Groups Take to the Courtroom in Battle over MHS Field Lights
• Lawsuit Alleges Irreparable Harm to Environment and Alteration of Neighborhood Character
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The Malibu Community Preservation Alliance—a newly formed nonprofit organization, with a charter that proposes to "protect and educate concerning the unique rural character of Malibu, promote civil constructive discourse and open honest government"—and the Malibu Township Council have filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court to "prevent installation of high intensity football stadium lighting at Malibu High School," according to a joint press release issued by the organizations.
The suit seeks to reverse the Malibu City Council's June 26 decision to approve the Santa Monica–Malibu Unified School District's application for permits to allow construction of permanent field lighting at Malibu High.
The council, with Mayor Laura Rosenthal and Councilmember Skylar Peak recused, voted to approve the permits to allow the district to construct four 70-foot-tall poles equipped with lighting fixtures that will generate an estimated 72,000 watts of light, that can potentially be used for 61 nights during the school year, provided uses conform to a series of restrictions imposed by the California Coastal Commission. The council added the condition that the light fixtures must be removed during the summer to lessen the impact of daytime views, a change that must be reviewed and approved by the state architect before construction can begin.
The lawsuit alleges that the proposed lighting, "will do irreparable harm to the unique environment and forever change characteristics of [the] rural community," the press release states.
"It's an egregious violation of the compromise that the community worked hard to achieve with the district," Malibu Township Council spokesperson Steve Uhring said. "In 2010 the community, the SMMUSD and the city achieved a compromise that would allow temporary lighting 16 nights out of the year." The suit alleges that the district and the city "abandoned that compromise."
"This lawsuit seeks a writ of mandate directing Respondents City of Malibu, City Council of the City of Malibu, and Does 1 through 25, inclusive (collectively, "City") to vacate the City's approval of Coastal Development Permit No. 12-024 and Conditional Use Permit No. 12-001 (collectively, "Permits") permitting Real Party in Interest Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District ("District") to install and operate permanent large-scale stadium lighting on the Malibu High School Campus ("School Campus")," states the legal brief filed by attorneys Stanley Lamport and Kathryn J. Paradise of the law firm Cox, Castle & Nicholson.
"In approving the Permits, the City failed to proceed in a manner required by law, abused its discretion and its approval was not supported by substantial evidence in the record," the brief states. "The City also failed to comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code § 21000 et seq. ("CEQA") and state law."
The brief outlines the history of the controversial lighting plan, beginning with the May 2000 California Coastal Commission approval of a district Coastal Development Permit application for the construction of the new gymnasium, and improvements to the athletic field that included a special condition in the form of a deed running with the property that prohibited field lighting to the unpermitted use of temporary lighting in 2003, and the decision in June to send the issue directly to the Malibu City Council instead of the Planning Commission, after the city attorney determined that three members of the planning panel appeared to have cause for recusal.
"The justifications for the recusals in the record do not establish legal grounds for recusal of at least one of the Planning Commission members, whose presence would have established a quorum," the petition states.
"Where, as in this case, a public body is required to take action on a matter but there is a lack of a quorum due to the recusal of members of the body, California law recognizes a "rule of necessity," which requires the body to select one of the members who have been recused to establish a quorum in order for the body to consider and take the action the body is required to perform. The city failed to apply the rule of necessity, and, as a result, the District's applications were referred to the City Council without any hearing or recommendation by the city's Planning Commission."
The petition also alleges that the city failed to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act: "Substantial evidence in the record before the City approved the Permits established that grounds existed that mandated further environmental review of the Project, including, without limitation, (i) that there were changes in the circumstances under which the District's Project would be undertaken that would involve major revisions to the District's prior review as a result of new significant impacts and/or a substantial increase in the severity of impacts previously identified, and (ii) that there was new information of substantial importance that was not previously known and that could not have been known with the exercise of reasonable diligence which demonstrates that the introduction of the lighting subject to the Permits would have significant, unmitigatable and adverse affects on public health."
The petitioners seek 1. a peremptory writ of mandate commanding the city to vacate and set aside the Permits; 2. For an order enjoining the district from carrying out the project; 3. For costs of suit and attorneys' fees incurred herein; and 4. For other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.
"No one is happy that this issue is being litigated," Uhring told the Malibu Surfside News. "If the school district and the city agree to installation of lights based upon the community compromise that was championed by Laura Rosenthal, the lawsuits will go away."