Environmental commission votes to recommend bird safety ordinance

Jessica Schwabach/Staff

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Along with an extensive discussion of legislation to help the city of Berkeley reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, or CEAC, unanimously voted Thursday to send an ordinance revising the municipal code to protect bird populations to Berkeley City Council.

The ordinance would revise the Berkeley Municipal Code to require new and significantly renovated buildings to build in precautions for bird safety. According to a draft of the ordinance proposal, the change is intended to “ensure new construction does not pose undue hazards to local and migratory birds, thereby reducing human impact and benefiting the environment.”

The ordinance would require at least 90 percent of the glass glazing on a building facade to “include features that enable birds to perceive the glass as a solid object,” according to the proposal. These would include ultraviolet-pattern reflective glass, external screens, light-colored blinds or shades, patterning on the glass and other features.

“This ordinance is important in order (to) help reduce light pollution in the city and reduce risks to birds, particularly endangered and migratory species,” said Ben Gould, CEAC chairperson and author of the proposal, in an email. “It’s pretty straightforward and easy for builders to implement, so it shouldn’t be challenging to follow.”

According to one study by Scott Loss, Tom Will, Sara Loss and Peter Marra anywhere from 100 million to one billion birds in the U.S. die from building collisions every year. The Golden Gate Audubon Society places this number between 750 million and one billion birds annually in North America.

The Audubon Society also worked with several other cities in the Bay Area to develop standards for bird safety. Berkeley, however, has lagged behind these other Bay Area cities in bird safety ordinances.

Among these cities are San Francisco, which implemented standards for bird safety in building codes in 2011. Oakland did the same in 2013 and Richmond in 2016. Alameda also approved a bird safety ordinance in 2018 along with a dark skies ordinance. Alameda’s dark skies ordinance placed prohibitions on searchlights, aerial lasers and mercury vapor lights. It also placed new regulations on public lighting to help limit light pollution, which can disrupt bird migration patterns.

The CEAC’s proposal, however, does not include any changes to Berkeley’s public lighting infrastructure or regulations.

“The ordinance does not provide for changes to street lighting and has no impacts on nighttime safety,” said Gould in an email. “It requires that lights be pointed downwards, not upwards, and street lighting already points downward.”

Ben Klein is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc‏.