Too much light?
The El Granada Fire Station with the parking lot lights on at night in El Granada on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Adam Pardee / Review

San Mateo County’s Planning and Building Department is working with the Coastside Fire Protection District to adjust the exterior lighting at the newly built Fire Station 41 in El Granada in response to resident complaints.

After the fire station opened in November 2020, Midcoast Community Council Chair Michelle Weil said several people reached out to the MCC concerned about the brightness of the lights outside of the station. The MCC then wrote a letter to the county Planning

Department and CalFire Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox expressing community concerns that the fire station lighting was not code compliant.

Cox said the fire department is now working to fix the problem.

“We are actively working with the project architect on potential exterior lighting modifications that ensure that we maintain the safety of on-duty firefighters while also being a good neighbor,” Cox wrote in an email to the Review.

County planner Summer Burlison said planning staff met with the fire district staff last week to discuss the lighting problems and consider changes. Then, the fire district submitted proposed modifications to the fire station for review. Burlison said the department will then write up a notice about the changes, ideally by next week. She said 10 days of public comment on those changes would follow before they go in front of county Community Development Director Steve Monowitz for approval.

“We’re kind of seeking community input before we make a decision on anything,” Burlison said.

According to Burlison, the county is considering changes such as lowering the height of the poles or dimming the lights. She said the cost of any changes would be funded by the fire district. Burlison also noted that the building permit has yet to be finalized, so although the fire staff are using the building legally, county planners can note the changes in their permit before getting final approval.

Burlison said that during the planning and building process, county planners thought the lighting plans, outlined in permits, were code compliant. But she said the lighting condition itself is somewhat subjective, and the county’s review of the lights did not turn up any red flags. Now, however, there is no question that the lights are too bright, Burlison said.

“I don't think we expected it to be quite as bright or produce as much glare as it does,” Burlison said. “There is a difference between paper plans and actual implementation.”

At last month’s MCC meeting, several people voiced complaints about the new lighting and the glare affecting their nighttime view. The council agreed with their concerns, especially after a few members walked the site themselves to see the effects on the neighborhood.

“This is the same as living across from a shopping center,” El Granada resident Cherie Dailey said at the meeting. “It has changed our nighttime environment entirely.”

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