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Julian’s Dark Skies

Cover image for podcast episode

COURTESY OF ERNIE HUANG

Geminid meteors in the skies above Julian are pictured in this undated photo.

The town of Julian is now the second in the state to receive recognition as an official Dark Sky Community. The town worked for the honor by reducing outdoor light pollution. Meanwhile, as the pandemic world shifted schools and shopping and everything else online, San Diego’s Refugee population, with limited access to the internet, were left in a tight spot. Plus, a skin condition that’s common among black men is resulting in charges of discrimination in the military.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, May 24th.

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Julian is dubbed a “Dark Sky Community.”

We’ll have more on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines….

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On Sunday, San Diego’s own Phil Mickelson at 50 became the oldest golfer in history to win a major PGA golf championship. It was his sixth major win, and he’s the first player in PGA Tour history to win tournaments 30 years apart -- his first title was in 1991 while he was still in college.

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Vista is considering banning single-use plastics. Under a proposal to the city council, Vista would require businesses to offer plastic utensils and straws only upon request starting this summer. The ban on styrofoam would go into effect July 2023. The Council unanimously approved preliminary measures for the ban last month and directed staff to develop a waiver for small businesses still recovering from the pandemic. The city is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance on June 22. If passed, Vista would be the sixth city in the county with a plastic ban.

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San Diego County begins its “Our Health is Worth a Shot'' challenge today. The contest is asking for young people ages 12 to 24 to send in videos and visual art projects encouraging people to get vaccinated against covid-19. Information on prizes and how to enter can be found at [live well s-d-dot-org]. For now, the latest numbers say about 72% of the eligible population are fully vaccinated against covid-19.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

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A dark sky community….I promise it’s really not as spooky as it might sound. A dark sky community is a place where steps have been taken to reduce light pollution so that people can clearly see the beautiful starry night sky. The town of Julian was recently named an official Dark Sky community. They’re the second town in California to earn that, just after Borrego Springs. The International Dark Sky association is the organization who names dark sky communities.

Lisa Will is a Physics and Astronomy Professor at San Diego City College, and a resident Astronomer at the Fleet Science Center. She spoke about the dark sky movement with Midday Edition Host Maureen Cavanaugh. Here’s that interview.

DARKSKY 8:00
Can you try to describe the difference between looking up at the night sky and San Diego with what it looks like? And Julia, now that it's a dark sky, come here.

Speaker 2: 01:02 When you go outside at night in a large metropolitan area like San Diego, the light pollution washes out the faintest stars in the sky. So if you and I were to go outside tonight, weather cooperating and look up at the sky, we would see, um, a couple of dozen, several dozen of the brightest stars in the sky, but we'd be losing out on the fainter details, uh, the Milky way going across the sky, the fainter stars that build up the constellations. And it's just, it's a very different experience. You're almost overwhelmed by the number of stars there are because we're just not used to seeing that many from a city. And that's what having a designated dark sky community like Julian will make available to people. Now

Speaker 1: 01:45 Getting that dark sky designation is quite a process. So what did Julian have to do to get,

Speaker 2: 01:50 Yeah, that well, Julian hope to follow in the footsteps of Borrego Springs, which is the other community in California that has their dark sky designation. Um, and they saw what Borrego Springs did, but they had to go even further because it turns out to that San Diego County has been kind of lagging behind the times in terms of lighting ordinances. So they had to work with the County to get lighting ordinances approved, but also that sometimes fixing light pollution can be kind of simple, like making sure the light is directed where you want it to, um, changing the color of the lights from the sort of bright blue led lights that we're all getting used to, to the warmer colors that don't scatter as much in the nighttime sky and cause air glow. So, um, that's how they worked to try to make their sky darker.

Speaker 1: 02:40 Ask you just a little bit more about what light pollution, how it affects our ability to see the stars because going out in the city at night, looking up the sky is beautiful. I mean, it's, it's pretty, you see some stars, but when you go to a dark sky community or you go out some rural places, it's a whole different experience, isn't

Speaker 2: 03:00 It? It really is. And I think it's a statement about how few people actually get that experience anymore. If you remember, there were several years ago, there was that large power outage over all of Southern California. And I had students, you know, contact me saying I'd never seen the sky like that. We should schedule a power outage like this once a month, when you go outside at night, a light pollution affects your ability to see the sky in a couple of different ways. Uh, first of all, there's just the glare, uh, bright lights, uh, don't ever let your eyes get dark adapted. Um, and what I mean by that is that your eyes can see better. The longer you're outside in the dark. It takes about 15 minutes for your eyes to get truly dark adapted. So if you're in a place with a lot of clutter of lights, your eyes never get truly dark adapted so that you can see the fainter stars in the sky.

