County officials are recommending the Planning Commission deny a proposal to install night lights at Marin Catholic High School.
“It’s not any one thing. It’s the cumulative effect of all those things,” said senior planner Jocelyn Drake, who sent a letter to Regent Mike Bentivoglio, citing concerns about light, noise and traffic.
The commission is expected to review the proposal in the next two to three months.
Marin Catholic is seeking a county permit to install night lighting on four 80-foot poles on the 10-yard line at each side of the athletic field, a move that has been met with strong opposition from some neighbors.
“The proposal to install 80-foot-tall light poles around the perimeter of an athletic field at the base of Ross Valley … would result in a level of … light contrast and light pollution out of character with the neighborhood,” Drake wrote in her letter.
School officials called for further study before a decision is made.
“We believe that an objective environmental review would demonstrate that any neighborhood impacts would be minimal,” Bentivoglio said in an email.
In addition to concerns about light contrast and pollution, Drake said the noise levels on the playing field would exceed the county’s noise policy limits for the area.
While there is no hard and fast regulation, the county’s policy is that noise shouldn’t exceed 65 decibels. According to the noise impact report from the regents’ consultant, noise could reach 71 decibels, which is 11 decibels higher than the current noise level.
A vacuum cleaner clocks in around 70 decibels, according to estimates by the Purdue University chemistry department.
“The thing about games and practices, the noise is not ongoing. It’s quiet for a while and then there’s noise. From a common sense perspective, the noise comes in and out,” making it more jarring, Drake said.
Installation of the field lighting system would also increase traffic in the already congested intersections near the school, the planner wrote.
“According to your traffic analysis, your proposal to host Friday night football games would result in an additional 722 pre-game p.m. peak hour and 754 post-game peak hour vehicle trips,” Drake wrote. This could also make it harder for ambulances to get to Marin General Hospital, she said.
Bentivoglio said schools in other areas have successfully installed lights. “Last weekend we played in an away football game during the NCS playoffs on a Friday evening at Analy High School in Sebastopol. The spirit of community at Analy was really strong and the type of community that we are trying to create. The crowd was full of families looking for a safe, controlled environment for their kids on a Friday evening.”
Closer to home, “There is clearly a need and demand for athletic field lights in Marin,” Bentivoglio said. “There are many relatable examples of nearby schools located within similar geographical settings with neighbors close by where lighted fields have been very successful.”
There are only three high school campuses with lighting in Marin County — San Rafael High School, Tomales and San Marin, which has a lighted softball field.
It’s not for lack of trying. In 2009, a proposal was on the table to install lights at both San Marin and Novato high schools. Neighbors strongly opposed the proposal and it was not implemented. A new effort to install lights at San Marin has also met with opposition from neighbors.
The proposal also has many supporters. It has garnered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition in support.
More than 1,000 people have voiced support for the Marin Catholic proposal, supporters said.
“I think having Friday night games is vital to our community. It gives our youth something to do on Friday night. Our county is sorely lacking in healthy alternatives to drugs and alcohol for our youth,” said Linda Henn of Twin Cities Coalition for Healthy Youth. “It’s a way to invest in our kids.”
At the same time, there is opposition from neighbors including Jim McClellan, a Greenbrae resident and member of Preserve Ross Valley, a neighborhood organization opposed to the lights.
“This proposal would significantly impact our community and as such it deserves careful scrutiny,” McClellan said. “We are thankful that the Planning Division of the Community Development Agency examined it closely, not just the individual components but the cumulative effect of all the various elements.”
McClellan said, “We should be very clear that we have no ill will whatsoever toward the school. What we are opposed to is not the school itself but the transformation of our neighborhood.”
One of the reasons behind the attempts to light playing fields is a recent decision by the schools in the Marin County Athletic League to move soccer season. Boys’ soccer was in the fall and girls’ in the spring, but now both are in the winter.
With soccer now a winter sport, sometimes soccer can’t finish their games because the playing field gets dark.
“I’m totally sympathetic to Marin Catholic’s position on how to fit in the practices and games. It’s a tough situation they have been put in,” Drake said.