When dusk sets in on winter evenings in Los Altos, the lights above the tennis courts at Marymeade, McKenzie and Montclaire parks switch on for night games. Just around the corner in Los Altos Hills, however, game time concludes when natural light disappears – a 1985 town Outdoor Lighting Ordinance bans artificial light for tennis and other recreational courts.
At the request of Fremont Hills Country Club – a private club in Los Altos Hills with 430 member families – the Los Altos Hills Planning Commission last week reviewed a proposal to amend the town’s municipal code and/or modify the club’s conditional-use permit to allow outdoor tennis-court lighting.
“We really in essence want to expand recreational opportunities to members and the community overall,” said Fremont Hills representative Bart Carey. “Fremont Hills is a bit behind when compared to other clubs. … They all have tennis-court lights.”
Nearby clubs with lighted tennis courts include Los Altos Golf & Country Club, Foothills Tennis & Swimming Club and the University Club of Palo Alto.
Fremont Hills’ application seeks approval to illuminate five of the club’s 10 courts with fully shielded, metal halide luminaires until 10 p.m. To mitigate anticipated concerns from neighbors, the club submitted environmental reports estimating the impact of the added light and noise.
According to the report, there will be “no direct viewing of the light sources from any residence,” as all homes in the vicinity of the club are located above the height of the proposed 22-foot lights. The surfaces of the courts and the dark perimeter screening are expected to absorb light and reduce scattering of light upward.
Hits and misses
The proposal drew a variety of opinions at the study session.
Advocates claimed that the lack of lights limits tennis-court access in Los Altos Hills, particularly for residents who can’t play during the day because of school or work commitments. Some residents said the lack of lights put the club, players and town at a competitive disadvantage when compared to Los Altos and Saratoga, where lighted courts are available.
“I’m playing kids that are top in the nation, and I think we should have courts that are lighted so that kids like me can train,” said Jehan Godrej, a local high school student who plays tennis competitively.
Opponents cited concerns about increased traffic, light pollution and the precedent an updated municipal code could set.
“Allowing (outdoor lights) on a private recreational facility immediately begs the question of why we don’t allow it on a public facility,” said Planning Commissioner Susan Mandle.
Mandle and other commissioners feared that a change to town code could open the door to night lights at the ball fields at Purissima Park, the riding rings at Westwind Community Barn or the outdoor facilities at Pinewood and Gardner Bullis schools.
“It’s not our job to be setting policy,” said Planning Commissioner Richard Partridge. “This is more of a decision for council to make.”
The Planning Commission requested more information from town staff before issuing a recommendation to the council. Staff will research the outdoor lighting policies of similar communities, draft a proposal for a trial light demonstration at Fremont Hills Country Club, hire an environmental consultant to review the club’s reports and conduct a survey of residents to determine the community’s opinion on adding lights to recreational courts in town.