Old Glory, after dark: veterans test proposed lighting atop Mount Soledad
By Pat Sherman
Members of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association conducted a public lighting test Wednesday night atop Mount Soledad, illuminating the American flag, steps and one section of the memorial wall.
Just before nightfall, residents, city staff and members of La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc. (LJP&B) and the La Jolla Community Planning Association gathered to view the lighting, for which the association is seeking an easement from the city to run electricity from the park entrance to the memorial.
The memorial was constructed with lighting fixtures in place, in anticipation of such a project one day being approved.
“Driving up seeing the flag lit is outstanding,” said LJP&B member Mary Coakley Munk, staring up at the billowing flag, illuminated by two 70-watt ceramic metal halide flood lamps.
“Anytime the flag is lit, it’s a good thing,” she said.
LJP&B members Melinda Merryweather and Phyllis Minick also favored the lighting. Merryweather said her only criticism was that the bottom steps could be better it.
“Lighting the flag looks wonderful,” Minick said. “If it doesn’t bother anybody, I think it’s fine.”
Fellow LJP&B member John Beaver was not as enthusiastic, saying he felt the lighting was “unnecessary” from a safety standpoint. The memorial association said lighting the walkways and steps is necessary to prevent people from tripping after dark, though there have been no recorded incidences of this happening.
Beaver said he is OK with lighting the steps, though he feels the lamps should be at a “much lower illumination.”
Bill Kellogg of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, which would fund the project, agreed that after two other tests the wall lighting was still too bright.
“I think we’re going to need to cut down the wattage and probably direct them so they’re more at the wall,” he said, adding, “I think the illumination of the flag is pretty darn good, and I think it’s going to be a major enhancement to the site if we do it. I don’t think that it’s going to impact the neighborhood.”
In the background, the constitutionally challenged concrete cross was barely visible. Kellogg said lighting the flag would help “keep the focus on the veterans up here, which is really what we’re about.”
Frances Zimmerman and several others opposed to project said the lighting has the potential to obscure views of the stars and other celestial bodies.
However, memorial association president Bruce Bailey said the stars were clearly visible during the generator-powered test.
“See that star right up there? See that other one?” Bailey asked, pointing skyward.
However, some in attendance questioned whether the lighting would ruin stargazing once the entire perimeter of the memorial was lit, instead of just one test section.
Harvey Rogoff, a project manager at Harper Construction Co., which is volunteering its services as a general contractor on the job, said the lights could easily be switched off during major astronomical events.
Rogoff said the color temperature of all three proposed light types is around 4200 degrees kelvin, which mirrors daylight at high noon.
Spherical lights attached to the sides of the wall, which illuminate the steps, were tested with bulbs as high as 32 watts, but found to be projecting too far beyond the memorial. For Wednesday’s test, eyebrow light shields were added to reduce light projection. The bulbs have been reduced to 7 watts.
Memorial association trustee Richard Wright said that if the flag lighting is not approved, volunteers will continue raising the flag at sunrise and lowering it at sunset.
The United States Flag code, a federal law, mandates that the U.S. flag be illuminated if flown at night, though there is no penalty for failing to comply with the law.
“We’ve got volunteers that do that 365 days a year, “Wright said. “That’s going to relieve that effort tremendously.”
A cluster of 18 energy efficient LED lights shine upward from the ground to illuminate the names and faces of the service men and women honored on the memorial wall. A “honeycomb filter” will be placed over the lights to reduce glare and focus the lighting on the plaques.
Rogoff said the memorial association considered using solar-powered lights for the flag, though he said “the technology is not really there yet.”
“They’re not really made for commercial (applications),” he said. “In the winter months when you have your marine layer you wouldn’t really have enough power.”
La Jolla Parks and Beach, Inc. will discuss the proposed lighting at its next meeting, 4 p.m. Monday, July 23 at the La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. The group will make a recommendation to the city on whether to approve the easement, which the San Diego City Council will vote upon in the fall. People may also e-mail comments to Mark Moncey of the city’s Park and Recreation department at MMoncey@sandiego.gov
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