Judge pulls plug on North Bay high school's Friday night football game over lighting issue


A North Bay high school has had the plug pulled on its stadium lights, at least for now. 

A Marin County Superior Court judge has ruled the eight lights, 80 feet high, at San Marin High in Novato, were switched on without due process. 

"We are really disappointed because we've got the lights and we can't use them," cheerleader Nikki Yates said  at Thursday night's homecoming parade in downtown Novato.  

As a result, homecoming, billed as a "Friday Night Lights" game has been shifted from Friday at night to Saturday for an afternoon kick-off instead. 

Already, one night game has been played with the lights on, a loss to Marin Catholic on Saturday Oct. 12. Five days later, came the ruling that halted any use of the lights until at least next month.  

"I feel bad for the seniors because they've been waiting all four years to get lights and they won't get to because the neighbors didn't let them," said cheerleader Ava Rasmussen. 

The high school has been in a legal tussle over the new lights and sound system for a few years. 

Neighborhood critics challenged environmental review of the project, claiming that neighborhood disturbance had not been well-considered. 

"It's only for the field, not for the impact around the field, which is where we live," said Mike Joly, leader of a group called Coalition to Save San Marin.

Months ago, a judge set aside the environmental impact review as inadequate, and instructed the Novato Unified School District to improve it. The new document was completed and certified last week by the school board, which voted to throw on the lights. 

"I think magical is a fitting description, it was special," said Football Coach Cory Boyd, describing Saturday night's sold-out game, the first night game.  

"To have the rug pulled out from under these young kids is tough," added Football Coach Dom DiMare. 

Critics, who snapped photos of the lights from the neighborhood, went back to court after that debut game and complained that the school blitzed the judge.   

"The court had final authority to flip the switch, not the school board," said Joly, "and they basically snuck in the Marin Catholic game, that's what happened."

Sports boosters are trying to take the setback in stride. 

"No one ever said the EIR had to go back to the judge," said Ross Sargent, President of the San Marin All Sports Boosters. "Our lighting is state of the art, you cannot purchase a better lighting system anywhere on the planet." 

With a Nov. 14 court date, the football season will be finished by the time the issue is resolved. 

Lacrosse and soccer come next, and supporters note students who can practice and play under lights get more class time, because they aren't chasing daylight.  

"The lights are important academically as well as athletically, as well as a great community magnet to bring us all together," said Sargent. 

In his ruling, Judge Roy Chernus chided the district for acting prematurely, noting if they had waited another week to flip the switch, they might have had lights approved in time for homecoming. 

He called it "an unnecessary civics lesson" that created frustration for everyone involved.  

The one game played under lights remains a beacon for supporters. 

"It give us more fuel to do it right," said DiMare," and with lots of community support, we've got even more fire to get this done." 

The light and sound system cost $1.6 million, about half raised through donors.