Fire Station 41 Bay Doors

Coastside Fire Protection District officials say they can’t change the outdoor lighting at the new Station 41 in El Granada without falling out of compliance with fire service standards. Adam Pardee / Review

The Coastside Fire Protection District stood by the modifications it made to the lighting outside the new El Granada Fire Station after the Midcoast Community Council wrote a letter suggesting the changes weren’t satisfactory.

The MCC letter, in response to community complaints about the lighting and a site inspection from some council members, objects both to the modifications and the process under which they were made. The council’s main concern is the effect of significant light on the surrounding neighborhood and ocean view corridor, and claims that the modification process wasn’t transparent.

In response to complaints that the lighting outside of the new El Granada Fire Station 41 was too bright and causing glare, the district made $40,000 worth of modifications. They included dimming equipment for 13 pole lights, a pole replacement and switches to allow staff to turn off the lights when not in use.

But MCC leaders, in a letter to the district and San Mateo County Planning Department, said the lighting still doesn’t comply with local regulations and that the process to change the lighting violated the spirit of the public permitting process.

“To be sure, the MCC recognizes and values the importance of safety,” the letter reads. “However, we feel that adequate safety can be fully achieved without allowing direct light and glare to trespass off the property and without impacts to the protected view corridor.”

Jonathan Cox, who is deputy chief overseeing fire operations for the San Mateo County Division of Cal Fire, said the level of existing lighting is based on industry recommendations to allow first responders to see substances like blood in high detail under outdoor lights. A motion sensor modification would have been more intrusive to neighbors, Cox said, but a dimmer could still meet the recommendations. As far as the public process, Cox said, the fire district followed the county’s lead.

“We’ve gone above and beyond what we’re required to do by the permit to be a good neighbor,” Cox said.

The San Mateo County Planning Department did not respond to a request for additional comments on the modifications, but Planner Summer Burlison has said previously that the county's review of the original lighting found it in compliance before the station was built. After seeing the lighting in person, however, county planners agreed it wasn’t appropriate.

A June 25 letter from Coastside Fire Protection District President Gary Burke says no further adjustments to the station’s lighting will be made.

“... the District is not able to further adjust lighting at the station because doing so would cause the station to be non-compliant with industry standards and hamper operations at Station 41 from which fire and emergency medical services are provided to the citizens and businesses we serve,” Burke wrote.

Sarah Wright is the deputy editor for the Review. She reports on unincorporated San Mateo County and local schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and has worked in policy and communications in Washington, D.C.

(6) comments


Justin's comments suggest he didn't actually read MCC's letter. That letter,

approved unanimously, was explicit in describing how the exterior lighting is

not in compliance with various regulations including the Zoning Regs, the

Local Coastal Program (LCP), and even the project's own Environmental

Impact Report (EIR), which was prepared by the Fire District itself (as the

Lead Agency). And, most importantly, the lighting doesn't even come close

to satisfying the SMC Planning Department's own Conditions of Approval

for the project that very unequivocally states "All exterior lighting shall be

designed and located so as to confine direct rays to the subject property

and prevent glare in the surrounding area ..."

The basic takeaway here is that, yes, as part of all that "community input,"

everyone agreed up front (and every doc stated): no light should shine off

the property. And this community input was explicitly written into both the

EIR (by CFPD) and the Conditions of Approval (by SMC Planning). But

what CFPD installed, and what SMC Planning seems poised to approve,

are numerous outdoor fixtures, (including area lights, walkway lights, and

sconces), all of which shine copious amounts of light off the property. The

grievance is really quite simple; no need to over-complicate it.

And Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox's comment that the "lighting is based on

industry recommendations" appears to be a deflection. The article blindly

repeats this tired claim in spite of the fact that the MCC letter also called it

out as something that doesn't seem to be substantiated, noting that

requests for documentation on such claims had "gone unanswered." The

nebulous claim was allowed again at the end of the article, this time in the

voice of CFPD President Burke, warning us that any further changes to the

lighting "would cause the station to be non-compliant with industry

standards ..." Do you see a pattern here? How does the saying go?

