City Council Approves MHS Field Lighting Plan with New Conditions
• Lighting Fixtures and Cross-Arms Must Be Lowered During Summer to Mitigate View Impacts
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The Malibu City Council, with Mayor Laura Rosenthal and Councilmember Skylar Peak recused, voted 3-0 to approve permanent athletic field lighting at Malibu High School with some new conditions.
Malibu City Hall Council Chambers were filled to overflow for the hearing. More than 50 members of the audience sat on the floor or stood at the back of the room. Others crowded around a big screen TV in the building's foyer or sat in the hall.
The hearing began with a discussion of recusal.
"It is proper procedure is to recuse yourself," City Attorney Christi Hogan states. "There is no shame in it. In this particular case there are two issues. The mayor was unable to participate in the vote because she had been involved with the original application for school district to put up lights and has contributed to the school's "Bring on the Lights" fundraiser.
"Councilmember Peak when he was just Skylar, sent a letter to the California Coastal Commission [with the] opinion that lights should be temporary and used for just a few nights," Hogin said. "Both sides are entitled to have the decision made by people who have not yet made up their mind or there is no evidence that they have made up their mind. If there is evidence that appears to create a bias," she said.
The issue of bias and recusal was key in the city's unprecedented decision to bypass the planning commission and have the request for a Coastal Development Permit and Conditional Use Permit to permit the lights heard instead by the City Council.
Hogin stated that two of the planning commissioners had donated to the lighting fundraiser and that a third lived within close proximity to the school, leaving only two planning panelists. A quorum requires three.
The city council heard a staff report on the nuts and bolts of the project, including a complicated set of conditions mandated by the Coastal Commission that limit the number and frequency of nights-no more than three per week, no consecutive nights, only 18 nights to 10:30 p.m., and limits on use during peak bird migration periods.
The technical details were followed by more than four hours of public comment. Tempers and passions ran high and the testimony was interrupted repeatedly by applause, boos, and shouted comments from the audience.
"There are no permanent lights for movie sets," former Councilmember Jefferson Wagner said. "[Filming] is not an imposition to any neighborhood. However permanent lighting is something that will impact the neighborhood. I'm asking you to explore hydraulic lights."
"Some of the pictures you saw tonight were from my house," said longtime Malibu resident Terry Lucoff. "I moved to Malibu Park. I love Malibu Park. In the 1990s we voted for the city against voting for the county. We wanted a city that would protect us, the people of Malibu. I'm talking about the people who live in Malibu and are voters. You are the only people that do represent us. The impact of the lighting has to be taken in context. [There is] a proposal for a parking lot with new lighting, new lighting in the old parking lot. Step by step, Malibu Park will become a totally lighted community."
"The Malibu Sharks [football team] is threatened wildlife," said Chamber of Commerce President Don Schmitz. "If you watch the Sharks play football or lacrosse that's some wildlife."
"Joe Edmiston [the executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy] can have a sign up sheet in the lobby where [lighting opponents] can sign up to donate their property and have their home torn down," Schmitz said. "It's about people getting together and getting unified.
Attorney Frank Angel, speaking for the Malibu Township Council and "many Malibu Park residents" called the hearing "premature without the benefit of the planning commission."
"They have original jurisdiction," Angel said. "It's unprecedented. Out of 10 decision makers we are left with four." Angel requested that the item be remanded to the planning commission. "How can such a donation [on the part of two planning commissioners] create likelihood of bias so great?" he said. "There is no precedent to support that it would."
"The environment needs and deserves protection," lighting activist and MHS parent Pete Anthony said. "It's an important thing to say is that we recognize that there are private citizens that have view impacts. We are not dismissing this. It's important to point out that if you limit [the number of nights the lights could be used] further it becomes a question of if its worth it."
Anthony said that the football field is used by boys and girls junior and varsity soccer, boys lacrosse, girls dance squad, singers, musicians, drum line, and two football teams.
"In the past we had lights. We had large crowds, a safe, healthy gathering place," Anthony said, adding that at day games there are "more cheerleaders than fans. They are sparsely attended."
"I speak on behalf of our football team," said incoming Junior Nick Anthony. "We work absolutely hard. These lights are utterly important to us, utterly important to our team. It makes it work. It's an amazing, fantastic experience. A homecoming at home benefits not only my team but everyone there," Anthony said. "That's a really important thing. We lose players to other schools simply because of lights. It's just a fact here. Not only does football lose them other teams lose them."
