Lighting Town Hall: The Devil Is In The Details

By Phil Trubey

May 8, 2022

On the heels of receiving over 100 emails regarding the proposed revision of the lighting regulation, the Association organized a Town Hall meeting to educate us on it.

General Manager Christy Whalen started the meeting with a true or false session whereby she posed simple questions and asked people if they thought the statement was true or false.

As the rest of the meeting showed however, most simplistic lighting regulation questions cannot be answered in this fashion. There is nuance to most answers. I’ll go over each question here and give you the Association’s answer, followed by the more complete, nuanced answer.

The current lighting regulation prohibits uplighting.

Association: True
Complete Answer:

Here are the relevant regulatory code sections from the current regulation, see bold:

14.0206 Low-Wattage Systems. “Low-Wattage Systems” shall mean Exterior Lighting whose aggregate total wattage in any single fixture does not exceed 30 watts.

14.0401 Uplighting Prohibited. Except as otherwise provided herein, Uplighting for any purpose is prohibited.

14.0404.02 Low Wattage Exception. As Minor Construction, Low-Wattage Systems consisting of twelve or fewer light fixtures per site are exempted from the restrictions in Code §§14.0401, 14.0404 and 14.0502 and may be exempted, with Art Jury approval, from §14.0501. Where lighting plans are approved by the Art Jury in accordance with §§14.0701 or 14.0702, the placement, addition, or modification of Low Wattage Systems shall be subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the Association as provided in §14.0704.

What this means is that the Art Jury won’t allow a lighting plan that has uplights. However, it also means that you can, after construction, add up to twelve landscape lights, and they can be any kind of landscape lighting including uplighting.

The new regulation prohibits outdoor chandeliers.

Association: False
Complete Answer:

It depends. Not all chandeliers are allowed under the new lighting regulation, and their placement is highly proscribed. For instance, a typical chandelier placed over a patio dining table at 6′ from floor height is not allowed since the horizontal light from the chandelier must be shielded by a patio roof overhang or other architectural elements such as brows, soffits or beams. New regulation:

14.040501 Outdoor Chandeliers Outdoor chandeliers may only be used in fully covered patios, shielded by the sloping roof overhang or other architectural elements such as brows, soffits or beams. These lights are limited to a 25° (degrees) maximum light spread, where the light source is not visible. The chandelier must be placed above the roof line edge, brows, soffits or beams such that they would contain the side emitting light to less than a horizontal spread from the source of the light. In all cases the combined light lumen of all chandeliers in any given elevation shall not exceed 3000 lumens and is subject to Art Jury assessment

Here’s a pictorial example of this chandelier restriction.

This picture was in an earlier draft of the new lighting regulation, but has been removed from the current draft. I don’t know why since I think it accurately conveys the above regulation paragraph and shows a chandelier that is not allowed under the new regulation.

Holiday Lights Must Be Taken Down on December 26.

Association: False
Complete Answer: False

Mea Culpa. When I wrote my original lighting regulation article, I misread the relevant section which reads:

14.0411 Seasonal and Holiday Lighting. Temporary seasonal or holiday exterior lighting shall be turned off from 11:00 pm to sunrise and shall be in operation for a maximum of six (6) consecutive weeks per year. Temporary seasonal or holiday exterior lighting is to be removed after the event has occurred.

Note that it does say you must actually remove seasonal lighting, you can’t just leave it up year round and not light it.

Bistro lights have always been prohibited.

Association: True
Complete Answer: True

The current lighting regulation only allows covered downlights where there is a shield such that the “edge of the shield is below the Light Source”, except for the twelve light low wattage exception language above.

The new regulation requires motion activated security lights to turn off after 11pm.

Association: False
Complete Answer: False

The new regulation requires residential exterior lights to be off after 11pm.

Association: True
Complete Answer:

Ironically, Association staff contradicted themselves during the meeting when they provided more information regarding outdoor lighting. Later in the meeting, people were complaining that they wouldn’t be able to leave a light on by a door for a teenager coming back late after 11pm. Staff then stated that by County building code, all doors must have an exterior light nearby that can be operated from inside the door. These door lights are permitted to be left on all the time if needed.

The confusion comes from the fact that the new lighting regulation says:

14.0407 Hours of Exterior Lighting Operation. Exterior lighting except for security and safety lighting and address markers shall be turned off by 11:00 p.m.

While Security Lighting is defined as motion activated lighting, Safety Lighting (which in the meeting was defined as including door lights), is not defined in the new lighting regulation. So there is no way of knowing that you are allowed to “leave the light on” past 11pm. The 11pm restriction is only meant for landscape lighting, but the regulation should make that more clear.

By the way, speaking of doorway safety lighting, it seems that this rather ordinary and seemingly innocuous doorway light would be non-compliant under the new regulation since it has a bulb that isn’t fully shielded (and lets light out horizontally).

As you can see, this isn’t actually a very powerful light as it barely lights up the small area around the door. But I believe the new regulation would prohibit this kind of light since the bulb isn’t fully shielded (see diagram below from the proposed regulation):

At the risk of beating a dead horse here, I’d just like to point out that if the lumen output of a side emitting light is low, and is used in other shielded locations like a patio, maybe there should be an exception. For example, on our own patio, we have compliant down firing ceiling lights that we usually don’t use because they are too bright. We usually use non-compliant horizontal firing sconces that are quite dim, and gives just enough light, along with landscape path lights in the distance, to give a nice muted ambiance.