Speaker 2: 03:48 But the bigger problem in large metropolitan areas like San Diego is a sky glow where the lights of the city, uh, the light gets scattered in the air above the city and it causes what we see as light domes in the distance. And so, you know how, if you're coming into a large city, you can see the sky get brighter in the direction of the city before you ever see any of the buildings in the city. That's over us all the time in a large metropolitan area. And it just makes the fainter stars invisible to us. So we really only see about the couple of brightest stars in the sky. If you're really truly surrounded by light pollution, is Julian

Speaker 1: 04:26 Dark sky going to help astronomers at Palomar or other observatories?

Speaker 2: 04:32 Well, it certainly doesn't hurt when you're at a observatory and you look out at the horizon, you can see the light domes above cities in the distance. And so any city that makes an effort to decrease the light pollution will be a help to the professional observatories of the area. So in San Diego County, we have a Palomar, we have a Mount Laguna observatory, and any efforts will help that, uh, the astronomers at those facilities see the night sky better

Speaker 1: 05:01 About amateur sky gazers do you expect this will increase visitors

Speaker 2: 05:05 To Julian going? I certainly hope so because if you've never had a chance to see a truly dark sky, it's amazing. Most people who live in a city have never seen the Milky way itself, uh, studies have shown that up to 99% of people living in the United States, don't actually see a truly natural nighttime sky because we all live in cities or close enough to cities that their light pollution is changing. The sky that we see now, you're right.

Speaker 1: 05:31 The fleets residents astronomer and are involved with the local astronomy on tap group. Do you foresee holding events in Julian in the future because of this new dark sky?

Speaker 2: 05:41 Yes Ignation. Oh, I would love to. And, uh, you know, Julian already has, uh, people up there dedicated to bringing astronomy to the public, like with their, uh, their star party that they have done and will continue to do. And so, yeah, I'm looking forward to going up there and, uh, experiencing the night sky. I don't say that I can't quite do from here in San Diego

Speaker 1: 06:05 Now next week, I believe that there will be a lunar eclipse. Would Julian be a good place to see it?

Speaker 2: 06:12 Yes. And so there is a total lunar eclipse on Wednesday, May 26th. Um, it will be visible early in the morning, so it might be hard for some of us of the totality of the lunar eclipse will be from around four 11 in the morning till four 25 in the morning, our time. And it will be partially eclipse before and after that. So Julian might be a great place to go for this because we've had a lot of Marine layer and may gray, uh, here in coastal San Diego. And so if you want a good view of the lunar eclipse, you may need to get away from the coast. So yeah, Julian would be a great place.

Speaker 1: 06:45 And do you need to bring a telescope or can you really see things with your naked eye? If you're out in that dark sky community,

Speaker 2: 06:51 There are so many things that you can see with the naked eye when you're outside and get dark adapted under a truly dark sky. Um, as we're heading into summer, that's when the Milky way is it's brightest, that band of stars that shows the plaintiff, the galaxy at our sky, you can actually pick up some star clusters faintly with the naked eye, uh, that you can't see, uh, in the city. And so it is completely different. Starlight can be bright enough for you to see by, you know, and that's just not something we ever experience in a city. Now,

Speaker 1: 07:25 Both Julian and Borrego Springs are official dark sky communities. And as a Borrego park is a dark sky park. Is there any chance we're about to see a whole sort of dark sky region in San Diego,

Speaker 2: 07:39 Tony, you know, I would really love that. And, and there's, uh, not just because of preserving the night sky for all of us to experience, but light pollution is incredibly impactful. It wastes energy because a lot of that light is not necessary. It's not being directed into the places where the light is wanted. Um, it impacts wildlife and, um, health. And so I would love to see a greater movement towards understanding light pollution as the problem that it is.

That was Lisa Will, a Physics and Astronomy Professor at San Diego City College and Resident Astronomer at the Fleet Science Center. She was speaking with KPBS Midday Edition host Maureen Cavanaugh.

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So many things shifted online during the pandemic. Doctor visits, work, school, therapy appointments, and more….and that left San Diego’s refugee population in a tight spot.

Inewsource reporter Roxana Popescu has more on their situation.

