In the city of Berkeley, California, a debate is raging concerning the city’s plans to construct a paved pathway behind several blocks of residential homes. Residents of one Berkeley neighborhood oppose the initiative, citing fears that the lighting along the pathway will ruin their enjoyment of the night sky behind their homes.

The project, known as the West Street Pathway, entails transforming a well-worn dirt trail into a fully paved pathway connecting two city parks. Construction of the path, which is intended for use by pedestrians and cyclists, is funded by a state program designed to improve safety and convenience for bicycle commuters. With funding having been received in 2009, a stretch of the West Street Pathway has already been completed without protest. Early this year, however, the city ran into opposition from residents as they began planning completion of the project.

As part of the pathway’s construction, 14-foot street lamps will be installed along its length. The residents of one of the neighborhoods affected by the next phase of the project, the Virginia Gardens neighborhood, do not object to the idea of paving the path; on the contrary, many have expressed approval for transforming the dirt track into something more appealing. What is of greater priority for them, however, is the preservation of their night sky. Many Virginia Gardens residents have, and cherish, views to the mountains behind their homes, and others enjoy the sight of familiar constellations in the night sky over their back yards. These residents fear that the light pollution created by the green, 14-foot lamp posts lining the West Street Pathway will ruin these views.

The residents of Virginia Gardens have made their feelings known, writing letters and attending West Street Pathway planning meetings to voice their concerns. Some have even written poems to the city, invoking images of the simple pleasures to be had beneath a dark night sky, like camping trips with grandchildren. Along with emotional appeals, practical solutions have been offered by residents as well; one suggestion is the use of lower or in-ground lighting along the pathway, but the city has ruled this out, citing a requirement that the lights be 14 feet tall to keep them safe from vandalism.

The Virginia Gardens segment of the project has been postponed, allowing time for residents to discuss their concerns with the city. Residents have until the end of the year to propose alternate designs.