Cities and utilities around the state, including Seaside (pictured), have been converting streetlights to energy-efficient LED lights.

The city of Monterey might have to turn down the lights. Monterey County Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal ruled Dec. 20 that the city violated both the California Environmental Quality Act and the Brown Act when it started to install energy-efficient LED streetlights in 2009.

A suit was brought against the city in 2012 by a group of residents calling themselves Turn Down The Lights, who claimed the LED bulbs were significantly brighter than the ones they replaced, and that the city had failed to conduct an environmental review before making the change.

“The judge’s decision is an important one,” says Molly Erickson, an attorney who represents Turn Down The Lights. “It addresses the issues of public notice and citizen participation when it comes to environmental impacts.”

Erickson also notes the June 2016 statement issued by the the American Medical Association warning of adverse consequences of blue-rich LEDs that increases nighttime glare and reduce the sleep-hormone melatonin, which can lead to sleep problems.

Turn Down The Lights is not opposed to LEDs and energy-efficient lighting, Erickson says, but the group believes that there are different LED formats and lighting temperatures a proper review would have likely found more appropriate.

The city of Monterey had claimed the new lights and fixtures were exempt from CEQA, which the judge found to be incorrect. In the process of litigation, the city was also found to be in violation of the Brown Act.

“[T]he city of Monterey’s agenda omitted key information concerning characteristics with potential environmental impacts,” Villarreal wrote in her intended decision.

And because the city's agenda failed to show officials were treating the lighting change as exempt from CEQA, “It violated the Brown Act,” the judge concluded.

As of July 2016, the city of Monterey had saved roughly $70,000 annually in energy bills since 2012 by switching to LED streetlights. Yet, during that same time the city incurred $80,000 in legal bills fighting Turn Down The Lights in court. Having lost the preliminary ruling, the city will likely be on the hook for the plaintiff's legal fees too.

The Monterey City Council will consider the city’s options—which could include filing an appeal—in closed session at the Jan. 17 meeting.

Villarreal’s final decision, expected in the coming months, will likely require the city of Monterey to conduct public environmental reviews for the LED lights installed in 2012 and prior.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify the city of Monterey has saved roughly $70,000 a year since 2012, not $70,000 since 2012 through its installation of LED streetlights.

Recommended for you

(2) comments

Colin Henshaw

This is good news.

Our cities are overlit and this problem needs to be redressed urgently as it has serious environmental and medical effects. Exterior lighting should only be applied on a needs must basis, where needed, when needed, in appropriate amounts and using smart lighting technology.

For a brief overview with solutions to the problem, please visit:

For a more detailed analysis, please visit:

Audrey Fischer

Kudos to the activists who stood up for the rights for health and safety for citizens, ecosystems and environment. History repeats itself. Today's fight against light pollution is similar to the current fight against fracking— and, historically, the notorious fights against denial of impact of cigarette smoking and lead poisoning.

"To not know is fine.To not WANT to know is disastrous."
- Marcelo Gleiser

Few people -- neither policy makers nor the public understand the potential impact of light from a single streetlight trespassing into bedroom can do to a person sleeping inside-- including issues related to circadian disruption and interference with melatonin production. It is urgent that people get educated on the associated risks. Municipalities around the world are planning to switch out their streetlights with bright white blue-rich LEDs. This must stop!

"Melatonin prevents death of normal cells in humans but it kills cancer cells.” Prof Russel Reiter
26min 40 sec mark.

What does melatonin have to do with streetlights? It’s called light trespass… and it has risks. Turns out that a single streetlight filtering in through typical bedroom curtains inhibits essential melatonin production.

Safe street lighting systems exist and are affordable.
Why would any city chose street lighting systems that shut off melatonin levels of millions of its citizens... causing increase risk of breast, prostate, colon, pancreatic and some lymphoma cancers; type 2 diabetes and obesity; memory, sleep and mood disorders; heart disease and more-- including rendering some chemotheraphy drugs like Tamoxifen ineffective? Melatonin is a known anti-carcinogen. It especially goes into action when the body is stressed. It is the "hero" of our body. It’s not *just* Monterey— this is happening in municipalities around the world! I am a Chicago resident. Chicago's plan for 270,000 blue-rich white streetlights prohibits our “hero” melatonin to help us. This makes Chicago the villain. Stop it. Chicago— and all the world’s municipalities-- be bold. Keep the candle-like amber color for streetlights. It's proven the least disruptive to the human circadian, ecosystems and environment. Fix what's broken! Fix the light trespass, skyglow, light clutter, wasted tax $ and natural resources, glare, over-illumination, and evaluate whether particular lights are even necessary -- or might some be better off replaced with reflector technology or something else. Use the best technology available to eliminate or greatly minimize the blue content of permanent streetlight installations. Technology will continue to evolve. Don’t get stuck in contracts for harmful lighting. It is not in the best interest of our citizens and is irresponsible. Goal: eliminate or greatly minimize blue-rich white light for permanent outdoor lighting— especially streetlights.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.