In May, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) unanimously endorsed environmental documents for Point Loma High's long-term modernization, which includes stadium lights. District trustees then voted 5-0 July 12 in favor of a master-planned, Whole Site Modernization and Athletic Facilities Upgrades Project for the high school.
Shortly thereafter, 17 neighbors of the high school adamantly opposed to adding new stadium lighting filed a class-action lawsuit against SDUSD. They claim new lighting will harm their quality of life adding more noise, crime and visual pollution to their already overcrowded and impacted neighborhood. They also fear further commercialization of the PLHS stadium by outside interests, which they claim doesn't benefit local students or the community.
“We met with school district officials Aug. 1 and both parties have agreed to all-day mediation with a retired judge,” said PLHS neighbors’ attorney Robert P. Ottilie. “We decided we should sit down and take one shot at trying to resolve this issue.”
Ottilie said there's an existing pool of several competent retired judges to draw upon. The attorney explained mediation is unlike arbitration, another legal device used in an attempt to avoid lawsuits and drawn-out court battles.
“The mediator is not like an arbitrator who has to make a (judgment) call,” Ottilie pointed out. “The mediator's job is merely to get both sides together to attempt to get a resolution.”
Ottilie discussed the legal basis of the PLHS neighbors' case.
“There are three causes of action,” he said. “The first is we're challenging whether (SDUSD) appropriately considered an environmental impact under the California Environmental Quality Act, and whether they correctly identified impacts that could not be mitigated, and actually sought reasonable alternatives.”
The neighbors' attorney said a court ruling in their favor on that first count could have far-reaching impacts.
“If we win on that cause of action, then the school district has to do the (environmental report) over,” Ottilie said.
On the second count, Ottilie said, “We're contending that the SDUSD hearing on the issue was a sham, that the district's leadership had already made up their minds on (approving) the (stadium lights) project.”
Thirdly, said Ottilie, “We're suggesting that third-party use of the PLHS stadium is illegal.
“If we win on that one, that will be a permanent win that will hold that school facilities are only for classroom uses, that athletic fields are, in fact, a classroom or academic use.”
A favorable ruling on that legal point could conceivably change laws throughout California that allow outside interests to use school athletic fields.
“If we (PLHS neighbors) win on that cause, athletic facilities will not be allowed to be rented out to third parties,” Ottilie concluded.
In a letter to the SDUSD board, Ottilie noted, “You (previously) rented the stadium at Mesa College for them (PLHS). It was the school district that stopped the rentals, and made them start playing their games on Friday afternoons. … The students and their families need to understand there exists a reasonable alternative to lighting Point Loma High School's athletic field.”
The PLHS Whole-Site Modernization and Athletic Facilities Upgrade Project, of which proposed stadium lights is a part, is the first phase of planned long-range improvements at the school that also include demolition of the existing media center/classroom building; construction of a new three-story building, containing a new media center and 20 new classrooms; renovation of the current 200 and 300 buildings; construction of new security features allowing a single path of access to the campus during school hours; a new arched façade along Chatsworth Boulevard that will provide some connection to the school's beloved original Spanish design; construction of turnouts for school buses to leave more space for vehicles passing in front of the campus; construction of a 150-square-foot main distribution building for better distribution of technology; and installation of overall security improvements.
SDUSD could not be reached by the Peninsula Beacon for comment.