Two online petitions — one enthusiastically in favor of field lights and the other taking a wary approach — have already been circulating ahead of the meeting. The first petition, created by proponents in August 2017, calls the lights a long-overdue asset that would extend sports events into the evening, benefiting working parents who want to attend games and give the district more latitude to start school later. The petition had 1,762 signatures as of Wednesday.
Proponents say increasing enrollment and growing interest in extracurricular activities in recent years have turned field lights into a necessity at the schools, particularly for marching band and winter and spring sports teams that rely on a narrow window of time between the end of the school day and sunset to use the fields.
The Athletic Boosters clubs from both Mountain View and Los Altos crafted the petition and more recently pushed trustees to add the field lights discussion to an upcoming board agenda. Though board members have declined in the past to reveal their position on the subject, board member Phil Faillace said at the June 11 board meeting that the perks of field lights can go well beyond expanding the sports schedule.
"I hope we won't just focus on athletic advantages of lights, but also on the ability it gives us to change the start time of our schools to enhance student wellness," he said. "There's an actual bigger issue that we shouldn't lose sight of."
But many nearby residents are skeptical, and are rallying together. More than 200 people have signed a petition started last week demanding the district give local residents a say in the decision and explicitly address concerns about increases in traffic, parking, crime, noise and light pollution, particularly if the district decides to rent out school facilities to third-party organizations.
The residential group has since created a website serving as a call to action ahead of the August 13 meeting, claiming that many homeowners did not receive the letter from the superintendent. While the group never explicitly states its opposition to athletic field lights, it does claim that the district has not given full consideration to possible adverse effects.
Mac McConnell, a resident living near Mountain View High School and a member of the group, said the back-and-forth debate about field lights goes back 15 or 20 years, but it's never reached this level of serious consideration. He said residents like himself feel that Superintendent Harding was not forthcoming about the board's upcoming discussion until mid-June, even though he believes district administrators have long been working with the athletic boosters on how to best move the proposal forward.
Along with the online petition, McConnell said the group has collected upwards of 400 signatures from residents living within a quarter-mile radius of the football fields who are seeking greater involvement in the district's deliberations on field lights.
Perhaps the largest worry, McConnell said, is the idea that the school district will offset the costs of installing the lights by renting out the fields for events run by third-party organizations, which could cause a whole host of problems. He worried that could mean three or four nights each week of heavy traffic along narrow, normally quiet residential roads, which would significantly affect homes next door to the fields.
"Other schools that have installed these lights are near large freeway arteries or in commercial districts, not rimmed by residences that are really very quiet," he said. "How is this going to be paid for? That is going to make all the difference in the end."
District administrators made clear early on that no money from the $295 million Measure E bond would be used for field lights, which prior estimates found would cost $600,000 at each school. To concerned residents, that means rentals could be the only source of money. District officials say there have been no discussions about renting out the football fields for outside sports events as a means for financing the lights.
Both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools are nestled in single-family residential neighborhoods and have homes in close proximity to the track and field, which are situated on the edge of each campus. Homes on Valencia Drive in Los Altos, in particular, are right up alongside the football field. The petition states that these nearby families need an "equal" voice in the planning process and alleges they are already being overlooked.
District officials have since made clear that there is no formal proposal for constructing lights to date, describing the August board meeting as more an exploration into the costs and types of lights, along with scheduling constraints on using lights and loudspeakers during events. District spokeswoman Cynthia Greaves told residents last week that they will have a voice in the conversation.
"The views and concerns of families and neighborhoods will be heard and considered in the planning process," she wrote in an email. "In fact, neighbor feedback is already being received and shared with the trustees."
The district's high school campuses are among only a few in Santa Clara County with unlit fields, according to proponents, while comparable school districts like Palo Alto Unified and Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District all have field lights. Sports facilities in Mountain View, including one at Crittenden Middle School, have had field lights for years, extending athletic events past sunset to 10 p.m. at night. The most recent track and field project at Crittenden included the installation of high-powered LED lamps mounted on 70-foot poles, which are designed to reduce light pollution into nearby homes.
A similar debate cropped up in 2012 when school board members considered, and ultimately approved, a plan to use field lights for an October homecoming game at Mountain View High during the evening hours. Nearby residents cited similar concerns at the time about traffic, public intoxication, littering and vandalism.
Anticipating a big crowd, the Aug. 13 board meeting will be held in the multipurpose room at Alta Vista High School, located at 1325 Bryant Ave. Parking is expected to be tight.
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