA report (see link below), the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health recommends that the “AMA encourage the use of 3000k or lower lighting for outdoor installations such as roadways. … . At 3000K, the human eye still perceives the light as ‘white’, nevertheless it’s moderately warmer in tone, and has approximately 21% of its emission in the blue-appearing part of the spectrum. This emission still remains very blue for the nighttime environment, but is a substantial improvement over the 4000K lighting considering the fact that it reduces discomfort and disability glare.  … All LED lighting should be properly shielded to minimize glare and detrimental human and environmental effects, and consideration should be given to utilize the ability of LED lighting to be dimmed for off-peak time periods.”

Weir then went on to state “BC Hydro does not offer shielding for the lights.” This statement is contradicted by the evidence supplied by Parksville’s city engineer at their Council meeting two weeks later, which is discussed later in this article.

Comments from QB Councillors during the February 3 meeting discussion seemed to favour use of the 3000k option in residential areas — hardly a surprise, given the precedents set by other communities, and burgeoning complaints from QB residents. But rather than pass a resolution directing staff to comply, or at least to cease-and-desist any further installation of 4000k lighting until community consultation and a properly informed Council resolution was in place, instead Council waffled — leaving the situation completely unresolved with no committed follow-up action plan.

“[I]t’s certainly a topic that garners a fair amount of community attention. That’s why we’ve brought it to Council, just to have a more community-based selection choice.”

Joe Doxey, City Engineer, Parksville

WATCH February 3, 2021 Qualicum Beach Council Meeting here – LED lighting at 40m mark.

Council allowed Weir to get away with a non-committal of “When we get more information from BC Hydro we will bring that back to Council.” That action item didn’t even make it into the Minutes of the meeting! The 10 minute Council discussion ended with Weir resisting legitimate resident concerns with a derisive “Everybody wants progress, but nobody wants change”.

LED decisions by Parksville Council

Two weeks after QB Council’s February 3rd LED discussion, the same topic was on the agenda for the February 17, 2021 Regular Council Meeting for the City of Parksville. Their adminstrative staff provided Council with an appropriate staff report and recommended resolutions for Council to adopt, reject or modify. As one Councilor acknowledged in the meeting, they were quite aware of the unresolved LED conflict in Qualicum Beach. [Second Opinion QB had begun reporting on this issue in our February 4th article, Harsh new street lighting decried.

Parksville’s acting Director of Engineering, Joe Doxey, in presenting his staff report and recommendations for replacement of their hundreds of street lights leased from BC Hydro acknowledged that “it’s certainly a topic that garners a fair amount of community attention. That’s why we’ve brought it to Council, just to have a more community-based selection choice.”

Community-based. Selection. Choice. With those words, Mr. Doxey set a markedly different tone, more respectful and professional, to the discussion than did his counterpart Mr. Weir at the QB Council discussion two weeks earlier.

During the rest of the half hour discussion with Parksville City Council, Mr. Doxey walked the talk. In response to Councillor questions, he patiently explained the relative impacts of colour temperature (3000 vs 4000 Kelvin options), wattage (100, 150, 250 w), and luminescence (lumens at the light source – lux on the ground). Councillors had come to the meeting both informed about, as well as sensitive to, the physiological effects of the ‘blue’ component of the light emitted from LEDs – effects on humans, pets, and wildlife.

[T]he American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health recommends that the “AMA encourage the use of 3000k or lower lighting for outdoor installations such as roadways.”

When asked if there were any shielding options available for the leased [from BC Hydro] lighting, Mr. Doxey said “Yes, there are … on a case-by-case basis.” For example, “if light is bleeding off out of the cutoff area and going into bedrooms and living quarters.” Rather than dismissing such concerns, as did Qualicum Beach’s chief engineer Weir, Doxey’s response was the exact opposite, stating “We do have to balance and make sure that we’re keeping the right light in the right space on the roadways and sidewalks. … There are opportunities in places where we can shield and prevent a lot of the bleed-off.”

While Doxey’s recommendation had been to use 4000k on “urban arterial, urban collector, rural collector, downtown and industrial” roadways and 3000k on “urban local roads,” he was well aware of both the public’s and the Council’s concerns about 4000k, particularly for those arterial roads that are also heavily populated with nearby residences such as on Moilliet Street or Despard Avenue. So Doxey wisely acknowledged that “an amended resolution to just change them all to 3000k would certainly leave us with sufficient light, assuming all the existing lights are spaced at the right spacing and height.”

Parksville Council, after hearing input from each individual Council member, voted unanimously to “endorse the implementation of a 3000K standard for streetlights on all roads throughout the City with the potential to reduce wattage and consider shielding as required.”

Mayor Ed Mayne succinctly summed up their intent: “The idea is not to get it as bright as we can – it’s to get it as low as we can so [long as] it works.”

Readers are encouraged to observe the stark comparison between the half hour discussion and decision making by Parksville Council at its February 17, 2021 meeting vs. the indecisive, dismissive ten minute ad hoc, disinformation-laden experience at QB Council two weeks earlier — particularly the attitude and approach demonstrated by their respective engineers.

WATCH Parksville Council discussion on LED street lighting here. Readers will notice the side-by-side agenda and video, with a direct link to the video portion for any desired agenda item. We remain hopeful that some day the Town of QB will choose to offer the same convenience.

Other communities changed course after initial faulty LED replacement strategy

It seems that Qualicum Beach has not yet adequately assessed the LED street lighting lessons learned by other communities, some of which have found themselves having to change course. A US-based NGO, the Smart Outdoor Lighting Alliance (SOLA) [ https://volt.org/lessons-learned/ ] has documented some of these.

“We do have to balance and make sure that we’re keeping the right light in the right space on the roadways and sidewalks. … There are opportunities in places where we can shield and prevent a lot of the bleed-off.”

Joe Doxey, City Engineer, Parksville

For example, the experience of the City of Davis, California ought to be a cautionary tale for Qualicum Beach, and a source of instructive guidance. They launched a street lighting replacement project, then quickly recognized a need to re-think, paused, and, with more appropriate community engagement, charted an improved new direction. As a result, SOLA concludes that “the City of Davis should be commended for listening to the residents once the installation was started and for having the courage to remedy the problems that were communicated.”

Since this article began with disinformation from the Town engineering Director Bob Weir, let’s end for now with a note about disinformation from Town planning Director Luke Sales who, in an e-mail response to concerns raised February 1, 2021 by QB residents Melissa Vanry and Paul Kyba, stated: “The streetlight replacement is being done by BC Hydro and the Town does not control the light selection.” As the reader will have already gleaned from this article, if not before, Luke Sales’ response to these QB residents is incorrect.

The Town of Qualicum Beach does indeed have options. There are choices, even for street lights leased from BC Hydro. And likely, even more flexibility for Town-owned lighting.

Will Town Administration and Council acknowledge this, and act accordingly? Stay tuned.