If good fences make good neighbors, then proper lighting makes for even better ones, according to the Seal Beach City Council.
In an effort to reduce invasive lighting and feuding among neighbors, the council adopted a new code Monday requiring residents to shield their outdoor lights or direct them downward into their own yards so as not to disturb their neighbors at night.
The code was largely driven by two incidents in which quarrelling neighbors used bright lights as a weapon, said Mark Persico, the city’s director of development services.
“It clearly is designed to harass the neighbors,” said Persico.
The two incidents of light trespassing were in Old Town and The Hill on Coastline Drive.
Seal Beach resident Jill Gorski said she was one of three homes being victimized by a vindictive neighbor. Following a series of arguments, police calls and lawsuits, her neighbor across the street installed three bright security lights and directed them across the street, flooding through her living room window as well as her two neighbors', she said.
“There is light always shining in my living room. They can look into my living room and see whatever I am doing,” Gorski said. “It’s really frustrating to be in a really nice neighborhood and have an individual affect everyone. It’s not a peaceful place anymore. It’s crazy.”
As it turned out, the city had no law against light trespassing.
However, drafting a light law is not simple. The challenge is to balance people’s need for security lighting against their neighbor’s right to be shielded from bright lights.
City Councilman Gary Miller noted that his own backyard security light is bright enough to spill into his neighbor’s yard. If the code doesn’t allow for some spillover, “everyone in College Park East is in violation of this code,” said Miller. “I feel we shouldn’t write a code that impacts the whole city just to solve one problem.”
Miller suggested that residents could resolve the issue in court.
However, without a city code on the books, residents such as Gorski have no recourse against light harassment, said City Councilwoman Ellery Deaton.
The problem of invasive lighting is a particular issue in Old Town where homes are so close together, added Deaton.
“I think we want to move the city in that direction," Deaton said. "In the future, we want to get away from light trespassing and get people to understand that it can be annoying."