MALIBU — Residents here have filed suit against City Hall and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in an attempt to stop the installation of lights at the Malibu High School football field.
In a complaint filed July 25, the Malibu Township Council and Malibu Community Preservation Alliance accused the Malibu City Council of circumventing the public process by approving a permit to install field lighting at the school without first getting a recommendation from the city’s Planning Commission.
They also allege that City Hall violated environmental laws by approving the lights without what it considered an appropriate environmental review.
The groups hope that a judge will tell the district that it can’t move forward with work on the lighting project until the matter is settled.
Some residents are upset because they feel that the City Council betrayed their trust by approving four permanent 70-foot light standards, and allowed them to be lit 61 nights out of the year so that members of youth sports teams may use the field at night.
That’s two weeks less than the California Coastal Commission allowed when it approved a change to the Local Coastal Program to allow the lights in October 2011.
It’s a great deal more than Cami Winikoff, of the Malibu Community Preservation Alliance, would like.
Those against the lights hold that the City Council promised in 2010 that there would be lighting only 16 nights out of the year.
“There was a deal between the community, the city and the school about these lights, and they essentially blew it off,” Winikoff said.
Christi Hogin, the Malibu city attorney, disagrees.
The Malibu Planning Commission did not review the plan because of conflicts of interest. Of the five members on the board, one lived within 500 feet of the high school, a second was actively working to raise money to pay for the purchase and installation of the lights and a third had donated to the cause.
Under the deal with the school district, Malibu residents are responsible for paying for the cost of the project, which is estimated to be over $600,000. Parents gave $250,000 to help offset the cost of the lights to the Board of Education at that group’s July 18 meeting.
It would have been impossible to hold an impartial meeting on the lights under those conditions, Hogin said.
“Three of the five had an evident predisposition,” Hogin said. “The city holds itself to the highest ethical standards, and they were recused. We kicked it to the City Council which could put together a majority without any of those conflicts.”
As far as the environmental allegations go, the California Environmental Quality Act asks only that City Hall understand the environmental impact, which it did, Hogin said.
Under the compromise approved by the City Council, the lights may stay on until 7:30 p.m. between the first Sunday in November and the second Sunday in March for 45 days.
They may be lit until 10:30 p.m. up to 16 times, but not on two consecutive nights and not more than twice per week between Sept. 1 and May 31.
The goal was to allow the field to be lit for Friday night football games and other sporting events, but it ran afoul of residents who cherished the dark skies of Malibu, Hogin said.
“There’s the long American tradition of Friday night football games as a community event and the desire to have a world class high school with a competitive football program on the one hand, and on the other hand you have a rural residential community that values dark skies and the wildlife habitat and is very careful in its development standards to make sure that development is not too intrusive,” Hogin said.
It’s unclear at this point if the lawsuit will stop progress on the lights.
District officials were served with the suit on Monday, and have sent it to their attorneys for review.
In the meantime, the Malibu Community Preservation Alliance is hoping for a compromise, Winikoff said.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we had to do what we had to do to show that we were serious,” Winikoff said. “We’re totally open to (settlement).”