Repeat something often enough, and people will eventually think it's true.

Finally, Cox's claim that "We’ve gone above and beyond what we’re

required to do by the permit ..." is clearly false (as pointed out above in the

Conditions of Approval). So how that comment ever achieved fit-to-print

status, unchallenged, is a bit concerning.

John Charles Ullom

"They included dimming equipment for 13 pole lights, a pole replacement and switches to allow staff to turn off the lights when not in use."

Why would anybody need to complain in order to get a good neighbor to see that this is how it should have been from the start? Just another example of the arrogant manner in which Gary Burke runs his fiefdom.

When Burke and crew ran into a little local opposition while pushing for their tower at the South end of Main, they accused anybody that slowed them down or opposed in any manner of endangering the lives of fire fighters.

It took a PRA request to get them to admit that the vital training that they considered life or death was available on the other side of the hill. They never, not once, used those facilities. Life and death they said. Not once was the at life or death training important enough to drive 10 miles over the hill.

Then Burke built the tower on the cheap. He and those life or deathers let the contractor build it on days he had nothing better to do. This added at least six months to the construction time. This in spite of claims that any delay was a life or death situation.

The last time I checked, Burke had failed to obtain the proper certifications for his fire fighters. They were unable to stage live fire events at a facility we were told would be used for live fire training. Life and death and all that? Not so much.

Gary Burke runs his fiefdom in the way Gary Burke wants to. Mike Alifano was right about him.


Certainly safety at the fire station is absolutely essential and MCC never suggested anything otherwise. We thank the fire department for offering to dim the lights and applaud their efforts to find sensible solutions. Unfortunately dimming does not solve the issue of light shining above the horizon plane of the light fixtures nor their own property line that would mitigate most of the light pollution issues including up lighting, light trespass and glare disability. Shielding modern LED lights is a very affordable and sensible compromise to the community’s concerns. Modern LEDs can be shielded precisely to the department’s property line easily.

Secondly, smart controls could be employed by any fire department employee via a smartphone to increase light levels should they need to clean blood off the vehicles or driveway carport in the infrequent times this might happen or just use a flashlight. Motion sensors are be far the best solution for safety and can alert personnel or security to any approaching person at night and perhaps scare off criminals rather than continuous lights on 12+ hours of the night.

Anyone who has driven through El Granada knows the amber 2000K LED street lights that were community approved in 2016 and largely mitigates the blue-rich white lights that is main cause of light pollution for humans and wildlife.

A global study of light pollution in 2016 summarized the one third of humanity and 80% of North Americans can no longer see the Milky Way galaxy due to light pollution. This problem is growing at 2% per year. Less than 1% of the population knows this fact.

Please contact your county supervisors to let them know how you feel about this issue.


This is the "most Coastside" story of the year.

-Community input was allowed and encouraged since day 1.

-The process was transparent.

-The plan and construction were subject to continuous oversight, and were held to the same over the top standards as all other construction projects in San Mateo County.

-MCC had a problem with something after the fact (shocking!)

-CFPD worked with MCC to find compromise.

-MCC isn't happy, because it's always easier to complain, even if it requires MCC to pretend that this project magically wasn't held to the same standards as any other. MCC was never going to be happy.

What an absolute waste of time, money and resources.


A. NOT transparent. Lighting specs never presented for public review. In fact, no CDRC review at all and Planning claims only "Commercial" standards apply - but it's NOT a Commercial property...

B. Station still violates the conditions of permit approval.

C. No other fire station around here has Walmart-parking-lot lighting, and they work just fine.

D. We'll have to write another article taking apart the inaccuracies in Burke's letter. Stay tuned.


At 10:43 pm on Aug. 17, 2021, lights blasting all over the neighborhood. No dimming in sight, and no activity at the station, so no need for all that light...

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