Marin IJ: Jan 26, 2016

Marin Catholic seeks lights for outdoor sports field; neighbors upset

Homes and condominiums sit on a hill overlooking the football and soccer field at Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield on Tuesday. The high school has filed for a permit to install night lighting for the field.Alan Dep — Marin Independent Journal
This photo illustration taken from plans filed by Marin Catholic High School with the county shows how the athletic field would look when the proposed lights are turned on.Provided by County of Marin

Marin Catholic High School seeks a county permit to install night lighting on 80-foot poles for 514 practices and games a year at its outdoor athletic field, and neighborhood residents are up in arms.

County planners are reviewing the high school’s application to determine if it is complete, but have not yet issued a staff analysis, reported Thomas Lai, assistant director of the Community Development Agency.

A crowd is expected when the lighting plan is discussed by the Kentfield Planning Advisory Board at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27, at the Deedy Lounge in the Student Center at College of Marin.

Larry Mansbach of Greenbrae said neighbors intend to pack the session to protest the plan because they fear it will disrupt the character of the community with night lights, night noise and night traffic, not to mention vista and other impacts. “The neighborhood has strong objections,” he said. “There will be many people at that meeting.”

“It’s a good school and we had a good relationship until this came up,” he added.

Jim McClellan of Greenbrae agreed, saying the high school plan would trigger “deterioration” of the region’s quality of life. “These lights will impact our neighborhood for the worse,” he said.

School officials conceded they wanted night lighting when plans for new bleachers and other facilities won county approval two years ago, but dropped night lights after county staffers advised lighting would undergo rigorous review and require a special study. The project remained controversial nevertheless, with neighbors upset about a high-tech sound system.

The lighting system would include four 80-foot-tall light poles with differing fixture arrays installed on the 10-yard line at each side of the field, according to county planner Jocelyn Drake. Lamp fixtures would be on each pole to illuminate the field at night. Poles at the north side of the field near the parking lot would feature 19 fixtures, 16 at the top of the pole and three at the 15-foot level. The two poles proposed on the south side of the field in front of the home bleachers would include 16 fixtures.

Additional path lighting would be installed along pedestrian pathways to provide illumination of bleachers and pathways surrounding the field, according to a project description on the county Community Development Agency’s planning website.

The lighting would enable Friday night football games, as well as night soccer and lacrosse games. Soccer and lacrosse games would primarily run until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, with a handful of Saturday evening games. The lighting system also would be used for evening practices, with 110 total football practices and 225 lacrosse and soccer practices proposed. Practices would end by 9 p.m.

In Marin County, only San Rafael and Tomales high schools have lighted football fields.

“Overall, the proposed lighting system would be utilized for 514 games and practices annually … with the majority of evening games and practices taking place November through February,” the county reported.

Drake said in an email that, per the application, “my understanding of the project is that the lights will be utilized for up to 47 games/meets, up to 17 playoff games, and up to 450 practices per year. Multiple practices will occur simultaneously.”

The Marin Catholic website says the “state-of-the-art field lighting system” would illuminate the field, not the neighborhood, and “enhance the community atmosphere and overall youth experience” on campus. “The plan is designed to be sensitive to the surrounding neighborhood, while providing convenient and enjoyable opportunities for our youth, families, and neighbors,” the school said. “It is a highly targeted system that only lightens the field of play.” A traffic study indicates an “acceptable” impact at local intersections.

Mike Bentivoglio, a Marin Catholic regent who is heading the lighting project, said community fears will ease as they learn more about the project. “I think we have a very solid proposal,” he said, noting plans include a maximum of 10 Friday night games that draw crowds of more than 500.

Ross Valley Supervisor Katie Rice, facing a political headache in an election year, said she had not read the permit application yet and did not have an opinion on the project. “There will be strong opinions on both sides,” she noted. “I’m going to be listening very carefully to the community.”

When stadium plans were approved two years ago, most concern centered on plans for a state-of-the-art public address system, although neighbors also balked at the county’s failure to impose use-permit conditions, instead using its more lenient design review process. Neighbors concerned about noise blasting from the school’s speaker system, air horn and football crowd appeared before officials to protest. A behind-the-scenes effort by Rice to broker a compromise proved fruitless.

At the time, planners suggested a complaint line for neighbors was needed. “If the school intends to come in for lights, I have no doubt they will set up a complaint line,” planning manager Jeremy Tejirian said at the time.

The school did set up a complaint line to monitor noise complaints but it logged only one complaint — about a karaoke event held at a nearby tennis club.