Marin IJ: Jan 28, 2016

Advisory board recommends further study on controversial Marin Catholic night light project

Tamalpais and Marin Catholic girls play a junior varsity soccer game at Marin Catholic in Kentfield on Tuesday. Marin Catholic High School has filed for a permit to install night lighting for the field.Alan Dep — Marin Independent Journal

In an emotional meeting, an advisory board this week deemed a proposal for night lights on the Marin Catholic High School athletic field incomplete and recommended further study.

In response to neighbors’ suggestions, the Kentfield Planning Advisory Board on Wednesday recommended that the county ask proponents to study the lights’ effect on wildlife, as well as traffic; document parking agreements; and address increased noise at night.

The advisory board does not make decisions on applications but gives recommendations to county planners, who may or may not accept them. The county has until Feb. 14 to determine whether the application is complete, county planner Jocelyn Drake said. If deemed incomplete the application is returned for more work. If complete, the next step is environmental review, she said.

“Obviously, it’s very early in the process,” Drake said, telling the attendees, “There’s plenty of time to make your feelings known.”

Upset residents weren’t shy about doing so.

“I oppose this project because of the light impacts, the traffic impacts, and the sound impacts on some of my neighbors,” said Chuck Finnie, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2000. “Marin Catholic has had a robust athletic program since 1949. They don’t really need this at all. They are asking the public to absorb what really is a private benefit.”

Supporters attended the meeting as well.

“Community is the reason my husband and I moved here from San Francisco. This is a fantastic community,” Shirley Foster of Kentfield said after the meeting. “(The lights) would enhance the community, not only for sports but to give people a place to come together.”

The high school is applying for a county permit to install night lighting on four 80-foot poles on the 10-yard line at each side of the field. It would illuminate 514 practices and games a year: Friday night football, soccer and lacrosse games and evening practices. Neighbors believe the plan would disrupt the character of the community with night lights, night noise and night traffic.

Exchanges between the more than 70 people crowded into the meeting room at the College of Marin were sharp at times. At one point, Ross Valley Supervisor Katie Rice, who was in the audience, asked audience members to quiet down.

Referring to two earlier public meetings held by the proponents, “You guys told us what you were worried about and we spent time studying that and have information for you,” said Lisa Mango of Greenbrae, a Marin Catholic parent and volunteer on the school’s lights committee who gave a presentation at the meeting.

“As a result of your feedback, we cut down the number of uses. You said having lights until 10 p.m. was too late so we reduced it to 9 p.m.,” Mango said.

“The proposed use is for Friday evening football, soccer and lacrosse games, 10 per year,” Mango said, as well as weekday practices. She said 88 percent of the time the lights would be used for practices, soccer and lacrosse games, which typically draw fewer than 100 people.

Citing the overflowing demand for youth sports practice fields, Mango said, “There is not enough time for youth athletics, especially when it gets dark early. The lights would create community events for youth and families, enhance field safety and allow kids to attend a full day of classes,” rather than being excused early for practice.

Noise seemed to be one of the major concerns of neighbors. Residents who live above the athletic field said they can hear referees’ whistles and people speaking on the field.

“Some people aren’t in the blast zone, but there’s certain pockets in the Greenbrae neighborhoods where the sound just goes right up,” said board member Anne Petersen after the meeting. “The noise studies were incomplete because they did not address the increased noise at night.”

During the meeting, Brendan Fogarty of Preserve Ross Valley, a group opposing the lights, said the application was incomplete “because it does not address significant negative impacts on wildlife near the site,” including the endangered Ridgway’s rail.

The board also asked for clarification on parking arrangements with nearby St. Sebastian Catholic Church and Bacich Elementary School after residents asked for documentation that agreements were in place, Petersen said.

Also requested was clarity on traffic, particularly the possibility of backups on already-congested Sir Francis Drake at peak times, “as drivers bound for 7 p.m. games make left turns onto the property off Sir Francis Drake,” Petersen said.