"One of my family's favorite things is to go to a night game," MHS athlete Winston Churchill said. "My father works but he can always come see us play at night games. [It's] one of the most fun things in the world to do."
Special education activist Laureen Sills told the council how much the lights mean to her son Danny. "Danny has driven everyone crazy to support the lights," Sills said. "Danny has Asperger's. They don't get invited to do the things that other kids do. Shy kids, kids who don't like to do other things, it's a place to go, an even playing ground. They can be part of the school spirit. There are lots of people in Malibu who are home alone. It gives lots of people a chance to be at MHS without an invitation to do something on Friday night."
"Do you have the data you need to make a decision?" asked Malibu Township Council spokesperson Steve Uhring."You don't have independent lighting experts. You can't tell us how far away its going to be seen. You don't know how many views are going to be impacted. Little orange balloons turn into 12-foot arms with lights on them. How many homes will be impacted? If you don't know the numbers, how can you make a decision?"
"Tell these people who have been living there for 50 years, who work and pay taxes," Uhring said. "I don't think it's a good deal [for them]. They complained early and often. As a result from those complaints, [the school district] in a 1994 letter stated there would never be any light. Should their word mean something? They said there would be no lights and people relied on that and does that mean anything to anyone?"
"I'm a football dad. We are big football supporters but I live right by that field," said Malibu Park resident John Ellis.
"Six lights on 55-foot poles, that was fine for the kids. When the city got authority from the Coastal Commission it wasn't a blank check," said Ellis. "The Mitigated Negative Declaration was based on five poles, 55 feet high. "[This proposal is an] increase in 60 percent in height, 50 percent in wattage. Football is a great program but the idea that it is going to make all the difference in the world to have four poles 70 feet high with 72000 watts is not feasible."
"I'm for it, obviously, not any secret," Ray Humphrey, MHS head football coach, said. "I want lights for our kids. It just means a lot to the community. The school district came up with the biggest possible use, the most we are going to use is 70 nights.
"It's not just for football. It's very hard to watch the girls soccer team in the pitch dark in winter coming down the stairs. When you have to watch our kids get out at 1 p.m. it matters."
"My kid has played football since he was six years old," Point Dume resident Henry Holmes said. "I made wrong decision to live in Malibu. Scouts don't come when there's 100 people at a game."
The council members had several questions for the consultants following public comment.
"We looked over athletic program [to get] the number of days," MHS Principal Mark Kelly said, in response to a query about the number of proposed days. "Not all of those programs exist. If girls lacrosse doesn't come into existence we would not be able to fill all of those days."
"Once you give a right its much harder to take it away," said the city attorney. "It's much easier to start small and give more later than it is to take it back."
A representative of the Musco lighting company stated that telescoping or hydraulic poles were not available in the US, and that 70-foot temporary lights were scarce and would have to be booked a year in advance.
"Is it possible to take lights down for summer?" asked Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte.
"It is possible to build the poles that way," Marsh confirmed. "The change is the added cost to bring in equipment to do that," the Musco representative stated, adding that the modification could cost an additional $12,000 per year.
"Besides concern about storing them I am much more concerned about $12,000 price tag," school district financial officer Jan Maez said. "I don't have to go very far with the budget to know that we can't [afford it]."
"I want them to come down," Councilmember Joan House said, adding that the district can revisit the condition in a year.
The council voted 3-0 to approve 16 nights to 10:30 p.m and 41 nights to 7:30 p.m., and required the school to remove the crossbars and lighting fixtures from June 1 through Aug. 31.
The council also voted for a condition that prohibits amplification for practices and limited use to only school related practices and games.
"This has been very difficult on everyone here," House said at 1:30 a.m., when the vote was concluded. "It's an issue that people are very passionate about. There was a time when we had only seven million people in California. Changes always occur and are very difficult."
One Malibu Park resident stormed out of the meeting shouting that he planned to challenge the decision in court.
Another told the council that the cost of hiring legal council represented a fraction of the loss in property value for area homeowners that he said would occur when the lights are installed.
Steve Uhring told the Malibu Surfside News after the meeting that the Malibu Township Council, on behalf of a number of area residents, is also planning a legal challenge.
"We believe we have a very strong case," Uhring said, referring to the decision to bypass the planning commission.
"This plan needs to be sent back to planning," Uhring said. "It didn't get a full vetting."
Lighting supporters say that they are optimistic that installation will be complete in time for the start of the fall semester.