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A year after neighborhood complaints stalled a streetlight project in the Ross Valley, grumbling from critics persists despite the county’s efforts to alleviate concerns.
The controversy involves streetlights on the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard corridor in Greenbrae and Kentfield. The lights are part of $18 million overhaul of the artery.
Last week, the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved spending up to $300,000 to purchase 28 new streetlight packages that will include decorative poles that are shorter and have dimmer bulbs. These lights will replace fixtures that are in the medians between Eliseo Drive and Manor Road.
“The goal has been to minimize intersection light impacts on neighboring properties while ensuring a safe level of lighting for all folks using the intersections,” said Marin County Supervisor Katie Rice, whose district includes Ross Valley. “The new lighting design responds to community concerns over brightness of new lighting installed in the corridor, light spill into neighbors yards, and general dissatisfaction with aesthetics of the original lighting plan.”
The supervisors also approved putting the project out to bid. It is expected to cost about $220,000 to remove poles and install the new fixtures.
“The action to move forward with placing the pole order in advance of awarding a construction contract will help expedite the future construction/installation project,” Julian Kaelon, spokesman for the county’s public works department, said in an email.
The poles take six months to build and ship, he said. The county also plans to offset the cost by reselling the poles that are removed, he said.
The overhaul of the boulevard was completed last year after 18 months of work. The project repaved and restriped more than 2 miles while replacing and reconfiguring crosswalks, traffic signals, turn lanes and lighting, among other changes.
The project included 79 single-light poles and 42 double-light poles, for a total of 163 lights, Kaelon said.
The lights were turned on in the first week of February 2021, which is when residents complained their yards and bedrooms were suddenly awash in bright light. The county’s response was to turn off 34 lights on 17 poles. Existing bulbs produce light at 12,000 lumens.
In January, public works crews replaced fixtures with bulbs with either 5,000 or 8,000 lumens at eight signalized intersections between Elm Avenue and Eliseo Drive and added back shields to block light dispersal. That project cost $24,710, said Philip Buckley, a senior civil engineer for the county.
Kaelon said the county plans to continue replacing fixtures and adding back shields along the sides of the boulevard beginning in June.
As for the new shorter poles, they will be 25 feet tall compared to the 35-foot poles there now. The mast arm length will be 6 feet rather than 12 feet. They will be painted a dark forest green color similar to the poles near the Bon Air Bridge, and bulbs will be dimmer, matching the others that have already been replaced.
“We believe that these measures will improve the aesthetics of the corridor and help to address residents’ concerns regarding the level of brightness,” Kaelon said.
The new poles will require closer spacing because they’re shorter and dimmer. There will be a net increase of six poles and 14 lights overall, for a total of 127 poles and 177 lights along the corridor, Kaelon said.
Kari Isaeff, who lives on Bretano Way in Greenbrae, which runs parallel to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, said there is a pole behind her backyard. Isaeff and others said residents felt blindsided by the streetlights because they were not part of the project’s environmental impact report, a state required study. She and many of her neighbors say they’re too tall and too bright.
“I’m not happy,” Isaeff said, noting that she was hoping the county was planning an informational meeting on the replacements before making any other approvals.
The last public meeting was in June via Zoom, Buckley said. The $300,000 purchase was part of the consent calendar Tuesday and it was approved with no discussion.
“It doesn’t seem to make sense that they were exempt from doing an EIR,” Isaeff said. “It seems like if they had done that, they would have avoided these costly fixes they’re looking at now.”
Kentfield resident Anne Petersen was on the community advisory committee overseeing the revision plans. She said the county was headed in the right direction, but now after seeing the completed pavement work with reflective striping, she said the road appears to be bright enough at night without any additional lights.
Petersen said it was clear that the community wanted a change, but she is still concerned that light could travel to some yards. She said engineers determined the lights were needed for safety and a large group supported the shorter green poles.
“We reached a compromise,” Petersen said. “All we have to do is have some faith.”
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