MALIBU — The lights might not be off for good for those popular Friday night high school football games.
Following the California Coastal Commission’s denial earlier this month of a request by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to permit temporary field lights at Malibu High School, city officials said they are now planning to get involved.
The Malibu City Council next Tuesday will be asked to authorize its staff to petition the state commission for an amendment to the Local Coastal Plan, conditionally allowing temporary field lights so that night games can resume.
Stefanie Edmondson, the Malibu acting planning manager, said the entire process could take about a year before it’s heard by the state commission, going through the local Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement Sub Committee, the Planning Commission and then back to the City Council.
“It would have to go through the public review process,” she said. “We’re anticipating to have the same controversy that was evident at the school board hearings.”
The controversy involved a group of neighbors of the school who believe that the lights not only pollute the famously clear evening sky in Malibu, but also adversely impact wildlife in the surrounding area.
District officials are also mulling whether to ask the commission to reconsider its earlier decision.
Superintendent Tim Cuneo said district staff is weighing different options and evaluating the likelihood that the appeal will succeed, noting that it could cost as much as $50,000 to go through the process. The Board of Education will make a decision next Thursday as to whether to proceed with an appeal. The deadline to file for reconsideration is Nov. 6.
“We’re putting everything together so if we make the decision to go forward, we’re ready,” Cuneo said.
In 2000, the commission approved a coastal development permit for SMMUSD to build a new gym, two-story classroom building and to upgrade the track and field facility/football stadium at Malibu High School, 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 use of the athletic facility, according to a commission staff report.
While the district submitted a written agreement acknowledging the conditions, it has operated temporary lights at the football field for the past six years, the report said.
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 district has already removed permanent field lights from its Measure BB construction plans for Malibu High School.
The games have in the meantime been moved earlier in the day, reducing the crowds that came out every week.
“It’s been sparsely attended,” Malibu mom Laura Rosenthal, whose son played for the varsity team last year, said. “It’s very disappointing.”
Football Coach Ray Humphrey said that while his players understand the situation, they are disappointed that the games have been moved to the afternoon, especially for the seniors who grew up in the program.
The final home game this season — homecoming — will be played at 2:30 p.m. The team considered moving the game to Santa Monica College but decided to keep it at home.
“To play under the light brings out the crowd, brings out the community and you don’t get that at day games,” Humphrey said. “It brings people together and community together.”