HUNTINGTON BEACH — Sports fans took home a win Wednesday when the California Coastal Commission gave the city of Malibu the authority to permit lights at the Malibu High School sports field.

The unanimous decision came quickly for the 12 commissioners after hours of testimony by athletes, parents and school officials speaking in favor of the lights and a coalition of neighbors opposing them on personal and ecological grounds.

Under the conditions of the vote, Malibu city officials can allow the school to have lights over the field on until 7:30 p.m. three days per week between the months of September and May.

Eighteen days of the year, the lights would be on until 10:30 p.m. to allow for late night games for either football, soccer or lacrosse teams.

The lights became a rallying cry for student athletes and their parents who argued that the lack of night games cut the heart out of the school’s social calendar and prevented parents from watching their children play.

“I’m telling you this is the largest crowd of Malibu people to gather since our last homecoming under the lights,” said Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Laura Zahn Rosenthal.

The solution proposed by city staff keeps the number of lit hours to 159.5 per year, Rosenthal said.

“I think it’s a great compromise,” she said.

Some residents disagreed.

Judi Hutchinson, a 43-year-resident of Malibu Park, a neighborhood immediately adjacent to the high school, argued that the impact of the lights would be harmful to migratory birds, and disrupt the natural beauty of Malibu.

Tourists come to watch whales, star gaze and go on full-moon hikes, she said.

“I don’t see how you can approve any amendment that has the potential to impact that,” she said.

Steve Uhring, of the Malibu Dark Skies Commission, demonstrated the difference that the temporary lights made on the otherwise lightless skies of Malibu.

“If you approve these lights you will dramatically change the character of this dark, coastal area,” Uhring said.

The use isn’t compatible with the rural area and impacts native animals and scenic views, he said.

“The school and students have as much responsibility to protect the coastal resources as does the average resident,” Uhring said.

Board of Education Vice President Ben Allen told commissioners that a balance could be struck.

“I want to mention our school district’s respect for the rural nature of Malibu,” Allen said. “We can have both environmental protection, youth sports and limited community events under the lights.”

This is the third time the controversial lights have come before the Coastal Commission.

In 2000, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District requested permission from the commission to build a new gym facility.

At the time, commissioners approved the building, but denied the district the right to put up lights, temporary or permanent, in order to protect wildlife and coastal views from the disturbance of the stadium.

However, in 2003, the school began using temporary lights anyway, and continued to do so until they were asked to take the lights down.

The district returned to the commission in 2009 to allow lights 16 nights per year, a recommendation that staff supported, but the commission shot the request down.

This time was different.

Malibu city officials, rather than the school district, requested that the Coastal Commission amend the city’s Local Coastal Procedure.

The school district would have to apply to City Hall for the ability to use the lights, and officials could build in additional requirements like an annual review of the impacts on neighbors.

Before the necessary permits are issued, the school must also create a plan to study the effects that the lights have on migratory birds.

After some back and forth, commissioners concluded that the steps taken by City Hall, the school district and Coastal Commission staff put in place enough protections for the area to warrant approval.

All three motions needed to amend the local coastal procedure passed unanimously.

“Over and over again today, residents commented on how important it is to have night lighting so that parents can participate in their children’s activities,” said Mayor Richard Bloom. “I couldn’t agree more and … I was gratified and moved when the 30 or so youth in the audience waved their arms in agreement.”

When the decision came out, the room broke out into riotous applause.

“I want to thank you all for coming,” Chair Mary K. Shallenberger said to the assembled students and parents. “Now, go back to school!”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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