MALIBU HIGH — Malibu football players will bask in the glow of Friday night lights at their homecoming next week thanks to a court ruling that allows the use of the new lights until the next hearing on Nov. 8.
The ruling buys more time for neighbors who oppose the lights for largely aesthetic reasons and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, Malibu City Hall and pro-lights parents to work out a compromise in terms of how many nights the lights can be used and how long the 70-foot poles that support the lights can be erected.
Neighbors complain that the light disrupts the now-famous dark skies of Malibu, and that the poles are an eyesore.
Cami Winikoff, a member of the Malibu Community Preservation Alliance, said that the ruling was a victory for both sides.
“The [alliance] is hopeful that this means the community can now reach a reasonable compromise where the students get lighted athletic fields but the community gets to maintain extended period of dark skies and no poles,” Winikoff said.
Those working to raise the over $600,000 needed to purchase and install the lights are also thrilled, said Seth Jacobson, with the Shark Fund.
“It’s very exciting that our homecoming celebration will be under lights,” Jacobson said. “The hundreds of parents and businesses that contributed to the lights campaign are very excited that the lights will finally be a reality.”
The ruling is another stalemate in a long-fought battle to get permanent lights installed at the Malibu High School field, one that has spanned over a decade and several governmental agencies and processes to iron out the kinks.
In the early 2000s, former Malibu High School Principal Mike Matthews allowed the use of portable lights at games. That violated a coastal development permit that the school district held with the Coastal Commission, but it wasn’t reported for many years.
After Measure BB, a $268 million bond, was passed roughly eight years later, the district approached the Coastal Commission with the goal of adapting the permit to allow lights as part of the bond.
The district hit a roadblock with the commission, however, because lights weren’t permitted under the Local Coastal Plan developed by the city of Malibu.
It wasn’t until early 2012 that the plan was cleared and the environmental work could begin to greenlight the lights, at which point the matter would have gone to the Malibu Planning Commission.
That’s where things got hairy.
Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin informed the commission that it could not hear the matter because several planning commissioners were involved either in fundraising for the lights or lived nearby the proposed site.
She also disqualified two City Council members, Laura Rosenthal and Skylar Peak. The City Council eventually voted to allow the lights with the caveat that they be up no more than 61 nights of the year.
Lights could be on until 10:30 p.m. for 16 of those, and the remainder they could only be on until 7:30 p.m. Furthermore, the lights would have to go up on Sept. 1 and come down by May 31 of the next year in order to lessen the visual impact on neighbors.
After that approval, a coalition of two community groups — the Malibu Township Council and the Malibu Community Preservation Alliance — filed suit.
They held that the City Council had done an end run around public process by cutting out the Planning Commission, and that they’d violated environmental laws by approving the lights without further environmental review.
The lawsuit put a damper on plans to get the lights up in time for the 2012 football season, although Malibu parents supportive of the lights continued to raise money and work with the district to get the lights installed.
This week, the plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order that would have stopped work on installing the light poles. As of this week, workers were already pouring foundations for the lights, said Jan Maez, chief financial officer with the district.
Instead, the judge allowed limited use of the lights, satisfying both sides of the argument.
The alliance, district and City Hall still have to iron out a few issues, including making sure the poles that support the lights can be removed, the number of months that they’re up and the number of nights that the lights will be in use, Winikoff said.
The pro-lights contingent is open to discussion, but expects the alliance to be back in court on Nov. 8, Jacobson said.
“Between now and then, we stand ready to find a permanent solution to this issue that is in the best interests of the entire Malibu community,” he said.
For now, however, parents and district officials alike are celebrating the fact that this year, homecoming will be well-lit.
“I’m elated, and looking forward to watching the Sharks win under the lights next Friday!” said school board President Ben Allen.