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A Glaring Controversy

Car Dealer's Lights Too Bright for Residents Near Upper Newport Bay

January 22, 1998|HOPE HAMASHIGE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEWPORT BEACH — This city's image has always been glitzy and glamorous, with its name bringing to mind gala social events, luxury sports cars and spacious homes that can be glimpsed through imposing iron gates.

Since the Fletcher Jones Mercedes-Benz agency opened at a new location here last fall, residents are getting plenty of glitz--and they are looking for a way to cut down the glare.

Homeowners in the Bluffs and Eastbluff communities across Upper Newport Bay from the dealership say the outdoor lights at the new facility are so bright, they want to wear sunglasses at night.

"It's so bright you can almost read a book by it," said Carol Boice, 55, whose Eastbluff home is illuminated until midnight, when automatic dimmers at Fletcher Jones take the lights down to a level that she considers "tolerable."

Residents have been working with city officials and management at Fletcher Jones to come up with a solution. On Monday, they will ask the City Council to consider planting tall shrubs and trees on city streets around the dealership to block the bright lights.

They also will ask the dealer to consider installing blinds to block light from the building's interior. And they want the outdoor lights turned down to the midnight level on the two days of the week when the business is closed.

Fletcher Jones Motorcars spent more than $15 million building one of the most posh car dealerships in Orange County. Its 180,000-square-foot building is sheathed in white travertine marble--a reflector for the outdoor lighting.

While the project was in the planning and construction phases, city officials and residents agreed that the business embodied the high standards that characterize Newport Beach. Unfortunately, the city, which has no lighting ordinance, placed no limits on the number of lights or their power.

UC Irvine biology professor Peter Bryant, 53, has enjoyed the natural beauty of the bay from his home since he moved to the Bluffs more than 20 years ago. It used to be common, he said, for visitors to take in the view from the tall sliding glass doors in his living room and exclaim: "Wow, what a view!" These days, he said, they are more likely to point to the dealership and say: "Wow, what is that?"

"It is blinding," Bryant said. "It's like looking at Harbor Boulevard or Las Vegas."

Bryant said he has developed a feeling of stewardship over the bay in the past two decades and feels that the city has failed to protect a precious resource.

The operators of Fletcher Jones are trying to strike a compromise between pleasing their neighbors and pleasing their customers. The lights, General Manager Garth Blumenthal explained, simulate natural daylight so that night customers can see the true colors of the cars.

Since the dealership's grand opening last fall, residents as far away as Dover Shores have complained to city officials. In some cases, they said the lights were shining directly into their homes. Others complained about the reflection on the bay and said the glare was visible miles from the dealership. Residents of the Bluffs say that when they venture outdoors at night, they can see their own shadows in the intense glow from the dealership.

Fletcher Jones officials have not been unresponsive. The company has attached shields around the lamps to focus the lights directly onto the car lot. They also installed timers to turn off some of the lights at 10 p.m., when the business closes. But their best efforts so far have not placated the community.

Blumenthal said some lights must stay on all night to protect the company's multimillion-dollar inventory.

The dealership's assertion that the lights need to be bright inspired Bluffs resident Russ Kerr to conduct an experiment of his own. Armed with a light meter, he tested the lumen at several dealerships across Orange County and found not a single one where the wattage was so intense.

In fact, the lighting at some other dealerships, including several in commercial areas, gives off only half as much as Fletcher Jones, he said.

Carol Hartman, a 57-year-old interior designer who lives in the Bluffs, said she hopes Fletcher Jones' managers will look around Newport Beach and follow the style of the other dealers.

"There isn't another business in Newport Beach that looks anything like this," Hartman said. "Even the other car dealerships are very discreet. This is not in keeping with Newport Beach."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NEIGHBORHOODS / Eastbluff and the Bluffs

Bounded by: Jamboree Road on the east, Upper Newport Bay on the north and west and open space on the south

Residents: 7,227 in the Bluffs and Eastbluff; only those living on north end of the neighborhood are affected

Hot topic: Night glare of lights from Fletcher Jones' new Mercedes-Benz dealership

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