Stadium lights approved for San Marin High over critics' objections

Over the objections of neighbors, stadium lights were approved Tuesday night for San Marin High School in Novato.

The public high school will become only the third Marin County high school to have night lights on their football field; San Rafael and Tomales High Schools are the others.

For sports boosters, coaches, and student athletes, who campaigned vigorously for the lights, the addition is a turning point in San Marin's 50-year history. For critics, the lights will disturb the  nighttime quietness and the nocturnal animals scurrying about looking for darkness.

But the supporters could claim a victory for the Friday Night Lights: eight light stands, each 80-feet tall, will be installed, allowing for late practices and night games.

"There's this energy, this new spark for kids when they're playing under the lights at the field," varsity softball player Olivia Wreden told school trustees.

Wreden had come straight from a playoff game to implore the board to approve the lights, describing how the lighted softball diamond on the campus, makes it possible for her to earn straight A's.

"Having time to go home and do work and study for tests before I went to practice, allowed me to have a better understanding of the material, and pass my tests and my classes," Wreden said. 

The special board meeting resembled a high school assembly, with the gym crowded, and capped a 2-year discussion, which at times, got heated.

"This stadium project is a feel-good project not a needed one," declared resident Mark Joly, expressing his opposition.

Joly, like most critics of the lights, lives above or near the football field.

"The noise will wash over the neighborhood and disturb not only us, but the animals," Joly told KTVU, "and this will be nighttime noise, the animals have never experienced night time noise here."

The added illumination is another concern for neighbors.

"It will change our environment completely," resident Mike Giannini told KTVU.  "You won't be able to see the sunsets, you won't be able to see the stars, it's going to be dramatically different."

Trustees have heard the criticisms, but this month, accepted the environmental impact report on the project.

"This board has been open-minded, we've listened to everybody's opinion," observed Board President Tom Cooper, at the start of the meeting.

School district staff noted the lights would be on about 150 nights a year, allowing not only football players, but lacrosse, soccer, and track athletes to be active after dark.   

"I don't think they will be able to hear us at all," supporter Eduardo Morales told KTVU, explaining that the system being proposed is very advanced, with low-glare LED lamps and directional speakers.  

  "We took their concerns into account from the start and that's why we went after a system that would not shine light in their homes, and an audio system would not be heard in their homes," declared Morales.

Board members, with a unanimous vote, decided the benefits of the lights outshine the impacts.

Supporters had long argued that evening sports build community, and offer youth a positive social setting.  Parents complained they could not get to games from work, in time to see their children participate.

Teachers also had a compelling concern: students losing academic instruction because they leave class early to get to their sport during daylight.     

"We have four teams trying to use the field with limited daylight," soccer coach Ben Philpott told KTVU.  "So students are getting pulled out of class early, fairly often, for home and away games."

Fall of 2018 is the target date to launch the $1.2-million system, the cost split between the district and donations. 

Before the meeting ended, school boosters presented the board with a $50,000 check to show their commitment.

There will be restrictions on light and loudspeaker use: no holidays or weekends, no outside events, and all quiet at 9 p.m.