Residents speak out against school lighting

A subcommittee is working on language for an amendment permitting temporary athletic field lighting at Malibu High School.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu City Council Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement Subcommittee held a special meeting Tuesday to hear further commentary from the public on the contentious issue of temporary lighting at Malibu High School.

In response to the council’s request to amend the Local Coastal Program Amendment, or LCPA, and Zoning Text Amendment’s language on the issue, associate Planner Joseph Smith’s report recommended changes for conditional use at the high school to permit temporary lighting for sports activities.

The meeting, attended by residents close to the high school, reflected a nearly unanimous sentiment against issuing permits for even restricted use.

Subcommittee member John Mazza pointed out that the City Council tasked the subcommittee to prepare language for an amendment permitting temporary lighting.

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“The council said, ‘Propose an ordinance,’” Mazza said. “We can’t just say there won’t be any lights. That’s not our job. So let’s see how we can codify this amendment and really concentrate on the LCP language.”

Mazza also noted that the school district had passed a resolution that would override municipal code. “We need to tighten up the language,” Mazza said. “Limit the lighting period to specific sports, specific days and specific hours.”

Subcommittee member John Sibert agreed, saying “We need to craft language that will hold the school district’s feet to the fire. The only way to do that is through the LCP.”

Sibert also said that he personally supports temporary lighting at the high school, with “strict restrictions” on usage, such as having 10:30 p.m. as the cutoff hour.

Subcommittee member Ed Gillespie supported reinserting language requiring at least 80 percent of neighbors within a radius of the high school to approve of any temporary lighting usage, but said that the radius should be increased from 500 feet to 1,000 feet.

Subcommittee member Jefferson Wagner was concerned that a question of violating Title 9 (the federal amendment prohibiting discrimination against girls’ athletic programs) would be an issue if the lighting were allowed only for varsity football games, then chuckled when someone pointed out that there was a girl on the high school football team.

The subcommittee will present all petitions and public commentary to the full City Council when it makes a final recommendation.

Resident Steve Shenkman began public commentary by noting that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is exempt from following municipal code.

“The LCPA must have a binding agreement that strictly defines permitted usage because the district can override city code,” Shenkman said, adding, “The last draft called for 80 percent of nearby residents giving consent for the lighting and that point has been taken out of this draft. It should be put back in.”

Issues of lighting affecting the local wildlife and privacy of neighboring homes also irked local area residents.

“Those lights are a huge invasion of the privacy of homes that were built there long before Malibu High School,” Lucille Keller said.

Not all the public commentary was hostile to the temporary lighting plan. Jan Maez, assistant superintendent for the SMMUSD district, said she felt confident that the LCPA language could be shaped to address residents’ concerns, yet allow the high school football team to practice and compete.

Hap Henry, associate student body president at MHS and a football player, said he generally supports the new draft permitting temporary conditional use, but that there was room for negotiation.

“I don’t think we need to expand the hours of permitted use to midnight,” Henry said. “Our games are over with by 9:30. And even though the plan says we could be permitted 16 nights a year, that schedule would carry us through to a championship and, well, that’s just never happened.”

Henry also pointed out that the cost of the electricity used by the lights was all paid for by private donations, using no taxpayer dollars.

One woman, who declined to give her name, said, “I’m in favor of temporary lights, with language in the draft that can change as the community grows. Our future shouldn’t be handcuffed by today’s rules.”

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