County installs lights as late addition to the Upgrade the Drake project

Keegan Williams, Reporter

On Feb. 3, 2021, The Sir Francis Drake Boulevard Rehabilitation Project, “Upgrade the Drake,” progressed as the street was flooded with light from the new 35 foot-tall industrial streetlights. They currently line the Boulevard in 50-yard intervals from Highway 101 to Ross town limits, a 2.2 mile stretch of road. The lights, which are CalTrans grade primarily used in cities and along highways, spilled light into Greenbrae residents’ backyards sparking a public outcry and petitions to repurpose them. 

Steve O’Shea, a Redwood parent and Greenbrae resident, has been a prominent activist protesting the streetlights.

“[In early February], I walked outside my house to enjoy a gorgeous morning and, all of a sudden, I saw a 30 foot tall 24 foot wide monstrosity, a massive light stanchion. It’s popped up right in my view of Mt. Tam. Then I walked out onto Sir Francis Drake and realized [the county had] put up about 15 of them,” O’Shea said. 

From his house, O’Shea can see three different lights. He immediately began researching why they were installed and under what authority. He had attended many town meetings regarding the Upgrade the Drake project but had not heard anything about new lights. During his research he learned that Katie Rice was the person to get in contact with about the lights.

Rice is Marin County’s supervisor for District 2, where the lights have been installed. According to Rice, the lights’ implementation was to mitigate safety concerns at busy intersections.

“A lot of the lighting that was installed along the median in front of Bon Air shopping center was not just to light the roadway, but to light the multi-use path on the north side of the road,” Rice said. “The intersection lighting was added for visibility of cars and pedestrians.” 

However, when the lights turned on for the first time in early February, Rice along with Brian Kangas Foulk (BKF) engineering, the firm in charge of their installation, immediately noticed there was a problem. 

“There was light spilling into people’s backyards that wasn’t there before and the amount of infrastructure added was at a scope that was unacceptable to the community, and I think that was warranted.” Rice said, “The project team turned the lights off and now are in a redesign process which the community will be involved in. We have a Community Advisory Committee which has been utilized throughout the course of the [Upgrade the Drake] project, except for the lighting part.” 

Lifelong Marin resident Molly Gamble also had complaints about the lights. Although Gamble lives in Ross and is not directly affected by the new street lights, she’s mainly concerned with the county’s increased light pollution. 

“Light pollution in Marin has gotten steadily worse over the years. I grew up here in Marin and remember being able to go outside and really see the night sky and the stars,” Gamble said. 

Undisturbed skies are rare in America these days, as light pollution has increased in the U.S. by almost 6 percent annually from the 1940s into the early 2000s. The problem is only growing, as 99 percent of the North American population is now affected by light pollution. O’Shea and Gamble are among hundreds who are protesting and petitioning against the lights, and more people are getting involved each day. The activism began early February on Nextdoor, a popular app that connects neighbors and contains information about what is going on around the neighborhood. 

“I posted on Nextdoor and immediately got a response, and it got to the point where people were getting overwhelmed by how frequent the responses were. We began to gain a lot of groundswells and identified people who were also involved in the petitioning process,” O’Shea said. 

The movement continued to gain a following and expanded in late February to, a petition building website, with the creation of a petition to repurpose the lights along highway 101, which now has 831 signatures. 

“We got 250 [signatures on the petition] very quickly, and then after a flyer campaign and the turning on of the lights the petition completely took off,” O’Shea said. 

The county does not accept petitions from However,  in response to the community backlash and growing frustration of residents, the county opened up a public comment section on, promising to read every submission.

County residents’ objections to the lights vary, however, activists stand united about their main goal: the immediate removal of the lights. 

“This project is going to [affect] Sir Francis Drake for the next 40 years. We have to protect the character of the corridor. If we let them keep these lights the way they are, with how bright they are, how big they are, how intrusive they are, that’s it. All of a sudden our Greenbrae and Kentfield area [will become] an industrial corridor, and you can’t turn that back. We have a chance right now to turn it back,” O’Shea said.