Starting over in the U.S. as a refugee from Syria, Douha Alhalabi has had a lot to learn. New address, new language, new school system for her children.
The pandemic has added one more lesson: understanding the internet.
When everything moved online, she had a hard time using Google and Zoom. Healthcare, school, her own college classes -- the technology was a real challenge
ALHALABI: It's make my, my family future difficult. <4 seconds>
Experts say refugees struggled long before the pandemic with access to computers and high speed internet.
COVID-19 only multiplied the problems, leading to lost jobs and other missed opportunities.
AWAD: It really is a stepping stone to being able to access all of the other services that can get them to better socioeconomic standing in the long term. <9 seconds>
That's Ramah Awad, with Majdal: The Arab Community Center of San Diego, who helps refugees apply for rent relief.
She says for these families, understanding the internet is crucial -- not just now, but for their long term success.
For KPBS, I’m inewsource reporter Roxana Popescu.

inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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If you shopped for health insurance last year and decided you just couldn’t afford it, state officials are now saying: it’s time to check again. Money from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan is bringing the monthly cost of health plans to new lows for people joining Covered California. KQED's April Dembosky reports.

And that was KQED’s April Dembosky.

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With people returning to work across the state, there’s tremendous interest in how we will remain safe in the workplace. We won’t know right away -- Following hours of testimony from the public and from industry, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health - known as CAL OSHA - delayed a vote last week on new pandemic-related workplace rules. The California Report's Lilly Jamali has the story.

That was Lilly Jamali with the California Report.

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Coming up....

“On paper, I'm the perfect airman. But because I have this medical diagnosis, I can't represent the Air Force in that aspect..”

We have an American Homefront Project feature about how a skin condition that’s common among black men is creating disadvantages for them in the armed forces.

Some Air Force members say they’re being discriminated against because it's hard for them to shave. Many have a skin condition that's especially common among Black men, and they say it's preventing them from getting promotions and awards.

Carson Frame has this story for the American Homefront Project.

Tech sergeant Joshua Nixon joined the Air Force at 19 in hopes of becoming a recruiter like his older brother. He excelled in training, won awards, and never got in trouble. But he struggled to keep up with the Air Force requirement that he shave his face every day.
NIXON: “I was getting so many bumps... you pick at them to try to get the hair out. And they leave like a black circle, like a little dark circle.
A doctor diagnosed Nixon, who is Black, with pseudofolliculitis barbae or PFB. It’s a skin condition that causes painful bumps which often scar. Creams and new shaving techniques sometimes help. But the only real treatment is not to shave so closely.
The Air Force granted Nixon a shaving profile— a waiver that allowed him to wear short facial hair. But because of that, he found himself out of the running for certain opportunities—including the recruiting job he wanted so badly.
NIXON: My commander was like — “Yes, you will be the perfect ideal... you're great with people.” But I was turned down because I had a shaving waiver. And that's what kind of made me look at everything kinda different. Because on paper, I'm the perfect airman. But because I have this medical diagnosis, I can't represent the Air Force in that aspect.”
According to a recent study from the journal Military Medicine, other airmen with shaving profiles share Nixon’s frustration. In a survey, some said profiles disqualified them from prestigious positions, leadership opportunities, or awards. Others said they were looked down upon by commanders and colleagues.
63% of those who perceived a negative bias were Black.
Dr. Emily Wong, an Air Force dermatologist at Joint Base San Antonio, was one of the surveyors.
WONG: Unfortunately, I do believe there is a, you know, history of people who do not understand that PFB is a chronic medical condition. And that perception is sometimes that those members are just they're not trying, or they're not conforming to standards, or that they're just lazy, and they don't want to shave.
Many of the airmen in the study said they were barred from positions where facial hair isn't an impediment, like recruiting, teaching, or playing in the Air Force Band. Others said they couldn't join the Honor Guard, an elite unit that performs drill routines at high-profile events.
Honor Guard policy allows airmen with shaving profiles to serve, but they still have to shave before ceremonies. In other words, it treats shaving profiles as temporary, like a broken finger or other injury.
Lieutenant Colonel Jason Woodruff heads the organization.
WOODRUFF: it's really a uniformity thing. And it's a medical profile. And just like every other medical profile, the expectation is, they...are striving to get off that profile.
Until a couple years ago, the Honor Guard kicked out people with long-term medical shaving waivers. Now, Woodruff says it tries to work with airmen and their dermatologists to find a shaving regimen that they can manage---even if that means shaving only a few times a week. He adds that 27 percent of airmen in the Honor Guard are Black.
The Air Force recruiting command also has changed its policy. It started accepting people with shaving waivers in 2019.
Dr. Wong, the dermatologist, credits Air Force commands that are trying to understand the issue. But she's still concerned that the Honor Guard treats shaving waivers as temporary. She says that could cause airmen distress.
WONG: there is a spectrum, and ...not everybody's going to be able to maybe meet those standards, or they might feel, you know, really pressured to deal with pain or flares from shaving, because they don't want to bring it up.
Wong says the Air Force is now conducting a larger survey to learn more about the effects of shaving profiles, including whether they impact promotion rates, especially among Black men.
I’m Carson Frame in San Antonio.

This comes from the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. It's funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.