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Nevada County residents want to see stars

On a clear night, looking south from the San Juan Ridge into the horizon, there’s a fuzzy glow obliterating the stars in the night sky. It’s the lights from Grass Valley. In town at night, I cringe at the bright neon lights reflecting off hundreds of polished new vehicles while driving by the new Weaver location.

I’ve got a Weaver license plate frame on my Jeep Cherokee. This is a respected community business that opened a new location with a bad urban electric glow: visual pollution. Since opening, and being inspected by the zoning commission, Weaver has turned the lights down. This is a business that responds to the concerns of the people of Grass Valley.

I prefer driving through Nevada City. Lights are sparse. It’s dark at night. Folks can see stars. After leaving Auburn, most of Highway 49 is pleasantly dark at night until arrival in Grass Valley. Then it’s like an urban neon oasis in the middle of a Ponderosa Pine forest. In contrast, at Highway 49 and the middle fork of the Yuba River, the night sky sparkles with stars and the Milky Way overhead. The full moon is so bright that you can read newspaper headlines under it. We can’t see that kind of night sky on Mill Street during those summer street fairs.



Why do people persist in lighting up the country night with city lights? According to one resident of Nevada City, neighbors installed bright outdoor lights that burn all night long. She had to install special light deflecting curtains to keep light out of her home so she could sleep. Those curtains are expensive. Lawsuits have resulted from similar light-the-night disputes.

Researchers on sleep disorders have found that lights can disturb sleep: The green blinking of a DVD player, the red glow of a coffee maker, the golden glow of a satellite receiver. Even small amounts of light disrupt sleep.




In contrast to the voluntary cooperation between business and star gazers in Grass Valley, California state politicians are planning to make it illegal to use incandescent lights.

Fluorescent lights operate with a buzzing sound, a low level simmering that few hear because it’s merely background. That’s the buzzing sound of fluorescent tubes flickering. It’s like the power being turned on and off 120 times a second.

According to Canada’s Center for Occupational Health and Safety, since fluorescent lights were introduced to the workplace, there have been complaints about headaches, eye strain and general eye discomfort. These complaints have been associated with the fluorescent light flicker.

Fluorescent light may trigger migraine headaches, according to the National Headache Foundation. An old article in Scientific American Magazine (circa 1970) found that people who worked all day in basements, under fluorescent lights, had a higher rate of tooth decay than those who worked under regular incandescent light bulbs. It wasn’t the light on the teeth. The flickering light in the eyes had an effect on brain chemistry in such a way that chemicals were released in the body that resulted in tooth decay.

Now along comes “nanny government.” Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, a Democrat from Van Nuys, plans to require every Californian to buy fluorescents by 2012. It’s bound to be the battle of the bulb. Levine is a tall, skinny 37 year old, who looks a little like Borat. He was elected in 2002 and lives in the San Fernando Valley. Another bulb-banner is a San Rafael state assemblyman, Jared Huffman. They claim the fluorescent tube is energy efficient, cheaper, uses less electricity, and can last 10,000 hours, compared to 750 hours for Edison’s bulb. The old time light bulb gives off 95% more heat than the new buzzing tube. We can expect colder homes and increased heating costs if we lose our bulbs. No wonder PG&E supports fluorescent.

Do consumers really need the government to be a nanny to their lives? There is a greater law here- supply and demand. Why should the California state government meddle in the light bulb marketplace?

And whatever happened to the laws against monopoly? Why ban the bulb to push the tube? Let the marketplace decide. The community and business can work together, as Weaver did in Grass Valley. We don’t need politicians to be the deciders of what bulb we put in our bedroom lamps. And thanks to Weaver for shutting off most of those bright lights and keeping the night dark. We wanna see stars, not cars.

Paul August lives in Nevada City.


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