M-A and residents strike truce over field lights


For 59 years, it's always been dark after sunset on the athletic fields at Menlo-Atherton High School, but no more. There will be lights for football, for lacrosse, for soccer and for practice sessions now that a group of residents concerned with what lights would bring to their neighborhood have dropped their lawsuit and settled with the school district.

In talks that took place over a month and a half, the Sequoia Union High School District and residents who called themselves Protect Atherton's Residential Character agreed to restrictions close to what the district first proposed, according to attorney Tim Fox, who represented the district from the San Mateo County Counsel's office.

In the settlement, the district and residents "came up with a workable plan for a workable use of the lights," Mr. Fox said.

"There were a number of very obviously fruitful discussions with district staff and board members," said residents' attorney Anna Shimko of the San Francisco firm Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold. "Everybody was satisfied, so we're moving forward in a cooperative way."

Agreement details

As originally proposed by the school district, lights will be allowed for four night football games and will now be off within 30 minutes of the end of the games, according to the settlement agreement.

The agreement allows an additional 12 scheduled games such as lacrosse and soccer, but not football. These games would allow the PA system for announcements, but not game commentary, and must end by 8:30 p.m., again with lights out within 30 minutes.

In addition, M-A can have four weekday-evening, school-related activities such as a fun run or fundraiser but they must end by 8 p.m. If they're held on a Friday, the lights-off hour will be 9 p.m.

On all other weekdays, the lights must be off by 8 p.m. except between March 31 and the end of the school year, during which time the lights must be off by 7:30 p.m.

The school can light the field on a weekend night only if an M-A football team is in a Central Coast Section playoff game.

The PA system is off-limits for anything other than a scheduled M-A game.

No more injunction

The school has had temporary lights sitting near the field since September in anticipation of this year's football season, but the neighbors were successful in getting an injunction against their use.

In a decision reflecting on the necessary environmental study required for such a project, Superior Court Judge Marie S. Weiner said the district had improperly divided the installation of the lights into a "temporary" project and a "permanent" project. "Such a piecemeal approach to (environmental law) compliance would be a violation."

The settlement infers an end to the injunction against using the lights, but it won't be formal until Judge Weiner signs a court order to that effect, Ms. Shimko said, adding that she anticipates no further complications.

The settlement respects the high school's need to serve its community and the neighbors' lives "won't be unduly interrupted," Ms. Shimko said.

"I think," Mr. Fox said, "that the district was disappointed that it came to this, but the process that led to a resolution was very cooperative."

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Like this comment
Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm

The process works.

It's a shame though that this took the effort and inconenience to everyone (neighbors, school, players & families).

Some would say this could have (should have) been done without the lawsuit. At least this got the discussion moving, if only to end up where it started.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent of student
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 22, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Thank you to all parties for working this out. I agree with Central Menlo that it's too bad a lawsuit had to be filed/threatened. I am also saddened that people who live close to a high school believe field use to be an aggravation. We have so few fields available these days and with so many restrictions that I fear school and recreational programs will suffer. We should encourage the growth of sports and participation by lots of kids. Limiting field use will discourage both of these. Limited field use at a high school also diminishes the sense of community felt by the students. How sad that students can't easily go to their school's football game on a Friday night - a fond memory I have from my high school days.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Hopefully the School District realizes that this settlement dies not change the requirement, as affirmed by the judge, that an EIR must be done. Absent a completed EIR anyone who is not a party to the settlement could prevent these lights from being used.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor of Gunn High
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I'm glad to see that this was resolved with the result being the lights will be able to go on! (Whew! what a complicated schedule for when they can be on and when they have to be off; I'm sure the "PARC" group will have the MP police out the minute the lights go past their time limit - or the P.A. system is used for anything other than an announcement.)

Anyway, my main point is that I live near Gunn High and see the lights and hear the announcer on many a Friday night in the fall - and I love it! I don't have kids at Gunn, but I'm happy when I see the lights on and hear the very animated announcer's voice - it carries way across Foothill Expressway (where I live). When I hear his voice and hear the crowds cheering, it does harken me back to my memories of Friday night football games and school spirit and great fun being outside at night cheering for your team.

