Viewpoint - October 20, 2010

Editorial: Board dropped ball on M-A lights

We sympathize with the Menlo-Atherton High School students who found out just two days before Homecoming that their big football game could not be played under the temporary lights set up at the school's gridiron.

Instead of a night game at home, only the second at-home night game in the school's 59-year history, the game had to be shifted to Sequoia High in Redwood City after a judge sided with school neighbors who demanded that M-A conduct an environmental study before turning on the temporary lights.

For fans of the M-A football program, the lawsuit filed by an anonymous neighbor or neighbors — known only as the Protectors of Atherton's Residential Character (PARC) — the decision issued by Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner cruelly tossed a monkey wrench into the works of the school's football season.

And in our view, the neighbors could have been a lot nicer and agreed to allow a few home games to go forward under temporary lights. That would have given M-A football fans what they wanted and the school district time to complete the environmental report.

But that is not what happened, and most of the blame can go to the Sequoia High School District trustees and their attorney, who either through ignorance or an attempt to be clever, misapplied the state's environmental quality laws. Not so fast, said Judge Weiner, who is likely to decide at a Nov. 9 hearing to grant a restraining order stopping the lights pending a study of the impact of night games on neighborhood noise, traffic, light and safety.

(A year or so ago, the district got itself in another spat with Atherton neighbors over the impact of the new performing arts center at M-A, a situation that came to an amicable close.)

In the end, we believe lights for football games and soccer and lacrosse and practice sessions will come and will not be an undue hardship on M-A's Atherton neighbors. Only the football games will be permitted to use a public address system and the district has promised to turn off the lights by 10:30. Any other sport that uses lights will have to wind up play by 8:30. No use of lights would be permitted on weekends.

These self-imposed restrictions are a good-faith effort by the school district to accommodate the neighbors and save some night athletic activities, pushed into the evening by a later starting time for classes. But it will take an environmental study to move the ball in Judge Weiner's courtroom. It was a fumble on the district's part and the neighbors took full advantage of it.

Sadly, the M-A Bears will have to wait until next year to gain full use of their field after the sun goes down.


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