Light Tower Proposed in One of the Most Environmentally Damaging Locations

High Atop the San Jose Marriott Looking to Airport. Photo Credit Mike Boening

Streams, Riparian Zones Running Through San Jose are Crucial Habitats

San Jose is extraordinarily fortunate to have important and environmentally viable stream corridors running through the city, from the hills to the Bay. In the hills, elk and deer delight urban residents. In the Bay, sea life like leopard sharks and small rays swim within city limits and even up the creeks a way following the tides. Salmon and steelhead swim in between those geographic extremes, and countless birds live along the streams and follow them in migration.  Fish and birds are wholly dependent on insects, and they all need living streams and riparian zones to survive.

Into this still-surviving monument to nature is a proposal to drop a 200-foot tall light tower, the Breeze of Innovation. If the idea was to choose one of the most environmentally damaging location possible in San Jose, then congratulations. The site is Arena Green Park at the confluence of Guadalupe River and its major tributary, Los Gatos Creek. At this location of two streams and four riparian zones, they plan 500 giant white rods, each extending 200 feet up, lit and swaying in the sky. It’s as if it was almost designed to attract and kill birds and insects.

Light reaching into the riparian zones can disturb all kinds of wildlife that manage some level of coexistence with humans by living in the dark. Losing the dark means losing their habitat.

Proposed Environmental Protections Are Not Reassuring

Attempting to assess the myriad of impacts on wildlife from moving 200-foot-tall lit-up poles will be difficult even with environmental review. For one, the massive structure will attract and confuse large migrating birds about a mile from the airport along the flight path of planes approaching and leaving the runways – a situation which carries its own risks.

Proponents promise that future environmental review will limit any impact from the lighting, yet their website depictions of the light tower do not lend confidence to this promise. Almost facetiously, they show it lit up at night with the Milky Way galaxy shining down from above. Light pollution long ago destroyed views of the Milky Way from downtown San Jose. The additional, upward-shining light pollution they propose will make it difficult to see anything dimmer than the moon.

San Jose Should Reduce Light Pollution, Not Magnify It

San Jose’s recent installation of LED lighting gives increased ability to reduce lighting and limit light pollution, a type of pollution known to be damaging to human mental and physical health as well as harmful to wildlife. It is time they take it a step further and follow the environmental leadership of other cities on this issue. Cupertino has been working with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society on dark sky protection policies. Philadelphia just recently decided to turn off much of its skyline lighting after midnight during the spring and summer months.

The Breeze of Innovation proposal is a backward-looking step away from the modern trend of protecting darkness. The unfortunate basis for this proposal derives from a long-ago, similarly-destructive light tower that existed in the city from 1881 to 1915, one that was also known to kill birds. At that time there was little understanding of environmental issues, and at least that light tower was a quarter-mile away instead of right on top of two streams. In the end, San Jose had to pay to demolish and remove the old light tower in 1915. Today, tremendous cost and maintenance requirements raise obstacles to construction and the possibility of a broken eyesore and financial burden on the City.

When so much natural habitat has been lost in the Bay Area, it becomes all the more critical to maintain what we have. The streams, riparian areas, and buffer areas next to streams are absolutely precious to the extent they still exist. The Breeze of Innovation light tower proposed for San Jose threatens to choke the functionality of these natural lifelines. It is unacceptable light pollution that Green Foothills will work to prevent from happening at this location. Saving the darkness is instead the monument that San Jose needs to emphasize and preserve.

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