MALIBU — The high school football games under the Friday night lights will now be played beneath the late afternoon sun.
The California Coastal Commission on Thursday denied a request to allow the use of temporary field lights at Malibu High School for 16 evenings out of the year, including during eight football games and practices.
MHS officials are now rescheduling remaining home games this month to 3:30 p.m. and likely even earlier for all meetings after daylight-saving time ends on the first Sunday in November. The team’s game on Friday against Los Angeles Baptist was also scheduled to kick off in the afternoon.
“We knew this was a possibility so there had already been previous discussions with the schools and their athletic directors,” Principal Mark Kelly said.
A representative for the commission was unavailable for comment on Friday as to why officials decided to deny the request.
It was disappointing news to parents who said the Friday night games were also a community event, a safe place for kids to play and adults to catch up with neighbors, bringing together in a few cases thousands of residents, some of whom don’t have children enrolled at the public high school.
Laura Rosenthal, whose eldest son played on the team last season and younger child is on junior varsity, said she attended an afternoon game last week, which drew a considerably smaller crowd that was noticeably absent of parents who were still at work.
“It’s really night and day — literally and figuratively,” Rosenthal said. “When you have a night game, the community comes out.
“Two years ago at the homecoming game we had the largest crowd ever to assemble — almost 2,000 people, which is incredible for a town of 15,000.”
Rosenthal said the parents are not giving up and are considering exercising civil disobedience.
While the games have been celebrated by many, the use of the lights has also drawn criticism from neighbors who believe they not only pollute the famously sparkling evening sky in Malibu, but also adversely impact wildlife in the surrounding area.
The commission received a slew of letters from neighbors urging that it deny the request from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Included in the pile is a letter from Kenneth and Carol Gable who said they feared that approving the temporary lights would lead to the installation of permanent field lights as part of the district’s Measure BB-funded construction project at the high school.
“Contrary to the school district’s position, night lighting of the athletic field will create a visual impact on nearby scenic areas in the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains and on Zuma Beach,” they wrote. “It will take away our dark skies and impact our sunsets, which are the most beautiful in the fall season when many people hike the trails at sunset in order to take advantage of these views.”
In 2000, the commission approved a coastal development permit to the SMMUSD to construct a new gymnasium, two-story classroom building and upgrade the track and field facility/football stadium, attaching a series of conditions that held the district to a promise that it would not use field lights, temporary or permanent.
While the stadium upgrade project did not call for field lights, the commission still felt it was necessary to attach the ban to protect nearby scenic areas and native wildlife from disturbances related to nighttime uses of the athletic facility, according to a commission staff report.
“The commission had found that night lighting of areas in the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains area creates a visual impact to nearby scenic beaches, scenic roads, parks and trails,” the staff report said. “In addition, the commission found that night lighting may alter or disrupt feeding, nesting and roosting activities of native wildlife species.”
While the district submitted a written agreement acknowledging the conditions, it has operated temporary night lights at the football field for the past six years, the report said. Those lights were rented by parents at a cost of approximately $25,000 a season.
In its recent request to the commission, the district asked that the coastal development permit be amended to remove the condition restricting field lighting. The denial by the commission will also mean the district would be unlikely to successfully request permanent field lights in the future. Superintendent Tim Cuneo said the district has not thought about appealing yet.
The permanent lighting structures were originally included in the Measure BB construction project for Malibu High School but later nixed.
“We had hoped that through these temporary lights for the football season we could demonstrate how they would be used and at a later date if we had funding, we could come back and ask for permanent lighting,” Cuneo said.
Several parents have also questioned the district in requesting just 16 total nights for the temporary field lights, which leaves out all other sports.
Cuneo said the number was a compromise with the neighbors who had concerns about the lights.
The district was proposing to use five, 53-foot light standards until 7:30 p.m., for Thursday night practices and 10:30 p.m. for Friday games.
Hans Laetz, a neighbor of the school, said the light will not have an adverse impact on wildlife nor are they visible from Pacific Coast Highway or any park.
“It’s tragic that Malibu kids are denied the same opportunity that Santa Monica kids enjoy and that kids up and down the California coast enjoy,” Laetz said. “There are field lights next to coastal estuaries at UC Santa Barbara and on the San Diego Bay up and down the coast.”
Rosenthal, who has been attending the games for the past seven years, said the Friday night games gave the local youth a place to gather in a town where there are few attractive hang-out spots.
She added that the majority of people in the neighborhood bought their houses knowing there was a school there. While the high school came later, the district did own a large plot of land that was “ready to be used.”
“Ninety percent of towns in this country have Friday night football games and we are not going to be one of them anymore,” she said.