Battle continues over Menlo-Atherton football lights

Fans of Menlo-Atherton High School football may be left in the dark if a judge sides with a group of neighbors next week in a dispute over a plan for lighted Friday night home games this fall.

Though Sequoia Union High School District trustees have cleared the way for installation of the temporary lights at Coach Parks Field, neighbors will ask a judge at a Monday hearing to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the use of the lights while their lawsuit challenging the plan proceeds.

Calling themselves Protect Atherton’s Residential Character, the neighbors sued the district in August, claiming trustees approved the installation of the lights in May without doing the proper environmental studies. Officials plan to set up the rented 53-foot-tall lights in time for an Oct. 7 nighttime football game, said district spokeswoman Bettylu Smith.

In court documents, neighbors ask a judge to order the district to conduct studies on potential environmental impacts, including glare, noise, traffic and the potential for increased crime.

District officials argue an environmental study is not necessary for the temporary lights, which will also be used for soccer and lacrosse, though they are in the process of conducting an environmental review of a potential installation of permanent lights. Trustees voted last week to exempt the project from local zoning regulations, a power granted to school districts for some projects on school property. An attorney for the neighbors called the move an acknowledgment that the lights plan violates the town of Atherton’s code on issues like noise and height.

“They’re trying to correct what clearly were mistakes made when they took their action to approve the temporary lights,” said attorney Anna Shimko.

Smith said district officials don’t believe the zoning exemption was necessary but did it “just to be on the safe side.” Proponents say the lights, which would be set up at least through January at a cost of $45,000, are important because Menlo-Atherton is introducing later school start times and students won’t be able to begin sports practices until 3:30 p.m.

“We’re responding to a request and a desire on the part of many members of the community to move forward with this,” Smith said, “and certainly we’re doing it in the way that we always do and abiding by regulations governing those activities.”

Trustees also approved last week a policy stating the lights could be used until 10:30 p.m. for football games and 8:30 p.m. for soccer and lacrosse games and other practices.

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

Shedding some light on the subject

  • Oct. 30, 2009 A group of parents and community members rent lights for Menlo-Atherton’s first lighted home football game, against Sacred Heart Prep. Proponents approach the district afterward about permanent lights.
  • Jan. 20 Sequoia Union High School District trustees approve an environmental study of permanent lights at Coach Parks Field.
  • May 19 Trustees approve the use of temporary lights from August through January, with a possible six-month extension, and approve an exemption for the temporary lights under state environmental laws.
  • Aug. 11 A group of neighbors sues the school district, asking a judge to block the use of the temporary lights and order a full environmental study. A hearing on a temporary restraining order is set for Sept. 13.
  • Sept. 1 District trustees vote to exempt the temporary lights from local zoning codes and to adopt a usage policy for the lights.

Source: Sequoia Union High School District

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