To the surprise of residents in Santa Monica’s usually respectable Sunset Park neighborhood, this summer Southern California Edison began establishing a red light district in local alleyways. But pleasure-seekers will be disappointed if they come around looking for illicit entertainment: there are no houses of ill repute or ladies of the night – just very bright red lights illuminating obscure alleys and shining into local bedrooms.

Why would Southern California Edison want to suggest Sunset Park is tom-cat central? It turns out to be a classic case of bureaucratic overkill. Apparently, a few years ago SCE raised the height of some utility poles in the area, and somebody became convinced that meant Federal Aviation Authority rules required them to put up the lights to warn pilots of the extra danger.

Apparently nobody checked whether the new poles were higher than existing poles, or even local trees – that is, whether they were even necessary, or if they actually made things more dangerous for pilots by drawing their attention away from taller obstructions.

Seems they also didn’t check if Santa Monica Airport officials wanted the red lights: turns out they didn’t.

And most astonishing of all, it seems nobody asked if the Federation Aviation Authority actually did require the red lights. In fact, it seems there is no requirement. Just a “recommendation”. And even that was obsolete by the time the lights were put in because it was before the airport runway was shortened, greatly reducing the size of jets using the airport.

But despite all this, without a word of warning to local residents, the lights were installed, and The Shining began, seven days a week from sunset to sunrise, even when the airport is closed, lighting up the exterior and interior of homes, yards, streets, and sky with a powerful red glow from dusk until dawn.

Hundreds of angry Sunset Parkers have now signed a petition for the lights to be removed, and asked the Santa Monica Airport Commission for help. Having been assured by SCE and SMO that neither of them really wanted the red lights, Commission Chairman Andrew Wilder wrote to the Santa Monica Council as follows:

My understanding is that these lights provide no additional safety for pilots or for the community, and they may even be more dangerous since there are taller objects (trees and other power lines) nearby, so the lights could actually cause confusion … Please take action soon to remedy this situation.

Santa Monica has a new council, committed to swift, effective action on behalf of the city’s neighborhoods. It will be interesting to see if they decide to use their power to sort out a ridiculous round-robin of bureaucratic confusion, and put an end to the red-light district of Sunset Park before the area gets a distinctly shady reputation.

Gavin Scot, Santa Monica