Nearly two dozen people spoke out against plans by the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District to a new parking lot that would bring more lighting to .
In a 3-0 vote on Tuesday, Aug. 7, the Planning Commission directed city staff to add conditions to require a right turn lane on an access road leading up to a proposed 150 spot parking lot. Commissioners voted to uphold staff's recommendation to approve the project without lights in the new lot.
“This community sees things like AstroTurf, stadium lighting and all these things and then they see real problems. The traffic at that school is a real problem that impacts a real neighborhood,” Commissioner John Mazza said.
Before the vote, Jan Maez, chief financial officer for the SMMUSD, asked the commission to avoid placing too many restrictions on the project.
"What I fear most is that conditions that you are placing on this permit are going to jeopardize those really important parts of the project. The parts that are important to the educational part of these kids," Maez said.
The plans call for new classrooms, a library, computer and science labs and an administrative building, totaling 20,274 square feet. The main building would also include "green roofs," which are meant to reduce storm water runoff and provide an outdoor learning space, according to the SMMUSD website.
The plans also include a reconfigured 119-space lighted parking lot; and a reconfigured 61-space lighted parking lot and a new student drop-off area.
The school hosts 65 events that take place after school in addition to 250 sporting events every year, according to the SMMUSD.
The district asked for alternate conditions of approval, including full parking lot lighting only for major events and partial lighting on other evenings.
“We would have to abandon the idea of having a new parking lot,” said Stuart A. Sam, director of the SMMUSD Facility Improvements Office.
During an hour-long public hearing, many people spoke about the impact on views and light pollution, a hot topic in the wake of a Malibu City Council decision to allow on some nights of the year.
“It’s right in my primary view, this parking lot. I had a blue water view and now it’s going to have a parking lot and 70-foot poles,” Carol Gable said.
Jeff Jennings, who lives near the school, said he objected to the plans to plant sycamores on a ridgeline, blocking some ocean views.
“The planting should be limited to no higher than the six feet of the fencing,” Jennings said.
Others criticized the parking plan.
“This is not well thought out. Not only should the lights not be allowed, that parking lot is in totally the wrong place,” Terry Lucoff said.
Lucoff said the district said there would be no cumulative impact from the athletic field lighting on the local neighborhood.
“Now they’re talking about lighting parking lots and everything and they are telling you they need the lights and it was poorly planned out,” Lucoff said.
Stanley Lamport spoke on behalf of the Malibu Community Preservation Alliance and the Malibu Township Council, which has filed a lawsuit against the approval of 70-foot high lights at the MHS athletic field.
“The district has had a long history of showing disregard for the impacts of its lighting on the neighborhood,” Lamport said.
He said the conclusion of the environmental impact review shows that the lighting will have a significant and adverse impact on the neighborhood.
Lamport also added that even though the field lights project has been submitted separately from the improvement plan, both are moving forward at the same pace. He said the project requires further environmental review.
He said that absence of light, or darkness, does not equal crime in Malibu.
“This is a dark sky community and if that assertion were true, you’d expect this to be a community of rampant crime, and yet it is not,” Lamport said.
Marianne Riggins urged the commission to pass the proposal as submitted by the district.
“I understand that this is a very rural area and I understand there will be impacts to the neighborhood, but we do need to remember this is a community asset. This is a site that has been developed. We are building our future on this,” Riggins said.