The idea of installing permanent light fixtures at the schools has been proposed — and eventually quashed — in past years, but picked up steam last fall, after a concerted effort by members of the Mountain View High School Sports Boosters Club and the Los Altos High School Athletic Boosters. The district's schools are among only a few in all of Santa Clara County to still have unlit fields.
When the board met to discuss the idea in August, dozens of people blasted the district over the hourslong public comment session, saying it has been a difficult neighbor. The neighborhoods around the schools are both quiet and dark at night, and the worry was that lights and amped-up public address systems would be disruptive and ruin the quality of life.
Four months and eight neighborhood meetings later, Harding introduced what he said is the closest thing to a compromise, with constraints on both lights and sound systems, including hard curfews and significant limits on weekend events.
The early version of the policy restricts light use to five competitions per year each for varsity football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, track and field and any newly added varsity sport. Athletic practices are permitted to use the stadium lights until 8:30 p.m. on weekdays, but are prohibited from using them on weekends.
Marching band would get to use the lights and sound systems two nights per week under the draft policy, once until 8 p.m. and once ending at 6:30 p.m. If the band isn't reliant on lights, the sky's pretty much the limit: Marching band can practice in the morning, afternoon and on Saturdays with "no restrictions."
The district can also host up to three "special events" using stadium lights and public address systems until 9 p.m. each year.
Harding said the policy makes the most of a tough situation. More students at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools are playing an increasingly diverse number of sports, but the field space isn't getting any bigger. Stadium lights effectively allow more use of the same space, allowing teams and band to practice past sundown.
But residents from both Mountain View and Los Altos living around the schools have been wary of the proposal, to put it mildly. When it was suggested as an option among school board members shortly before the summer break last year, residents began rallying under an advocacy group called MVLA Neighborhood Cares and demanded that the district take a responsible approach to the idea and not ignore the nearby residents who have to live with the consequences. One resident called the existing noise from band practice as a "noxious, unwanted intrusion."
The idea proved so divisive that it prompted residents to pack the entire Mountain View High School theater on Aug. 13, with more than 60 speakers deeply divided on whether the lights should be installed at all, let alone with limits.
Harding's draft proposal, presented at the March 25 board meeting, was low-key and instead met with cautious optimism that the good-neighbor policy would be more than just a treaty between two groups still at odds.
"It's a fundamental recognition that our campuses are undersized and places undue stress primarily on the athletics program and music program ... and at the same time, a recognition that our schools are in residential neighborhoods," Harding said.
Perhaps the biggest question still hanging over the school district is a measurable limit on how loud public address systems can be from the property line of neighborhood residences. The draft policy still hasn't chosen the decibel limit.
"It really matters what that number is," said Heather Lattanzi, a resident living near Mountain View High. "If it's 65 instead of 55, that would ruin my life, so I really care what that number is."
Harding said the district is consulting with a sound engineer to make sure that whatever the district installs will be oriented and tuned to maximize volume on the fields while minimizing sound pollution pushed outwards into the neighborhood.
Board members declined to discuss the specifics of the policy until community members have had a chance to weigh in. The policy can be read at tinyurl.com/MVLAlights, and trustees can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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