MALIBU HIGH — Malibu High School may yet see the return of lights to its nighttime sporting events, a moment five years in the making.

In a drastic shift, the Coastal Commission staff has recommended that the commission approve a modified proposal on today’s agenda to allow the city of Malibu limited ability to permit lights at the high school athletic fields.

The proposal would allow lights at the field three days per week until 7:30 p.m. between September and May.

For 18 nights in those months, the lights could remain on until 10:30 p.m., with the added restriction that the lights would only stay on that long two, non-consecutive nights of that three-night maximum.

In effect, that means 75 nights out of the year that the fields could have any kind of lighting.

To keep the impact low, the lights would be directed downward and shielded using the “best available visor technology,” pole height and design that minimizes glow and glare visible from other parts of Malibu.

The changes would allow some night games for the football, lacrosse and soccer seasons.

That’s an exciting possibility for the school, which has had to restrict the hours of its sporting events to day-games only, said Principal Mark Kelly.

“It’s been a long and winding road to where we are right now,” Kelly said. “We feel like this is the option that we hope will produce the results that we want, which is to have night events at Malibu High.”

Lights will give working parents the opportunity to attend events they would otherwise have to skip, and help foster a sense of community, Kelly said.

Not all are thrilled with the idea of lit games.

John Ainsworth, a neighbor of the school in Malibu Park, wrote to the commission in protest.

“Or (sic) past experiences with lights as Malibu High School show that they create an environment that turns a rural neighborhood into the likes of a brightly lit industrial neighborhood,” Ainsworth wrote.

The noise and lights from the field make it difficult to enjoy television, conversation or sleep, Ainsworth continued.

“We suggest that those of you who do not live in the neighborhood cannot understand the intrusion without having endured it,” he wrote.

Since the publication of the staff report, the Coastal Commission has received 52 letters denouncing the plan, and 455 in favor.

The Coastal Commission banned lights at the sports fields in 2000 when the Santa Monica-Malibu School District applied for the right to build a new gym at the site.

Administrators continued to use temporary lighting until 2006, when the Coastal Commission shut them down, according to the staff report.

Up until now, the Coastal Commission has maintained that the lights didn’t fit into the “rural and scenic character” of Malibu, and that they presented a threat to local wildlife, particularly migratory birds.

Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom was appointed to the Coastal Commission in December 2009, after the last attempt to approve the lights had been unanimously denied.

The controversy sprang up at the last minute, which surprised many people, Bloom said.

“From my perspective, we’re looking forward, not back,” he said. “There’s a strong staff recommendation, and I have not heard a single negative comment at this point.”

Although he hoped to be able to support students playing sports, Bloom reserved his ultimate judgment until after hearing the public’s comments today.

Through this action, the city of Malibu would be empowered with the ability to grant a coastal development permit and a conditional use permit to the school for the lights during the proscribed periods, said planner Joseph Smith.

“This is creating a mechanism for us,” Smith said. “As part of those two permits, anything could be modified, as long as it fits in the box.”

That means that any request by the school to post lights will have to go through a full public process before the Malibu Planning Commission.

City officials hope that will give some peace to the hundreds of Malibu residents who have voiced opposition to the lights on environmental and personal grounds that might take the amendment as a “gimme” to the school.

Instead, Malibu City Hall would like to frame the discussion in terms of local control.

“The whole point of this entire package is that we’re trying to make a local mechanism that can be modified, shaped and changed however the City feels is necessary,” Smith said.

City officials could impose additional restrictions on the school, like an annual review if the lights cause a major problem for neighbors, or a limit on the number of lights allowed at the field.

One way or another, if the Coastal Commission approves the amendment, it isn’t the last step.

The language, which was modified slightly by the Coastal Commission staff, will go back to the Malibu City Council for a final vote with the recommendation of city staff.

Then the school will need to apply for the two permits needed to run the lights, which will not be approved until it provides a plan to monitor the effects of the lights on migrating birds, said City Biologist Dave Crawford.

“We’re still working out the final points of that plan,” Crawford said.

The meeting was scheduled for 9 a.m. today in Huntington Beach.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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