Many people in the Malibu High School community are hopeful that next week's homecoming will celebrate the dedication of new 70-foot-high lights that will allow the game to be played at night.
However, installation of the lights is still pending as settlement talks continue between attorneys for homeowners groups that filed a lawsuit to block the use of the lights and attorneys for the city, which issued a permit for the lights in June. The lawsuit, filed in July by the Malibu Community Preservation Alliance and the Malibu Township Council, claims the lights will alter the rural characteristics of Western Malibu.
Another meeting in the settlement talks was scheduled for this morning.
The homecoming game versus Fillmore High School is set for Friday, Oct. 26, and the MHS Associated Student Body has been planning several homecoming week festivities.
“We have put together an amazing community-wide celebration in the hopes that homecoming will be the first Friday night game, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony, that involves community members and contributors and everybody in the community," said MHS parent Seth Jacobson, a member of the “Bring on the Lights” campaign's steering committee and chairman of The Shark Fund. "We want to make it a unifying celebration, but we’re being held hostage by the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.”
In June, the Malibu City Council granted a coastal development permit and a conditional use permit for the installation of the lights, limiting their use to a maximum of 61 nights a year.
During the public hearing at the June meeting, Nicholas Anthony, then a Malibu High junior on the school's football and baseball teams, said he wanted the experience of playing a home game under the lights.
“In one of the away games we played [under lights], it was unbelievable," he said. "The stands were packed. Family, friends, the community was there. It was awesome to see. It was something I would really like to have here at home.”
His dad, Pete Anthony, who is also on the “Bring on the Lights” campaign's steering committee, said the project is about meeting the needs of MHS students.
"Who is damaged if this is delayed? It’s not the school district that is damaged. It is our school. It is our programs. It is our kids,” Anthony said.
The lighted field would be of benefit not only to the varsity and junior varsity football teams, but also to the school's lacrosse and soccer teams, cheerleaders, the dance team, the band, student trainers, journalists and photographers, Anthony said.
"This isn’t just about football," he said. "It’s about all the sports that touch the field. It’s even about more than that. It’s about other activities that are just as important."
A lighted field would also bring the community together, Anthony said.
"It’s important because—and we know this for a fact‚ because we’ve done this experiment already and it’s not mysterious—the nighttime games attract crowds," Anthony said. "They bring the community together. It’s a safe and healthy gathering place for kids of all ages and their parents. It brings families together. It brings the community together."
The athletic field was once lighted by temporary lights. In 2009, the California Coastal Commission denied the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District's request to amend a coastal development permit because Malibu's Local Coastal Program (LCP) prohibited athletic lights.
Colleen Baum, a mother of two Malibu High School alumns and one current soccer player, said she testified before the Coastal Commission and the June hearing at Malibu City Hall.
“At that moment when I was testifying," Baum said, "I realized it was these football games, when there was night games, when I could actually get my husband and I and all three kids in place ... having some good family times.”
She said the games, including other sports, were a meeting place for Malibu, which has been difficult since the home games are now held during the afternoon while parents are working.
"It’s such a wonderful event," Baum said. "That’s what our community is missing. Where else do we get to celebrate kids?"
Carol Levy, whose daughter played soccer and whose son plays football, said many of her children's classmates have left Malibu High for schools with lights.
"What I care about is what kids learn from team sports," said Levy, who recently wrote a letter to the editor asking the Malibu community to attend MHS sporting events. "It needs to be just as valued as academics."
Marianne Riggins, whose daughter is a senior at MHS, said she grew up in Malibu. (Riggins is an employee of the City of Malibu, but said she was speaking for herself when interviewed by Malibu Patch.)
"I think we’re missing the opportunity to give our kids a well-rounded education," Riggins said.
She said she understands the challenges of Malibu as a rural community.
"I grew up here," Riggins said. "I know how difficult it can be for a child and teenager in this rural environment where they don’t have an opportunity to participate in a lot of activities. While it is wonderful to have all this open space … it is also limiting in what opportunities they have, especially sports."
Councilwoman Laura Zahn Rosenthal said she believes the disagreements in the community over the project have allowed the focus to get away from its original purpose.
"The years that there were temporary lights and the school was able to do Friday night football games and homecoming, it was the best way to bring the community together," Rosenthal said.
She said she believes the lighted games will act as a gathering place in Malibu.
"I look at it as a community project. It’s for the school. It’s for the community," Rosenthal said.
Jacobson, who is running for a spot on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education, and Anthony, along with a team of other parents and community members, volunteered over the past several months to raise funds for the project.
“The school community wanted to fund this project, which the district couldn’t afford, and we did,” Anthony said. “We did this all in good faith, following the rules after years and years of hearings and government process.”
According to Jacobson, the “Bring on the Lights” campaign brought in $480,000 in donations. The group reimbursed the district $250,000 for administrative, planning and overhead costs and purchased the 70-foot-high lights for about $150,000, he said.
Jacobson said that more fundraising may be needed because the lights, which were delivered last week, still need to be installed.
“The bottom line is we really hope we can have a huge community celebration next week," Jacobson said. "It’s all at risk. It’s unfortunate and sad the whole community can’t stand behind it."