Malibu Park residents rail against school lights

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Some residents say permanent lighting would destroy the rural character of the neighborhood. Students and parents say that night games bring the community together and offer something to do for Malibu youth.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

Nearly 100 people comprised of Malibu Park residents, school athletes, students, parents and officials gathered at Malibu High School at last week’s Measure BB meeting to criticize or support the addition of permanent lighting to the school’s football field and adjacent parking lot.

The majority of residents said they opposed the lighting because it would destroy the ambience of the neighborhood, while parents, students and school officials said the lights would positively impact the school and the community. The tug of war continues as supporters and protestors remain in search of a compromise.

The addition of the permanent athletic field lighting is a component of Malibu High School’s Campus Improvements Project, funded by Measure BB, which also includes the implementation of two grandstands (the home team’s seating 1,000 and the visitor’s 300), synthetic turf and a new parking lot adjacent to the football field.

The school football field has had a temporary light system for the past three years that Principal Mark Kelly said costs $25,000 per year to operate. Critics say these lights contradict the California Coastal Commission’s 1999 agreement with the school that there would be no temporary or permanent lighting in order to preserve Malibu Park’s scenic views, wildlife and native resources.

The Athletic Fields Improvements Working Group, comprised of the City of Malibu’s Park and Recreation Department, the school district, Malibu Middle and High School and numerous architects, engineers, biologists and environmentalists, presented conclusions of various environmental impact reports and future utilization of the football field.

Biologist Erin Bomkamp of Glenn Lukos Associates said at the meeting that the lighting would have no negative impacts on surrounding biological habitats or resources, which include special status animals such as the burrowing owl and the California gnat catcher.

Bomkamp said there is no evidence (pellets, excrement) that owls are roosting or living in the areas that would be affected by the lights; however, many residents disagreed and claimed they hear owls on a nightly basis.

Measures taken to make the light less intrusive to the surrounding neighborhood include putting “visors” on the light poles and building the poles (four or six of them) up to heights of 70 to 80 feet to focus illumination onto the field.

A maximum total for which the lights and facilities could be utilized for events and activities such as sports games and practices would be 203 nights per year. Current usage of the athletic field is nowhere near maximum capacity, Kelly said, but, he said, predicting the apex of usability is helpful in the school’s constitution of a new Joint Use Agreement with the City of Malibu.

The current Joint Use Agreement between the school and the city expires in June and does not include city access to the football field. A new agreement is currently in the works that would grant utilization priority to the school and allow the city to issue utilization permits to outside sports programs.

Some Malibu Park residents who had initially attended the meeting in support of the permanent lighting said the presentation caused them to switch their stance, especially after learning of the speculative 203-night maximum usage total.

Other residents stated view obstruction, nighttime light disturbance, increased noise and traffic levels, overcrowding, disapproval in how their tax dollars are being spent, operational affordability and, as one resident put it, “the idea that my property taxes will pay to devalue my property,” as reasons they oppose permanent lighting. Most residents viewed the permanent lighting as an effort to urbanize northern Malibu and cited the area’s rural nature as the principal reason they moved there.

“I do root for Malibu High, but I don’t necessarily need to hear it from my bedroom,” Malibu Park resident Steve Shankman said, before bringing into question the cost of operating expenses and recommending the possibility of putting the money used to implement the permanent lighting toward “paying teachers properly, improving classrooms and making the school safer for the kids.”

Supporters said the lights unite Malibu families through nighttime sporting events, such as Friday night football games, that are suitable for all ages and provide a gathering place, time and a sense of community; all of which many think the city is lacking. Supporters also said the lights would only be used a few hours of the night.

Malibu High School alumnus and current football coach Dane Skophammer explained the importance of supporting the football team. “Two hundred and three nights sound like a lot to me, but there’s got to be some sort of give and take and we’ve got to make sure we find that,” Skophammer said. “But don’t deny young men the chance to become young men at home.”

Skophammer said the lights would benefit both the school and the community. “It’s great to see kids at Malibu who may not have any healthy nighttime activities do something positive,” he said.

Malibu High School football players Jackson Carter, Sean Conrad and Austin Rowing called the feeling of playing a night game on their home turf with the support of their families and friends “indescribable.”

“Sports are an important part of school and education, and they keep kids away from drugs,” Rowing said to light protestors. “You complain about problems with youth, but when we try to better them, you say you want to move.”

Carter said, “It’s selfish that people are trying to shut us down as Malibu is growing.”

A parent of three Malibu High School students said, “Having night games allows all kids in the Malibu High School community to support their peers in their passions.”

Members of the Athletic Fields Improvements Working Group said they would continue the evaluation of a Joint Use Agreement with the city and conduct additional analyses of the four- and six- pole lighting options.

The next Measure BB meeting on Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at Malibu High School will address design and sustainability, and discuss traffic improvement updates.