Debate team holds mock congress at League of Women Voters Event

By: by Rose Egelhoff

Originally posted on The Times-Independent

The League of Women Voters collaborated with the Grand County High School debate team to host an informational speech and mock congress on Nov. 13. The informational speech informed audience members about the use of light ordinances in protecting dark skies. In the mock congress, students debated a bill permitting nightly rentals in all zones of the city of Moab.

Students Grace Osusky, Aidan Guzman-Newton, Emma Millis, Florencia Hernandez, Phillip Geiser, Annie Koppel, Kai Wainer and Miranda Corbin participated. Grace Osusky introduced the dark skies informational speech with an anecdote about a family visit to Chicago where the city lights reflected against the sky, outshining the stars. Other students continued, explaining what light ordinances are and how they affect humans and the environment.

Millis noted that 83 percent of people live in areas with light pollution.

“It’s no wonder Dark Skies, a nonprofit that advocates for the decreasing of light pollution, has become so popular,” Millis said.

Motion sensors, shielding and warmer colored lights can help, Hernandez said.

“None of this requires the use of staff’s time or overwhelming resources to do … it’s clear to see the benefits of such ordinances,” Hernandez said.

Guzman-Newton spoke to the environmental importance of dark sky ordinances. Artificial light disturbs the natural patterns of nocturnal animals. In addition, 30 percent of outdoor lighting is wasted, he said — equivalent to $3.3 billion each year.

Light pollution negatively affects human sleep as well by interfering with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, Corbin said.

“Melatonin is something that your body needs to survive and thrive,” Wainer said. “Light pollution is creating a world where we cannot produce as much of this hormone as we need. In our cities, most streetlights have LED bulbs, which give off short wavelength of light. This cannot continue. These bulbs need to be switched to a longer wavelength of light so the damage of light pollution is lessened.”

Geiser explained the wider significance of supporting municipal light ordinances.

“By endorsing a municipal program that aims for a cleaner environment, we start a conversation about the killer of nine million people and to me, that means something,” Geiser said. “So not only by supporting dark skies are we helping the citizens of Moab, but also the world because we are what starts the conversation on the importance of a clean environment.”

After the informative speech, local stakeholders told the audience about local dark skies efforts. Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine spoke about city and county efforts to apply for the International Dark Sky Designation through the International Dark Sky Association.

“We are also both looking at our ordinances that regulate lighting in our respective jurisdictions,” Levine said.

Levine added that the county does not allow internally illuminated signs, and requires downward directed fully shielded lighting. There is room for improvement in incentives for warm-colored lights, which have less of an environmental impact than cooler colored lighting.

Guest experts Lars Haarr, a river guide with O.A.R.S. Canyonlands Rafting, and Sharon Russel, who works in visitor information for the Bureau of Land Management, also spoke.

“My goal is to get people out there, get people looking up at the night sky, teaching them a little bit about the mythology and the cosmology here and so I would like a darker sky,” Haarr said. “I think that we as citizens of this beautiful place should do everything we can to promote a healthy viewscape not just during the daytime but during the nighttime as well.”

Russel spoke about the beginnings of the dark sky cooperative in Moab.

Next the students presented a mock congress, debating a bill to allow nightly rentals in all zones within city limits and prohibit restrictions on advertising such rentals.

Osusky, Martinez and Guzman-Newton argued for the bill.

“Most people think that second or third homeowners are the ones who benefit from nightly rentals. However this isn’t the case. Nightly rentals can also be people who are under the poverty line renting out a room in their house to provide an extra financial basis for themselves,” Osusky said.

Martinez said that the rights of many to do as they wish with their property should not be violated because of the actions of a few irresponsible renters.

“In the case of short term rentals, the city should deal with actual nuisances from any residents rather than prohibit that all homeowners make a quick buck,” Martinez said.

Guzman-Newton said that supporting tourism jobs means, “supporting nightly rentals and that regulation was an example of government overreach.”

Millis, Koppel and Geiser opposed the bill. Millis argued that nightly rentals take away the feeling of community.

“Moab, Utah may be home to Arches and Canyonlands but it is first and foremost the home of its residents and citizens that have made their homes here … the availability of housing for long term residents becomes scarce as people want to make more of a profit through these nightly rentals,” Millis said.

Koppel also argued that nightly rentals would increase the price of housing for locals.

“Sixty percent of the rentals are owned by people who do not live in Grand County. With outsiders making all the profit on these rentals, it is impossible for locals to thrive economically,” Koppel said.

Geiser agreed, and added that city commercial and residential zoning exists for a reason, saying, “Zones should be prohibited to certain areas.”

The students voted against the bill in a seven to two vote.

The debate team will host the Red Rock Classic tournament on Friday, Dec. 15 and Saturday, Dec. 16. The team is looking for judges. No experience is needed. Interested parties can email streckerc@grandschools.org or call the high school at 435-259-8931.

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