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M-A and residents strike truce over field lights

 

For 59 years, it's always been dark after sunset on the athletic fields at Menlo-Atherton High School, but no more. There will be lights for football, for lacrosse, for soccer and for practice sessions now that a group of residents concerned with what lights would bring to their neighborhood have dropped their lawsuit and settled with the school district.

In talks that took place over a month and a half, the Sequoia Union High School District and residents who called themselves Protect Atherton's Residential Character agreed to restrictions close to what the district first proposed, according to attorney Tim Fox, who represented the district from the San Mateo County Counsel's office.

In the settlement, the district and residents "came up with a workable plan for a workable use of the lights," Fox said.

"There were a number of very obviously fruitful discussions with district staff and board members," said residents' attorney Anna Shimko of the San Francisco firm Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold. "Everybody was satisfied, so we're moving forward in a cooperative way."

As originally proposed by the school district, lights will be allowed for four night football games and be off within 30 minutes of the end of the games, according to the settlement agreement.

The agreement allows an additional 12 scheduled games such as lacrosse and soccer, but not football. These games would allow the PA system for announcements, but not game commentary, and must end by 8:30 p.m., again with lights out within 30 minutes.

In addition, M-A can have four weekday-evening, school-related activities such as a fun run or fundraiser but they must end by 8 p.m. If they're held on a Friday, the lights-off hour will be 9 p.m.

On all other weekdays, the lights must be off by 8 p.m. except between March 31 and the end of the school year, during which time the lights must be off by 7:30 p.m.

The school can light the field on a weekend night only if an M-A football team is in a Central Coast Section playoff game.

The PA system is off-limits for anything other than a scheduled M-A game.

The school has had temporary lights sitting near the field since September in anticipation of this year's football season, but the neighbors were successful in getting an injunction against their use. Superior Court Judge Marie S. Weiner said the district had improperly divided the installation of the lights into a "temporary" project and a "permanent" project. "Such a piecemeal approach to (environmental law) compliance would be a violation."

The settlement infers an end to the injunction against using the lights, but it won't be formal until Superior Court Judge Marie S. Weiner signs a court order to that effect, Shimko said, adding that she anticipates no further complications.

The settlement respects the high school's need to serve its community and the neighbors' lives "won't be unduly interrupted," Shimko said.

"I think," Fox said, "that the district was disappointed that it came to this, but the process that led to a resolution was very cooperative."

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