I'm sad that the "PARC" group sees the athletics at M-A as being something that "unduly interrupts their lives." They did choose to purchase a house near a high school (like I did) and even if they have no connection to the high school (like I don't with Gunn), one can choose to view the participation in sports as a good thing to support and encourage - and maybe even have a smile on your face when you hear the cheering crowds - knowing how excited they are to be able to be there.

P.S. I think their fears are exaggerted in order to support their point of view.

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm

It's ironic that the "deal" worked out by the parties was remarkably close to the terms suggested by this forum.

Like this comment
Posted by Tax payer
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I agree with Neighbor and Parent. I wish more people felt the same way. Let's support our schools and students as much as we can. Last I checked, great schools (and even better -- those with successful athletics programs) help increase property values. We are all in this together as long as we live here and pay our high property taxes.

Like this comment
Posted by Rob
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Sadly, another victory for NIMBYism. I live right across the road from a school in another town - and when I moved in, I understood the consequences of living next to a school (parking issues and traffic during the day, PTA meetings at night, general noise, etc.), and I was perfectly fine with it. Unless the folks in that "group" lived in their houses *before* M-A was built, they have very little cause to complain - they _chose_ to live in close proximity to a school and need to accept the consequences of that decision.

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Posted by Moe
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 22, 2010 at 4:43 pm

A few years ago High school and college sports activities were such a natural way of our communities pulse that to raise a stink about lights or noice by some neighbors would have been considered UNAMERICAN.
As these neighbors chose to live near a school, so did I chose to live for several years right next to the SP railroad tracks at a major street intersection. The constant noise, day and night, from train horns and crossing bells was terrible - for a month or two. By then I was used to it and hardly even noticed it.
May be the answer to the neighbors problem is to have enough games so that they can get used to them.

Like this comment
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 22, 2010 at 7:06 pm

EIRs can be used as a stall or delay tactic by people who don't like a project regardless of the environmental impacts. Maybe they designate themselves and their interests as being part of the environment. Maybe the whole EIR practice should be reconsidered and reconstituted.

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 22, 2010 at 9:10 pm

One person's NIMBY is apparently another person's YBYWC ("Your Back Yard, Who Cares?").

If a small, private airport decides they want to start landing 747s all night long, I guess neighbors should have known it was an airport, shouldn't they?

If officials want to convert a small street into an interstate highway, I guess neighbors should have known it was a road, shouldn't they?

And just because you live next to a school, doesn't mean they can add any new use (like night football) or create new impacts for the neighborhood.

Funny, I'll bet a lot of people who think any new use by a school is perfectly acceptable were the ones squawking the loudest about replacing Chili's with BevMo.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed Ford
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Schools need access to sports but not at the expense of near residendents who are real taxpayers funding these schools.
Stealing privicy and bullying the near neighbors is wrong and shows a lack of consideration for one another.
There should have been a better solutions than what has appeared to occur.
There was no win - win
Dividing the community was the basic concern and may continue.
Fun and games for spoiled teens is not always the best answer.
What is the substance abuse rate now and where was it 10 years ago?
Plot the trajectory.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Nov 23, 2010 at 2:37 pm

So JD and the nimbyists for PARC (preserve Athertons residential character) are busy heading over to EPA to help out with lawyers, right?

"EPA sports field approved amid heated debate"
Web Link

Ed? Pogo? Anyone?


And our favorite yellow tricyclist must be all over this, right?


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 23, 2010 at 7:11 pm

anonymous -

I have NO IDEA what you are talking about. Are you really implying that the same people in Atherton who expressed concern about night football lighting and PA systems are behind this EPA issue? Really? Do you have a scintilla of evidence?

With regard to the EPA controversy, at least there was a public hearing to discuss the issue. In the case of the EPA field, a school board did not declare itself exempt from state law and neglect performing a valid EIR.

Just a little different.

Sorry for the 4 hours of crickets. Let's see how long we wait to get your clarification.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Nov 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm

PARC's not going to diversify and defend the folks over there from mean nasty sports fields?

Or are they truly just worried about her back yard?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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