A recent football game between Menlo-Atherton High School and Sacred Heart Prep created a sensation in M-A's school community and concern in M-A's immediate neighborhood.
The impassioned reactions were due, not to the gridiron action (the Bears lost 48-14), but to the fact the game was played at night.
Say what? Around the Bay Area and the country, a night game would not be worth a blink much less a raised eyebrow. But this is M-A, where the field is unlighted -- the school rented lights for this event -- and varsity games start at 3 p.m. Meanwhile in dark and quiet Atherton, where homes border the field, residents would like to keep it dark and quiet.
That could change, eventually. A consensus on the governing board of the Sequoia Union High School District agreed on Nov. 18 to begin an inquiry into whether Coach Parks Field should have lights.
Board member Olivia Martinez attended the night game and said she was "blown away" by an event "so uniquely spectacular that it reminded me of how much we are missing by not letting our kids play on Friday night."
As for those Atherton neighbors, Ms. Martinez said she was "extraordinarily sympathetic to their perspective," adding: "I think this is one of the more difficult topics we've taken on since I've been on the board."
The district's investigation could take three months and will include an environmental analysis of noise, traffic, artificial light and safety impacts, Assistant Superintendent Jim Lianides told the board.
Staff will also look into equipping the field with outlets for temporary lights, and what effect, if any, night games may have on athletes who now leave class early to prepare for afternoon games.
Plans for permanent lights could be done concurrently and lights could be in by October, said Mr. Lianides, laying out a range of possibilities.
Once invested in, the lights will be used, retiring Trustee Gordon Lewin noted. "I think you have a lot of (analytical) work to do here."
Receipts up at night
Night games, about four per season, would accommodate working parents, said M-A Athletic Boosters member Susan Mohr. The soccer and lacrosse teams would also like to use the field after dark, she added.
Gate receipts, Ms. Mohr said, were $5,500 for the night game versus $1,600 on a typical afternoon. The snack bar take jumped to $3,100 from $700.
Lighting advocates are aware of the issues around parking, safety, artificial light and noise and want to mitigate neighbors' concerns, Ms. Mohr said. "We know they do not support the lights," she added. "We know they don't want this to happen. We want to be good neighbors."
Include the residents
The state exempts school districts from zoning restrictions.
Given Sequoia's independence, Atherton residents have few cards to play. Security came up frequently.
The risks at night games include large emotional crowds, inadequate supervision, and the presence of illicit substances and gangs, said Toyon Road resident Bob Plaschke, citing concerns he said he drew from a study by the American School Board Journal.
Engage the community and take an incremental approach, he advised the board, echoing the words of at least two other residents present. "You have to bend over backwards to make sure the residents and the city are involved," Mr. Plaschke said.