A Bay Area Community Wants to Protect Its Dark Skies

Point Reyes Station is hoping to become a Dark Sky community.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

When you look up at the night sky, what do you see?

For many of us, the answer is not much.

Instead of glittering constellations, we’re often greeted by nothing more than a darkened haze overhead, as city lights obscure our nighttime views. Light pollution has become such a serious problem that 80 percent of people living in North America can’t see the Milky Way, according to a 2016 study.

But there are, of course, less lit places on the planet where the stars still gloriously sparkle. And one of California’s starry spots wants to make sure it stays that way.

Point Reyes Station, Bolinas, Stinson Beach and a cluster of other small communities in western Marin County, north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, are hoping to be designated as Dark Sky Places. That would mean that they were officially recognized for good night sky quality by DarkSky International, a nonprofit group that advocates protecting night skies from light pollution. The Point Reyes National Seashore nearby is seeking a similar distinction.

Light pollution can disrupt our circadian rhythms, dangerously confuse birds and insects, and disrupt the activities of nocturnal animals. And, perhaps most simply, it can deprive us of the wonder of gazing up at a mesmerizing night sky.

“I’ve watched the lighting get brighter and brighter and brighter, and there’s no regulation,” said Peggy Day, one of the leaders of the DarkSky West Marin initiative, who has lived in the Point Reyes area for half a century. “I have seven grandchildren. They all live in and around Point Reyes, and I think about what they’re going to be seeing.”

There are now 131 certified Dark Sky Places in the United States. A handful are in California, but they’re all in the southern half of the state: Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the San Diego County towns of Julian and Borrego Springs.

To become Northern California’s first recognized Dark Sky Place, the communities in western Marin must adopt light-limiting features — things like timers and motion sensors to turn lights off when they are not needed, and shields to prevent light from unnecessarily shining upward — and write standards for them into local regulations, Day told me. So far, the effort has been largely noncontroversial, she said: “This is a project with tremendous momentum: The more we gather, the more comes our way.”

A study released this year, based on observations from around the world, found the number of visible stars to be decreasing by about 10 percent a year because of the increasing use of artificial light. At that rate, half of the stars that are visible when a child is born will be obscured by light pollution when the child turns 18, said John Barentine, an astronomer and former director of public policy for the International Dark Sky Association.

Speaking on KQED this month, Barentine emphasized that we’re only beginning to understand the full impact of light pollution, which has been shown to harm wildlife, including the pollinating insects we rely on for our food supply.

“I do think this is one of the most significant environmental problems of our time that almost nobody knows about,” he said.

In vetoing a bill, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged caution about making legal standards “in prescriptive terms that single out one characteristic.”Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • The Writers Guild of America reached a tentative deal late Sunday on a new contract with producers that, if ratified in the next few days, would end its five-month strike. (The overlapping actors’ strike continues.)

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would instruct judges presiding over custody battles in California to take into consideration a parent’s support for a child’s gender identity when making custody and visitation decisions.

    He also vetoed a bill that would require human drivers to be on board self-driving trucks, The Associated Press reports.

  • A federal judge ruled that California could not ban gun owners from having detachable magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, The Associated Press reports.

Southern California

  • Two people using wheelchairs were killed by vehicles in separate incidents this week in the San Fernando Valley, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Los Angeles police officers are investigating the theft of a 250-pound bronze Buddha statue worth $1.5 million, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Central California

  • The Delano Police Department arrested a 12-year-old on suspicion of making threats on social media to carry out school shootings, The Bakersfield Californian reports.

Northern California

  • A northbound Caltrain train struck and killed a person in San Francisco on Saturday, the transit agency’s 11th fatality of 2023, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Prisoner’s Harbor on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park.Credit…Robert Galbraith

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Diane Yerkes, who lives in Escondido. Diane recommends a trip to one of California’s least-visited national parks:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

Our California playlist is ever evolving, based on your recommendations of songs that best represent the Golden State.

You can email me your picks at [email protected]. Please include your full name, the city where you live as well as a few sentences about why your song deserves inclusion.

Waves of fog roll over San Francisco Bay seen from the top of Mount Tamalpais.Credit…Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

And before you go, some good news

Secret hammocks nestled in the canopies of Mount Tamalpais’s redwoods and firs offer a breathtaking view of the Bay Area from way up high — for those who can find them.

The hammocks, which are large nets handwoven in various stitching styles, hang discreetly along the trails of the Marin County mountain, some as high as 80 feet in the air. The locations of the hammocks are not widely known, identifiable only to experienced guides or lucky visitors who happen upon them.

Many of the artists responsible for the nets remain mysterious, too. The secrecy, they say, is crucial to their mission to create a peaceful refuge from city life and from the crowds of hikers who clog the trails on the weekends.

“The fact that it’s secret is what makes it cool,” Sean Campbell, a local net maker, told The San Francisco Standard. Campbell has discovered roughly 17 hammocks since 2012 and has woven some himself, but he declined to share any of their locations publicly. “If you happen to find them, good luck.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Maia Coleman and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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