The Mountain View-Los Altos High School District's board of trustees unanimously agreed on a plan to install stadium lights and a new public address system at its two high school campuses, allowing sports teams and marching bands to use the fields into the evening hours.
Though the proposal faced fierce opposition from neighborhood residents when first floated in June last year, the school board's series of 5-0 votes at the June 10 meeting didn't face an ounce of opposition or any of the fiery rhetoric that colored the early meetings.
Neighborhood representatives and sports boosters alike describe the fine-tuned policy -- which places restrictions on volume and when the lights can be used -- as a compromise that balances the needs of student athletics and the well-being of residents next door seeking peace and quiet.
"As a boosters organization we are very supportive of the usage agreement that you've worked out," said Bob Crissman, president of the Los Altos High School Athletic Boosters. "Not everyone is going to love it 100% -- that's the definition of compromise."
The policy allows for light use for up to five competitions per year each for varsity football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and track and field. Competitions typically end by 8:30 p.m., with the exception of football, which typically ends at 10 p.m., according to the policy. Practice will only be allowed during week days until 8:30 p.m. at the latest.
Marching band is also permitted to use lights and the PA system on up to two week days per week, with curfews imposed for 8 p.m. on one of those days and 6:30 p.m. on the other.
Early estimates found installing field lights at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools would cost about $1.3 million, which would draw from a yet-to-be-determined source of funds. In addition, the school board voted 5-0 at the June 10 meeting to conduct an environmental review of the proposed stadium lights, each costing around $110,000.
A mix of students, parents and district athletic staff have pushed for stadium lights as a valuable asset sorely needed at both campuses that would allow practice and competitions to continue after sundown. They point to a growing need to maximize usage of fields that are increasingly in demand as enrollment swells at both schools. Both Mountain View and Los Altos high school have grown by more than 55 percent since the 1990s, and are projected to enroll hundreds more in the coming years.
But the school board, typically quiet and rarely the focal point of controversy, got an earful from neighbors calling the idea a waste of money and a detriment to the dark, quiet and peaceful quality of life in the nearby single-family residential neighborhoods. Two meetings on the topic in August and November last year packed Mountain View High School's theater and the board heard hours of public comment.
No such opposition showed up at the June 10 meeting when it came time to approve the policy. Board members and Superintendent Jeff Harding had met several times with neighborhood groups to assuage fears and tailor restrictions on light and noise. Board president Phil Faillace said he admits it took a long time to finally approve a policy, but that the district's heightened sensitivity is what sets itself apart.
"We were able to listen a lot of opinions give everyone a chance to have a voice and to build a spirit of community that I think makes Mountain View and Los Altos a great place to live in and send kids to school," he said.
Board member Sanjay Dave said the memories of the contentious meeting in August was still fresh in his thoughts Monday, and that it was clear from the meeting that the district needed to foster a better relationship and open dialogue with its neighbors. While the meeting was full of complaints about future lights, many centered on sound, light, traffic and hooliganism that existed before stadium lights were even considered.
"Improving that trust with the neighborhood was a really big goal for me," he said.
Among the 5-0 votes were two separate contracts to conduct an environmental impact report examining how stadium lights will affect the neighborhoods around Mountain View and Los Altos high schools. This step was deemed a requirement for stadium light installation by the district's legal counsel, and is expected to take 38 weeks to complete.