MHS light saga continues

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In an ongoing saga over the stadium lights at Malibu High School nearly $20,000 was spent by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) to remove the crossbars at MHS on May 29.

Although SMMUSD paid for the removal of the 12-foot-wide crossbars, a notification was sent to the Shark Fund indicating they are responsible for the fees incurred to remove the eight crossbars.

“It’s the district’s responsibility [to remove the crossbars] because we are the property owner, but the lights were supported by the Shark Fund,” Jan Maez, SMMUSD Chief Financial Officer said. “We expect them to pay the cost on a yearly basis.”

In addition to reimbursing the district for removing the lights, the Shark Fund is also responsible to pay the storage fees when the lights are not in use — June 1 through August 31.

The four, 70-foot stadium lights were installed at MHS last October. The Malibu City Council voted to have the lights taken down during the summer as a compromise to the community in the surrounding area that opposed the permanent fixtures.

However, the additional costs to remove and store the lights were not originally accounted for.

“[The cost to remove the lights] was not a consideration at the time,” Malibu Mayor, Joan House said.  House said she would like to revisit the issue of who pays for removing the lights. She suggested having the homeowners in Malibu Park, and those that belong to the Malibu Community Alliance (MCA) pay for the cost every other year.

According to Seth Jacobson, former president of the Shark Fund, the notification from SMMUSD indicates it costs nearly $7500 to store the light fixtures for the summer. The Shark Fund currently owes the district nearly $175,000 for the light campaign that also includes out of pocket costs related to the installation.

On June 6, at the Board of Education meeting, Jacobson presented to the board in response to the invoice received from SMMUSD. He told the board the Shark Fund could not accommodate the notice at the present time because of a pending lawsuit that the the MCA is currently pursuing.

“It is hard to raise money when we don’t know if the lights are going to come down or not,” Jacobson said. “We are looking to meet with [the district] to come up with a plan.”

According to Jacobson, the Shark Fund has not attempted to collect additional funds but collected $466,658.70 to date for the lights campaign. The Shark Fund paid out $175,000 to Musco Lighting, the light manufacturers, and made a payment to the district last July in the amount of $250,000. The lights campaign currently has about $11,300 left in their account.

Jacobson also said the total cost for the lights campaign was $705,000.

But MCA members, Cami Winikoff and Todd Kesselman think the lights campaign has cost the district, and Malibu Park residents, a lot more than that.

MCA’s figures have the lights campaign costing over $1.1 million including over $225,000 in litigation costs alone. In January, Maez said litigation costs would reach at least $100,000.

Winikoff said she has nothing against having temporary lights set up for 16 nights a year, which the original agreement between the district and the planning commision in 2010.

“The Shark Fund said no taxpayers would pay for these lights,” Winikoff said. “The Shark Fund has only reimbursed the district $400,000 and it’s cost over $1 million.”

The total cost of the project is expected to rise since there is still a pending lawsuit between MCA against the City of Malibu and the district.

And the lights still have to be put back up in the fall.

Stuart Sam, Director for Facility Improvement Projects at SMMUSD, confirmed that RDM Electric removed the crossbars at MHS. Bids will go out later this summer to see what company will put them back up. Sam said the cost to put the lights back up with most likely have a similar price tag as it was to take them down — nearly $20,000.

“The [lights] project has been very expensive for the district, which despite promises to the contrary was left to cover the majority of the costs,” Kesselman said in an email.

Kesselman requested all documents related to the light project from SMMUSD by submitting a California Public Records Act on May 16. The district has not yet fulfilled his request.

Winikoff and Kesselman want to know where the out of pocket money is coming from. Back in January at SMMUSD board meeting, Maez has said the out of pocket costs were being paid from the district’s general fund. On March 13, she refuted that and said the funds were coming from the district’s capital facility fund.

SMMUSD is expecting the Shark Fund to reimburse the district for all fees.

“If they don’t make a payment, that is something we will have to discuss with our senior cabinet and the board the education,” Maez said.