Coastal expected to approve Malibu High field lights

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The California Coastal Commission at its meeting this Thursday will also finalize language on its approval of the plan that includes overnight camping at several Malibu parks.

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu’s city government will not formally involve itself in a conflict between residents living near Malibu High School and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District regarding athletic lights at the school’s football field. The issue goes before the California Coastal Commission on Oct. 8, with a recommendation by coastal staff to approve a school district request for limited lighting. No city officials have submitted formal comments to the commission regarding the issue.

However, some city officials had complained during the summer that the district did not go through the Malibu government to approve temporary lighting. The city also submitted a seven-page document to the district expressing various concerns, although it did not take a position on whether the lighting should be approved. City Manager Jim Thorsen confirmed that the city is taking a neutral stance on the issue. Interim Planning Manager Stefanie Edmondson said the city did not submit any comments because “the Coastal Commission has jurisdiction” on the matter.

The staff recommendation calls for lighting at the high school for 16 dates per year from September through November at a maximum of 62 total hours, allowing for regular season games, some practices and potential playoff games in December. The lighting would be provided through five 53-foot portable light standards fueled by two 50-kilowatt diesel-powered generators. Practices will take place on selected Thursday nights until approximately 7:30 p.m. and games are scheduled for select Friday nights until approximately 10:30 p.m.

A portion of a 16-page petition against the lighting and 12 letters of opposition were included in the coastal staff report. Opponents say the lighting will have a negative effect on the scenic views of the area and what they say is a variety of wildlife in proximity.

“Contrary to the school district’s position, night lighting of the athletic field will create a visual impact on nearby scenic areas in the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains and on Zuma Beach,” residents Carol and Kenneth Gable wrote. “It will take away our dark skies and impact our sunsets, which are most beautiful in the fall season when so many people hike the trails at sunset in order to take advantage of these views. The athletic field overlooks the Pacific Ocean. We don’t understand why having a Saturday afternoon football game, with this view, doesn’t far surpass ‘experiencing’ a night game.”

When the Coastal Commission approved a permit for the upgrading of Malibu High’s athletic complex in 2000, lighting was banned (although the district never actually requested a permit for lighting) to avoid disturbing scenic views and the wildlife. District officials have ignored this rule and there has been temporary lighting for the past six years during night football games and some practices.

The staff report states that Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas has reviewed “new evidence” from the district “demonstrating] that the proposed field lighting will not result in adverse impacts to scenic areas or wildlife” and “the new information makes it clear that the condition can be modified without in any way compromising the intended effect of the Commission’s lighting condition [from 2000].”

The report states “The amount of sky glow [from lighting] will depend on weather conditions … However, the impact of the proposed illumination in the area will not be significant as the lights will only be on intermittently.” The report further stated, “General surveys were also conducted for birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, including special-status species which were evaluated through habitat assessments and focused surveys … No special-status animals or signs of special-status animals were detected within the study area. No wintering burrowing owls or special status raptors were detected within the study area and none are expected to occur.”

Malibu Township Council President Steve Uhring in an interview this week called the recommendation “a very bizarre decision that doesn’t make sense.” He noted that the staff report does not address the school district’s desire to eventually have permanent lighting or that other sports teams might want to use lights. “What happens when somebody comes to the district and says his daughter should have lighting for her sport?” Uhring asked. “Then Title IX [the U.S. law requiring gender equality in academic activities, with a focus on sports] comes into effect. This hasn’t even been considered.”

Also at the meeting, the commission will vote on finalizing specific language of its June approval to allow the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to build overnight camping sites at several locations throughout the city. The city, which attempted to get the commission to ban overnight camping in Malibu, has filed a lawsuit challenging the June vote.