PLHS neighbors, school district heading to mediation on stadium lights issue
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 10/26/16 - 04:23 PM | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Opponents of Point Loma High School's newly approved stadium lights have changed legal representation while preparation is apparently under way to install those lights.

Those were some of the latest developments in the continuing battle between PLHS, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and neighbors near PLHS stadium over the school district's plans to put new stadium lights and a public address system in as part of long-range modernization plans to improve the 91-year-old high school.

At the Oct. 20 meeting of Peninsula Community Planning Board (PCPB), the advisory group tabled a motion by board member David Dick to send a letter to the city challenging SDUSD's action to exempt PLHS from city zoning and land-use regulations.

Attorney Robert Ottilie, representing stadium-light opponents, has been replaced by environmental attorney Craig Sherman. Sherman is continuing an effort begun by Ottilie to go through a court mediation process to attempt to settle the matter between neighbors and the state's second-largest school district out of court.

“The case is moving along and we're getting all the environmental and other documentation together for our day in court,” said Sherman, who noted both sides conferred recently, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act, in a meet-settle conference.

“We've agreed to a (court) mediation process, though we've yet to pick a mediator or a date,” Sherman said.

Sherman noted a court mediator is usually a retired judge or an attorney who is a neutral third party. They act to try and bring both parties together to reach a negotiated settlement. Unlike a court-ordered arbitrator, whose decision, like that of a judge, is binding, the mediator cannot rule for or against either side in the dispute.

Sherman added it is hoped that a mediator can be selected before the end of 2016, adding the first court meeting to determine a schedule moving forward is likely in January 2017.

In May, 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.

PCPB member Dick noted trenching for construction has already begun on new PLHS lighting and a PA system for the stadium, which is to have an additional 500 seats installed. He pointed out SDUSD, as is their right as a public school district, has exempted itself from city of San Diego zoning and land-use ordinances and regulations that might otherwise apply to the stadium lights project.

PCPB member Bruce Coons asked if there was a move afoot to get a legal junction barring further construction on contested lighting and was told by Dick that “the school district hasn't indicated whether they intend to hold back on the project until it's resolved in court.”

Dick moved that PCPB send an official letter asking San Diego Superior Court to determine whether SDUSD's action to exempt itself from local land-use ordinances and regulations with the stadium lights project was legitimate. He added that a court would have to find that the school district's action exempting itself from local regulations was “arbitrary and capricious,” in order for the challenge to be successful.

Coons said he didn't feel it was inappropriate for PCPB to “get the mayor and City Council to take a look at it (school district lighting exemptions) to make sure the school district isn't acting outside of its bounds.”

“I'm in favor (of Dick's motion) but I want want more time,” said board member Robert Goldyn.

“I'm concerned that (PCPB) is being asked to take an action to guide the city to take an action,” said board member Jim Hare. “There's no urgency to do it (act) today.”

PCPG voted to table the motion for further consideration until the group's November meeting.

PLHS principal Hans Becker, who attended PCPB's Oct. 20 meeting said the high school “is very excited about having lights in our stadium. We look forward to having the same opportunities as other schools in the district since we are the only large comprehensive high school without stadium lighting. As principal, I respect the impact in the neighborhood and will continue to do everything I can to be a good neighbor. The PLHS field use policy will be followed and monitored closely.”

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. The long-term project also includes: 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.

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