Coastal Commission Unanimously Approves MHS Field Lights
• Concern Lingers that Vote Will Lead to Push for Relaxation of Other Lighting Curbs
The California Coastal Commission approved a modified version of the City of Malibu's Local Coastal Program amendment to permit field lighting at Malibu High School.
The meeting had a festive air, with many MHS students in the audience, including members of the MHS football team in uniform.
The commission praised the staff report, which suggested numerous modifications to the city's original amendment request, ranging from requiring state-of-the-art, shielded lights, and a complex bird-monitoring program.
The commission voted to deny the city's LCP amendment, which coastal staff indicated did not offer adequate environmental protection on the basis that it did not incorporate "feasible mitigation measures and/or alternatives have been incorporated to substantially lessen any significant adverse effects of the Implementation Plan Amendment on the environment." They then passed a motion to approve the modified LCP amendment proposed by staff.
The LCP amendment that was approved states that:
Lighting of the main sports field at Malibu High School may only be permitted if it complies with the following standards:
a. Lighting shall be minimized, directed downward, and shielded using the best available visor technology and pole height and design that minimizes light spill, sky glow, and glare impacts to public views and wildlife to the maximum extent feasible.
b. Lighting may only occur for a maximum of three (3) days in any calendar week and must be limited to the following time restrictions:
i. During Pacific Standard Time (defined as of 2011 to be the first Sunday in November to the second Sunday in March), the lights may be illuminated no later than 7:30 p.m. except as indicated below.
ii. From each September 1 through May 31 period, inclusive, the lights may only be illuminated after 7:30 p.m. up to 18 times, and then (a) only until 10:30 p.m., (b) never on consecutive nights, and (c) on no more than two nights in any given calendar week.
iii. The lights may not be illuminated at any time between June 1 and August 31, inclusive, of any year.
c. For lighting that is to be allowed during bird migration periods (Fall Migration: September through first week in November, and Spring Migration: Last week of March through May), an Avian Monitoring Plan, that is prepared by a qualified ornithologist/ecologist and reviewed and approved by the City Biologist, shall be required prior to issuance of the coastal development permit, and the permit shall be consistent with and require compliance with that plan. The plan shall, at a minimum, include the following elements:
i. Monitoring shall be conducted by a qualified ornithologist/ecologist to assess potential adverse impacts to migratory and resident bird species.
ii. The monitoring design and schedule shall include a paired monitoring design (i.e. a night with lights immediately preceded or followed by a night without lights), and a monitoring frequency of once per week during any week when lights are operated during Fall and Spring migration periods for at least one year. If the monitoring results indicate that the one-year monitoring period was a typical bird migration year with a typical range of atmospheric conditions and the main sports field lights have resulted in no adverse impacts upon birds, no additional monitoring may be required. If the monitoring results indicate otherwise, monitoring shall continue for an additional year(s) until a year of monitoring under typical conditions occurs and the consulting ornithologist obtains enough data to assess potential adverse impacts to migratory and resident bird species.
iii. The description of observational monitoring activities shall include tallying species and numbers of birds observed within a 200 ft. sphere of the light standards and noting atmospheric conditions, bird behavior, and changes in bird behavior.
iv. The monitoring plan shall specify a threshold for determining significant adverse impacts to migratory and resident bird species from field lights.
v. Seasonal migration reports (Fall and Spring) of monitoring results shall be submitted to the City Biologist. However, the consulting ornithologist shall immediately notify the City should an adverse bird event related to the approved field lights occur at any time during the course of monitoring. The monitoring plan shall also include a provision for submission of a final monitoring report to the City Biologist at the end of the monitoring period.
The approved Avian Monitoring Plan shall be implemented concurrent with the approved field lighting operations. If the Monitoring results indicate that the approved field lighting results in significant adverse impacts upon birds, the City shall require modification of the approved lighting schedule in order to ensure avoidance of the identified impacts.
d. The applicant shall be required to submit a written statement agreeing to the above restrictions.
Several of the commissioners expressed concern about the impact of the lights on the environment, but they indicated that they were reassured by staff's modifications. Newly appointed commissioner Dayna Bochco dismissed the Malibu Park area as suburban. "I do feel this is not a rural area at all. It's suburban," she said. "I feel it's an important issue that staff wrote [the City of Malibu's] LCP in first place. Our staff are saying that was too strict. We were not aware of situations."
After discussion, the commission added the requirement that the monitoring plan be developed with the input of the CCC's biologist.
"After hearing all of the testimony, I am somewhat uncomfortable on two issues," Commissioner Jana Zimmer said. "How the city, because we are no longer going to have jurisdiction, is going to be monitoring the avian plan. Particularly there appears to be a deferral for establishing the sign of what the impact will be. I suggest, if this is approved, that when the city does establish that threshold, it is done with concurrence from the commission's biologist. Zimmer said the city needs to establish the range of " how many birds have to fall out of the sky."
The other part that bothers is the requirement to modify is very vague. If we are really mitigating, I would like to see a more specific mitigation."
Malibu Mayor Pro Tem, speaking as a resident and school activist, suggested during public comment that the school's students could participate in the monitoring program.
"You have exceptional scenic views and dark skies," Commissioner Sanchez said. "There is no question that it will change character of Malibu, and forever. And it could be this is going to open door for more nights. Whenever you have limit to industrial you know that there is going to be litigation. This is very difficult to me."
The commission also approved an indemnification clause that would hold the district, not the commission financially and legally responsible for any legal costs associated with litigation pertaining to the lighting issue.
"This is a typical condition we apply to permits where there is controversy and potential for litigation," the commission's deputy director explained, responding to school board representatives who expressed concern that the cash-strapped district cannot afford the cost of litigation. "We have applied it to other school districts."
A motion to eliminate the clause was made by Commissioner Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, an outspoken advocate for the Santa Monica Malibu School District and candidate for State Assembly, but failed to receive a second.
The commissioners reminded the audience that the LCP amendment does not automatically authorize the lights. Instead, it permits the City of Malibu to issue a Conditional Use Permit for the lighting to the school district, provided the CUP request is consistent with the amendment passed by the commission and that it receives the approval of the city's Planning Commission and City Council.
"This is an opportunity for neighbors to talk to the city about mitigation," Commissioner Martha McClure said.