High school stadium lights get go-ahead
17 November 2018
Mountain View-Los Altos High School District board members unanimously agreed Tuesday night to move forward on a plan to install field lights at Mountain View and Los Altos high schools, following hours of comments from a sharply divided crowd.
The Nov. 13 board meeting was round two in a contentious debate over installing permanent lights on the fields at both schools, which would extend sports and other after-school activities into the evening. The proposal was sharply opposed by many residents living in single-family homes near both schools upset at the prospect of unwanted traffic, sound, light, litter and vandalism, disrupting the dark and quiet nights they've enjoyed for decades.
Board members took no formal vote, but generally agreed that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, particularly the academic advantages to scheduling late afternoon and evening sports events and practices. District officials estimate that between 725 and 1,000 hours of instructional time is lost per year because kids have to leave class early to make it to games, and hundreds of student athletes have to essentially drop their seventh-period class for sports instead of pursuing an elective.
Adding lights would help with scheduling conflicts and accommodating 725 students who participate in field athletics as well as 270 students who perform in marching band, according to a district staff report.
Board member Joe Mitchner said he thinks the district's estimates are off and don't capture how much instructional time is lost because of the reliance on daylight for games. Installing the lights would enable the local Santa Clara Valley Athletic League to push start times for games out by an extra hour, giving students who participate in home games a chance to finish class instead of taking an early release day.
"I think the estimate really understates the impact of lights on lost class time," he said.
Board member Sanjay Dave said having more night games could also do wonders for school spirit, given that they attract more people -- including parents who can't leave work early -- and carry with them an extra level of excitement.
"It's amazing what the difference is from the night games to the day games," he said. "There is (school) spirit here, it comes out at the night games and it's great to be a part of it. And I do think that is a great benefit to our students."
The two hours of comments from both sides mirrored a similar hourslong meeting in August, when nearby residents cried foul over the idea while a mix students, parents and coaching staff rallied in favor of Friday night lights. With each comment came applause among the more than 100 attendees, but usually from only one side of the room.
Heather Lattanzi, a Los Altos resident living near Mountain View High, urged trustees to consider how the lights could reduce the quality of life of all families who live within a quarter mile of the school, particularly the young children whose sleep could be disrupted by late-night activities. She also questioned if band practice really needs to take place under stadium lights in order to perform well in a competition setting.
Resident John Mahlmeister said the district still has yet to explore the toll lights and night games will have on the neighborhoods around both schools, and that the community needs to hew the true, tangible benefits of lights from what he called the "propaganda" put out by the district. He contended that lights wouldn't necessarily be a cure for a lack of school spirit -- a purported benefit of the lights -- pointing to Pinewood School's great culture without lights. He also said the district's sports boosters mounted an "aggressive campaign" to support lights among the more than 4,200 students in the district, but could only get about 10 students to talk at the meeting Tuesday night.
"I would encourage us not to think that Friday night lights is going to fix the school culture," he said.
Susan Gise, who also lives near Mountain View high, said she supports school sports on the condition that it doesn't become a detriment to nearby residents, and that night games would turn her peaceful neighborhood into an area beset by litter, parking problems and light and sound pollution. Adding permanent lights would threaten the quality of life of the school's neighbors, she said, and referred to band practice as a "noxious, unwanted intrusion."
"I have been forced, twice, to leave my home because of the intolerable, invasive sound," she said.
Other residents sought a more conciliatory tone. Mac McConnell, a resident living near Mountain View High School, urged the school district to keep in touch with the surrounding neighborhoods as it crafts rules and standards for use of the lights and public address systems. McConnell and his community group, MVLA Neighborhood Cares, have fought to make sure residents have a seat at the table on the district's decision since the summer, and have shied away from opposing the field lights just on principle.
Paul Steffen, a Mountain View High School parent, said he has learned to embrace the sound of night games from his home next to St. Francis High School, which has lights. Unless homeowners purchased their property before 1959, he said residents should have known full well that sports activities and band performances would take place on the campus, including the light and sound that comes with it.
"When my wife and I purchased our home 18 years ago near the school, we knew what we were getting into," Steffen said. "We embraced that, it never bothered us and we continue to embrace it today."
Board member Phil Faillace urged residents to remember that the Tuesday night decision does not amount to approval of the lights, and encouraged the neighbors to stay involved. At any point prior to committing the funds for installation -- estimated to cost a little over $1.3 million -- Faillace said the board could decide to reject the proposal or head back to the drawing board on policies for appropriate use of the lights.
Whatever the outcome may be, lights aren't coming anytime soon. After adopting the policies for how to use the lights, the district will need to conduct an environmental review of the project to fully explore all of the potential impacts on nearby residents. That review alone is expected to take 38 weeks.