MALIBU — On a clear night, the scenery can’t be beat.
Far from the light pollution of Los Angeles is a pure sight of the night sky that is hard to come by on the Westside — a vision of what seems like an infinite number of stars, sparkling like brilliant-cut diamonds.
But there’s a group of residents in the Malibu Park neighborhood who feel the view, as well as their overall quality of life, could be in jeopardy if school district officials move ahead with erecting permanent field lights at Malibu High School as part of its Measure BB campus modernization project.
The proposal, as well as a rough estimate by administrators that the athletic fields would be illuminated for no more than 203 nights a year, is causing waves among some high school neighbors who believe that the lights would destroy what they described as a community with a small-town vibe.
“There’s a group of us very concerned about the environment, about the ambiance of living in Malibu Park,” said Victoria Epstein, a 22-year resident who signed a petition opposing the proposal. “It’s a country community, not a big city.”
District officials are planning on hosting a community workshop concerning the field lights issue, according to Superintendent Tim Cuneo. A date has not been set for the meeting.
The field is currently lit about seven nights every year for home football games using temporary stands that are rented by parents at a cost of approximately $25,000 a season, according to Malibu High School Principal Mark Kelly.
But that donation might put the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District out of compliance with its California Coastal Commission permit, which prohibits temporary and permanent field lights at MHS.
The Board of Education earlier this month hired CAA Planning for more than $24,000 to prepare the necessary paperwork to amend its permit with the California Coastal Commission, hoping to correct a violation that has apparently been going on for several years. Cuneo said he believes the parents will continue to financially provide the temporary lights if the change to the permit is approved.
The district is also in the process of launching an environmental assessment on the permanent field lights, which officials said is still a long way off from even being installed. If economically feasible, the lights would be added during the second phase of the MHS campus remodel project.
“Once we have the data back and know what the potential uses are, there will be more discussion of what is going to be involved,” Board of Education President Ralph Mechur said about the number of nights the field lights would be on and for what use.
While neighbors of the high school have differing opinions on the presence of field lights, all agree that 203 is an excessive number.
The estimate was based on the assumption that the school would have a full athletic program — consisting of boys and girls freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams for fall, winter and spring sports — and thriving joint-use agreement with Malibu City Hall, a scenario that is far from the status quo.
“I presented (the number ) as sometime in the future should Malibu High grow larger and there be three levels of competition in the fall, winter and spring sports and we’re able to do night activities,” Kelly said. “In my lifetime, I could not see that happening.”
Laura Rosenthal, a school parent whose oldest son plays high school football, said that she believes neighbors and district administrators can reach a compromise on the final number, agreeing that 203 is unrealistic.
She is among Malibu Park residents who are in favor of the lights, but understands the concerns that the lights would impact those who live closest to the field.
The lights would only be used a few nights a week, mostly during the late fall and winter months when the days are shorter, she said.
Rosenthal added that it’s important to have the lights for the school to continue hosting Friday night football games, which gives youth in the community a place to gather.
“As everyone who lives in Malibu knows, there is nothing for teenagers to do on a Friday night,” Rosenthal said. “There is no place for them to congregate.”
Barry Snell, the school board vice president, said he believes the estimate was overstated and can be negotiated.
He said the actual number of nights will fall around 20-30 a year.
“We are going to be very sensitive to the community,” he said. “Through discussion we will find some kind of compromise.”
For Epstein, the greatest concern is the impact that the lights could have on the overall character of the neighborhood.
Epstein criticized the district for what she said was little advanced notice to residents about the proposal to put up permanent field lights, which she learned through a blurb in the local Malibu newspaper.
She refuted claims made by some that the opponents are only thinking about themselves and are out to hurt the school, arguing that they are also saving the community for the students.
“They act like we don’t want their children to have sports,” she said. “We want them to have sports and a good environment.”