City Council Approves LCP Amendments to Allow 18 Nights of Lighting for Malibu High Sports Events
• Contentious Issue Now Goes before the California Coastal Commission
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
After lengthy public testimony and what was described as a “short, confused and ferocious” debate, the Malibu City Council unanimously approved amendments to the city’s municipal code and Local Coastal Program that open the door for nighttime athletic practices Monday through Thursday until 7:30 p.m. during Pacific Standard Time, which generally begins on the first Sunday of November and ends on the second Sunday of March. The council also approved a maximum of 18 Friday night games ending at 10:30 p.m. during Standard Time. The amendment will now be sent to the California Coastal Commission for approval.
Athletic field lighting at MHS is currently prohibited in the City of Malibu’s LCP and the municipal code. The school property is also subject to a deed restriction prohibiting lighting at the campus that was a requirement imposed by the Coastal Commission as part of a 1999 Coastal Development Permit issued to the school.
Prior to 2009, unpermitted temporary lighting had been in use at the school for a limited number of football and homecoming activities for six years. A district plan, unveiled in 2008 as part of the campus’s Measure BB-funded improvements, that included installation of permanent lights for up to 200-plus nights a year generated public outcry from west Malibu residents, and touched off a series of chain reactions that observers say have polarized the community.
In an apparent effort to circumvent the City of Malibu’s authority and take its request for a night lighting permit directly to the Coastal Commission, the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Board of Education approved a resolution in 2009 exempting the district from the City of Malibu’s municipal code. However, the district’s attempt to obtain permission for 14 nights of lighting at the Malibu campus was unanimously denied by the coastal agency, on the basis that it violated the LCP.
The district turn-ed to the City of Malibu, to attempt to revise the LCP. The amendment presented to the Malibu City Council on March 23 was developed by city staff, with input from a series of public meetings by the Zoning Ordinance Revision and Code Enforcement Subcommittee and the city planning commission.
“We’ve been working with 16 [nights] for over a year,” Malibu High School senior Hap Henry said. “We’re comfortable with that, the residents are comfortable with that. We want to get it right this time.”
“The Coastal Commission has say whether we like it or not. Let’s be smart about it,” City Council candidate Laura Rosenthal, who has been one of the prime advocates for the lighting plan, said.
City Council candidate Mike Sidley did not agree. It’s not necessary to go to Coastal, Malibu needs lights.” Sidley said. “Temporary lights are not a viable option. They should be used only until a permanent agreement can be reached.”
One Malibu High School student called Malibu Park residents “egotistical” for opposing the lighting plan. A number of Malibu Park residents expressed frustration at what they perceived as a lack of support from their elected officials.
“Not one city council member stood up for residents,” Malibu Township Council president Steve Uhring said. “The residents banded together [to oppose the school district’s plan]. 200 nights are still on the shelf. There is no real protection.”
Mayor Sharon Barovsky blasted opponents of the lighting plan. “The people who drove to Long Beach should be ashamed of themselves,” she said, presumably referring to the Coastal Comm-ission hearing in Oceanside, where the coastal agency unanimously rejected a school district request for 14 nights of lighting after hearing environmental evidence presented by Malibu residents and Sierra Club representatives.
Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich also took exception to the environmental impact concerns expressed by some speakers.
“Children are mammals, animals. They should be protected,” she said. It appeared to be the only point she and Barovsky agreed on. Barovsky repeatedly called Conley Ulich to order during the discussion and issued reprimands ranging from telling her “Pam, you aren’t going to get what you want,” to accusing her of “filibustering.”
Conley Ulich argued for eliminating restrictions on the lighting plan. “There are 52 Friday nights,” she said, “What if there’s a new sport in 50 years [that is played on Friday nights]?” she asked.
“I think we need to step back and take a reality check,” Councilmember Jefferson Wagner said. “Most homeowners had no problem with 16 nights. If you make a change, you will invite a CEQA challenge. You will be telling Coastal that you changed your mind at the last minute.”
City Attorney Christi Hogan confirmed that, “in theory,” the LCP amendment as written would be exempt from CEQA. “CEQA comes at the Conditional Use Permit,” she said. “It comes from us.”
“This just came before us tonight,” Councilmember Andy Stern replied. “I don’t think it’s last minute.”
“I’m trying to respect what the community had input on,” Wagner said. “They indicated 16 nights was livable. Acceptable. To change that is going to disrupt.”
After additional discussion, the council agreed to increase the maximum number of Friday nights from 16 to 18. but also to allow for the potentially open-ended use of practice time Monday-Thursday until 7:30 p.m. from November until March.
“No one could complain about that,” Barovsky said. “Oh, I take that back.” “No one could complain about that,” Barovsky said, adding, “Oh, I take that back.”
The council also agreed to eliminate the word “temporary.” Several council members suggested that permanent lighting could potentially have less of an environmental impact than temporary, removable lighting.
As part of the LCP amendment, a Conditional Use Permit would be required before the school district could proceed with a lighting schedule. Any changes to the initial CUP agreement would require a new CUP application. The school district has exempted itself from Malibu municipal code but must comply with the LCP, the council said, allowing the city to maintain local control over lighting use.
The amendment will now be submitted to Coastal for final approval.
“How realistic is it, even if it went full steam ahead, to have an amendment by fall?” queried Councilmember John Sibert.
“The ball moves to the Coastal Commission’s court. We have to pressure Coastal to move,” the city attorney replied.
“This can be a year,” Sibert said.
The city planner stated that the LCP amendment could be included in a package being prepared for submittal to the Coastal Commission in June or July and expressed the hope that the item would be heard at a Southern California venue, and not in Eureka. “I can’t guarantee [that],” she said.
“There are none,” Sibert replied.