School District Delays Action on MHS Lights
• Outlines Restrictions and Impacts
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board of education opted at its June 25 meeting to postpone voting on two critical and controversial components of the school district’s attempt to obtain a permit for temporary athletic field lighting at Malibu High School. An attempt to install permanent field lighting at the campus as part of Measure BB funded improvements revealed the fact that the school has been operating temporary lighting without a permit.
Temporary and permanent athletic field lighting violates both Malibu’s Local Coastal Program and a special condition imposed on the MHS property by the California Coastal Commission. The June 25 agenda contained a resolution to attempt an override of the City of Malibu’s Local Coastal Program. That item has now been moved to a special meeting on July 1 at the district offices in Santa Monica. The board will also be voting on July 1 to adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration developed by staff and consultants for the temporary lighting project.
An errata section has been added to the MND, clarifying several items. The errata acknowledges that lights have been in use for six instead of seven years. It also acknowledges that complains about the lights were received. The district had maintained that no complaints were ever received from residents. That statement has now been modified to no “formal” complaints, after a barrage of letters from residents describing numerous and multiple complaints made to school authorities.
Other changes include an increase in the number of generators from one 50 kW generator to two, which are now estimated to produce 62.17 decibels instead of the 42.50 decibels originally stated. The district has also accepted evidence for the City of Malibu that the nearest residence is 550 feet from the field, not 1000 feet as stated in the MND.
An operating plan with a number of restrictions has also been added. The revised plan restricts lighting to football games and practices; requires the posting of signs describing the permitted lighting use; and limits the use of the portable lights to “eight football practices until 7:30 p.m. and eight football games until 10:30 p.m.” for a maximum total of 62 hours per year.
The new restrictions also stipulate that “the temporary lights shall only remain on the athletic field during the football season and shall be removed thereafter; and that the district will contract with a third party vendor to monitor the athletic field and ensure that the program is “compliant,” and offers the assurance that “if the portable lights are used in excess of the 16 nights, the next football season shall be prohibited from using lights on the athletic field.”
According to district staff, once the resolution and MND are in place, the next step will be presenting the appeal to the Coastal Commission. Project supporters are hoping this can be accomplished before the start of the fall football season. Night games are already on the athletic program agenda.
The MHS field lighting issues were postponed, but the board voted to proceed with another controversial issue: a district plan to take two private homes in Santa Monica through eminent domain to make way for a measure BB funded expansion of Edison Language Academy Charter School, a bilingual magnet elementary school located in the Pico neighborhood in Santa Monica that serves both district and out-of-district children. The two families have repeatedly refused to sell their homes.
Shinobu Maruyama, who has lived in her home since 1952, was offered $1.89 million for her property, which is next door to the school. Maruyama’s next-door neighbor Mary Hernandez has lived in her home since 1966, raising four children there. After renting the house for years, the Hernandez family was able to purchase the property in 1999. They have received an offer of $1.99 million from the district. Both women have stated that they do not wish to sell and that they would not be able to afford to continue to live in the area if the district forces them out.
“As of this date, in spite of the district’s good faith efforts at negotiated acquisition, no agreements have been reached with Maruyama and Hernandez,” the staff report for the June 25 meeting stated. The report also stated that it has always been the district’s preference to purchase the homes through negotiations, not eminent domain.
“I don’t even want to think about not living there,” Hernandez said. “It’s going to be hard.”
Oscar de la Torre was the only member of the board who opposed the resolution. “The acquisition of the land is a benefit for the future of public education in the community and I respect everyone’s vote, but for me personally it was something that I just couldn’t do,” de la Torre said, pointing out the irony that the new dual-language academy will be displacing residents who represent the ethnic and economic diversity the school is intended to serve.
The resolution adopted by the board will authorize the district to seek court-granted authority as a government entity to take the private land for public use. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has six months to file the necessary paperwork in court. According to the staff report, the district will be required to make several findings, including showing that the parcels are needed for the project. The district will also have to prove that the project “is planned or located in a manner that will be most compatible with the greatest public good and least private injury.” The district will also be required to pay “fair market value” for the properties. The owners are expected to challenge the district’s legal right to eminent domain.
The board’s decision to approve the resolution is being criticized by district observers who have been calling for a rethink of the Edison expansion plan in light of rapidly declining attendance and the district’s current $12 million deficit.
Santa Monica resident and education activist Jim Jaffe, in an open letter to the school board dated June 13, called for the district to “revisit the need for building a new Edison school and other BB projects in light of pessimistic enrollment projections and economic conditions.”
“Malibu parents need to know what the district is doing in town and not just at home,” one parent told the Malibu Surfside News. “[The district has] money to pay to tear down houses and build new buildings but they don’t have enough money to keep the buildings they already have open, staffed and maintained. They just shut down one of Samohi’s six houses. We keep hearing that they’re going to close Point Dume [Elementary School], but they have the money to do this [at Edison]. It’s crazy”