If I see a neighbor’s exterior lights, it is a violation.

Association: False
Complete Answer:

Well, the new lighting regulation has this paragraph:

14.0501 Light Trespass. Exterior lighting on Class Use Districts A, B, C and L properties shall be designed and adjusted such that light sources and light-directing refractors shall not be visible from public roads, public spaces and streets, and from any other properties. All outdoor lighting shall be designed and installed so that no light shall be spilled onto adjacent properties with 0.0 foot-candles (zero light trespass) extending beyond the property line. Rancho Santa Fe Association may use photometer on site to verify compliance.

Is there any other way to read that paragraph other than if you see a neighbor’s exterior lights, it is a violation? In the meeting, Association staff said what the above regulation paragraph really means is that if you can read a book from light emanating from your neighbor’s property, then it is a violation. Seems this paragraph needs some editing in that case.

Exterior lighting is the most effective deterrent according to the Sheriff. 

Association: False
Complete Answer:

During the Sheriff security town hall, they stated that interior lighting was the most effective deterrent. So, yes, this would be false, but I’m not sure what the point is. Motion sensor outdoor lighting and landscape lighting may not be the most effective deterrent, but it still helps. Forewarned is forearmed.


There was a robust Q&A session which devolved into armed camps taking sniper fire and throwing incendiary bombs. I kid, I kid. But there was an obvious difference of opinion on whether the new lighting regulation was appropriate or not. At one point Christy Whalen called for a show of hands for people who thought the new lighting regulation was too restrictive or not. I saw about twice as many people thinking it was too restrictive versus people who thought it wasn’t. This lines up with an online poll I did a while back.

But overall sentiments really don’t mean much. What matters is the details of the regulation. The specific wording matters. Whalen did say that the Board wasn’t going to vote on this regulation as written, it needed more work based on feedback they have received in emails and during the Town Hall.

A frequent request throughout the evening was that staff should prepare a document outlining the changes between the old and new regulation. This is a common sense ask, and should be done for every proposed or modified regulation. A red line is not sufficient.

Laurel Lemarié remarked that in the time since the new lighting regulation had been published, she has seen less excessive lighting in Rancho. She commented that simply publicizing what the regulations are has been helpful.

Architect Andrew Wright (it might have been local architect Max Wuthrich) commented that interior lighting is often the culprit of excessive lighting. We are blessed here in San Diego with a huge number of excellent outdoor natural light days and architects like to use that natural light when designing a home. This can result in large windows or large patio doors to let in light, but it also lets out a lot of interior light at night. Channeling Lemarié’s observation, maybe an education campaign to inform people to be nice neighbors and to be careful of light emanating from large windows would be helpful (after all, blinds/curtains are a thing, as well as not having all interior lights on all the time when not needed – you can see viewscapes better at night if interior lighting is muted).

New Information

There was discussion about whether pilaster lights (like at a street) would be allowed to remain on after 11pm. I was not able to ascertain a definitive answer.

The proviso that there needs to be a 5 second off/on light transition for security lighting will be removed.

In the new regulation, there is a maximum lumen amount per property (25,000) which includes security lighting. Staff will look at possibly removing security lighting from that total lumen count (it isn’t unusual for security lights to output 4,000 lumens, meaning six such lights would blow your budget for all outdoor lights).

Staff stated that in the future, they may look at revising the way that new regulations are created or modified and might have public meetings before such work is started.

Regulation Update Is Needed

Excessive lighting is indeed a thing. Some people go overboard with door and window lights, and routinely leave them on. So regulations are needed.

Also, the existing regulations needed a simple update to change the restrictions from wattages to lumens many years ago as much more energy efficient LED lights became popular.

Landscape Uplighting

The biggest point of disagreement during the meeting was landscape uplighting. Past drafts of this new regulation even had this disagreement embedded in the text with alternate language with the then Board and Art Jury in disagreement.

I guess it’s time for, you guessed it, another RSF Post poll!

So the simple question is whether or not we should allow landscape uplighting. The ancillary question is if we do allow them, how many uplights and what other restrictions? So, to make this into a single question, I’ll ask how many uplights should be allowed ranging from 0 to any number only limited by the total lumens allowable for all outdoor lighting as per the new regulation (which is 25,000 total lumens per property). Update: 25,000 may or may not be the right number, I’m just using it an example or some sort of limit.

Also, I’ll assume the regulation, if it allowed uplighting at all, would restrict their use to illuminating the underside of a tree canopy or other foliage such that the light doesn’t leak directly into the sky. And each individual uplight would be restricted to a maximum lumen amount (same as path lights).

One more comment. Down firing path lights create pools of light on the pavement underneath them. These are reflected back directly into the sky. Up firing uplights are illuminating foliage or a canopy, and if done properly, lets very little light leak into the sky. Having said that, from a distance, you will see more light from an uplight reflecting back off foliage than you would a path light which typically results in far less horizontal light.

How many landscape uplights should residents be allowed to have?
  • 0
  • 5
  • 10
  • No limit other than total outdoor lighting less than 25,000 lumens per property.

74 votes


Come back to this page later and/or refresh to see updated poll numbers. I’ll leave this poll open for about 2 weeks.

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