This story has been modified. See Editor’s Note below.
The outdoor athletic field lights at Malibu High School, which have illuminated many victories for Malibu High’s sports teams in the two full seasons since their controversial construction, have now achieved a victory of their own.
An L.A. County Superior Court judge this week ruled in favor of the lights remaining on, denying a petition made in 2012 to block the lights from being constructed.
The complaint against the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD), the City of Malibu and Malibu City Council came from two groups of Malibu stakeholders: Cami Winikoff, Stephen Uhring and the Malibu Community Alliance and the Malibu Community Preservation Alliance.
The suit, which has drawn on for nearly three years, was filed on the grounds that procedures were not properly followed by the City of Malibu.
According to plaintiffs, the city and SMMUSD ignored California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) stipulations since they did not take into consideration certain scientific literature and did not consider the field lights together with other ongoing projects at the high school.
They also alleged that the City Council overstepped its authority by superseding the Planning Commission, which did not discuss the item.
Allegations that the city did not follow procedures were especially offensive to City Attorney Christi Hogin, who said the city went out of its way to be fair.
“One of the reasons I think the decision is important is … the city went out of its way to make sure the decision was made in a fair way, in an unbiased tribunal,” Hogin said. “It was pretty cynical for the plaintiffs to challenge that aspect of it.”
According to Hogin, the issue was not taken up by the Planning Commission because too many of its members had conflicts and were legally unbiased, or “disinterested,” either because they lived too close or had already indicated an opinion on the project.
Hogin’s statement was backed up in the court decision, prepared by L.A. County Judge Richard L. Fruin, Jr.
“The Planning Commission did not act on the School District’s application because it lacked a disinterested quorum,” the decision reads.
Should an appeal be lodged, said Hogin, it’s likely the lights will remain lit throughout the procedure, although it’s “theoretically” possible a judge may order the lights to be turned off while an appeal is underway.
“I think that the momentum is certainly in favor of keeping the lights in place,” Hogin said.
According to Fruin’s decision, the City of Malibu is fully in the right.
“The city did not abuse its discretion in approving the field lights on June 25, 2012. No further environmental study was required for the Field Lights Project,” Fuin wrote.
The SMMUSD reacted favorably to the decision.
“The district is extremely satisfied with the judge’s ruling on upholding the permits for the athletic field lights at Malibu High School. This decision supports the district’s right to maintain and utilize the field lights for the benefit of our students and the community,” Superintendent Sandra Lyon said in a statement provided to The Malibu Times.
“We have been looking forward to this favorable decision since objections were first raised in 2012. Our students will continue to have the opportunity to use this venue to support their educational and extracurricular aspirations,” Lyon continued.
Winikoff did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Editor’s Note: This story originally stated incorrectly that the Malibu Township Council was still a part of the lawsuit. However, MTC withdrew its involvement weeks after it was filed in 2012.