MALIBU — Sports may be on hiatus at Malibu High School for the summer, but the ongoing controversy over the school’s new stadium lights knows no season.
Disagreements between several different parties is resulting in what may come to a $50,000 loss to partially take down and then put up the lights over the summer, all while no sports are played at night. The district maintains it is the responsibility of Malibu High’s fundraising arm to pay for the work, while the Shark Fund says it cannot raise money while it is in ongoing litigation with a local homeowners group.
The four 70-foot light poles were partially dismantled for the summer on May 29 at a cost of nearly $20,000 to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD). The district then sent a notification to the Shark Fund indicating the athletics fundraising group is responsible for the fees incurred to remove eight crossbars.
“It’s the district’s responsibility [to remove the crossbars] because we are the property owner, but the lights were supported by the Shark Fund,” Jan Maez, SMMUSD chief financial officer said. “We expect them to pay the cost on a yearly basis.”
In addition to reimbursing the district for removing the lights, the Shark Fund is also responsible to pay the storage fees when the lights are not in use — June 1 through Aug. 31.
The four 70-foot stadium lights were installed at Malibu High last October. The Malibu City Council voted to have the lights taken down during the summer as a compromise to the Malibu Community Alliance (MCA), a group of homeowners in the surrounding area that opposed the permanent fixtures.
However, when making that decision, Malibu Mayor Joan House said the council did not consider the costs to remove and store the lights.
Now House would like to revisit the issue of who pays for removing the lights. She suggested having the homeowners in Malibu Park, and those that belong to MCA, which has filed a lawsuit against the school district opposing the lights, pay for the cost every other year.
According to Seth Jacobson, former president of the Shark Fund, the notification from SMMUSD indicates it costs nearly $7,500 to store the light fixtures for the summer. The Shark Fund currently owes the district nearly $175,000 for the lights campaign that also includes out-of-pocket costs related to the installation.
On June 6, at the Board of Education meeting, Jacobson presented to the board in response to the invoice received from SMMUSD. He told the board the Shark Fund could not accommodate the notice at the present time because of a pending lawsuit that the MCA is currently pursuing.
“It is hard to raise money when we don’t know if the lights are going to come down or not,” Jacobson said. “We are looking to meet with [the district] to come up with a plan.”
According to Jacobson, the Shark Fund has not attempted to collect additional funds but collected $466,658.70 to date for the lights campaign. The Shark Fund paid out $175,000 to Musco Lighting, the light manufacturers, and made a payment to the district last July in the amount of $250,000. The lights campaign currently has about $11,300 left in its account.
The total cost for the lights campaign was $705,000, Jacobson said.
But MCA members Cami Winikoff and Todd Kesselman think the lights campaign has cost the district, and Malibu Park residents, a lot more than that.
MCA’s figures have the lights campaign costing over $1.1 million, including over $225,000 in litigation costs to defend itself against the MCA lawsuit. In January, Maez said litigation costs would reach at least $100,000.
Winikoff said she has nothing against having temporary lights set up for 16 nights a year, which she maintains follows an original agreement between the district and the Malibu Planning Commission in 2010.
“The Shark Fund said no taxpayers would pay for these lights,” Winikoff said. “The Shark Fund has only reimbursed the district $400,000 and it’s cost over $1 million.”
The total cost of the project is expected to rise, since there is still a pending lawsuit between MCA against the city of Malibu and the district. That case has gone to trial and a decision is expected in late January 2014.
Meanwhile, the lights still have to be put back up in the fall.
Stuart Sam, director for Facility Improvement Projects at SMMUSD, confirmed that RDM Electric removed the crossbars at Malibu High. Bids will go out later this summer to see what company will put them back up. Sam said the cost to reattach the fixtures would most likely have a similar price tag as it was to take them down — nearly $20,000.
“The [lights] project has been very expensive for the district, which despite promises to the contrary was left to cover the majority of the costs,” Kesselman wrote in an e-mail.
Winikoff and Kesselman said they want to know where the out-of-pocket money is coming from. At a January SMMUSD board meeting, Maez said the out-of-pocket costs were being paid from the district’s General Fund. On March 13, she refuted that and said the funds were coming from the district’s capital facility fund.
SMMUSD officials are expecting the Shark Fund to reimburse the district for all fees.
“If they don’t make a payment, that is something we will have to discuss with our senior cabinet and the Board of Education,” Maez said.
This story first appeared in The Malibu Times.