The issue of dim lighting on campus

Is limited lighting always worth it?

Less+lighting+can+mean+more+fear.

Ella Jennings

Less lighting can mean more fear.

Liz Macias, Staff Writer

There are three universal experiences at Westmont College: getting out of breath walking up the Emerson Hill on a hot sunny day, seeing at least three couples get engaged at Butterfly Beach by the time you graduate, and tripping over something while walking in the dark, thinking: “Why is there so little light outside?”

It’s the age-old question: keeping in mind the secluded and expensive location of our campus, why is there such a deficiency of light? Well, part of the answer is in that very question. Westmont, due to its secluded nature and location in one of the wealthiest areas in the country, is required to follow the infamous Montecito Conditional Use Permit (CUP) along with other local businesses and nonprofits such as Ganna Walska Lotusland and the YMCA Montecito branch.

The conditional use permit mandates a certain level of traffic, limits the amount of large gatherings per year in or out of a pandemic, restricts parking spots, and restricts the amount of students allowed to be enrolled at the college. In other words, for better or worse, the permit shapes the Montecito area.

However, unlike Lotusland or the YMCA branch, Westmont differs in that there are 1000+ students in residence at any given time. For four years, the campus truly is our home away from home.

But the conditional use permit’s section on limited outdoor lighting is so restrictive that it infringes upon student, faculty and staff safety.”

There certainly is precedence and understanding as to why the conditional use permit exists and is so heavily enforced; after all, Montecito is a small neighborhood that values privacy, peace, and quiet above everything else.

But the conditional use permit’s section on limited outdoor lighting is so restrictive that it infringes upon student, faculty and staff safety. At times, it begs the question: at what point is the safety of the Westmont community put below the need to “minimiz[e] light intrusion to and visibility from neighboring properties”?

While we are fortunate to have such a minimal crime rate both on campus and in the surrounding area, the issue of safety manifests itself more in terms of trips and falls, coyote sightings, nearly hitting students while driving late at night, and the like.

Yes, maintaining Montecito’s secluded and elusive nature is important — no one is denying that. Part of being a follower of Jesus is exactly the call to “love your neighbor as yourself” in Matthew 22:37.

However, it is my personal belief that the limited outdoor lighting on campus has reached such a concerning low amount that it ought to be revisited by the Santa Barbara County Department of Planning and Development, if for no other reason than to make students, faculty and staff feel safer, protected and an integral part of the community — because it is indeed our home away from home.

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