MVLA high school district drafting policy for stadium lights, public address systems

The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District continues to move toward implementing a policy regulating the use of stadium lights and public address systems at its Mountain View and Los Altos campuses.

Last week’s board of trustees meeting included the first reading of a new policy detailing conditions for how and when such equipment may be used. The March 25 meeting also marked the beginning of a 30-day window for written public comment on the policy.

Superintendent Jeff Harding presented the draft policy to trustees, the outcome of five months of collaborative work with neighborhood groups, parents, trustees and athletic and music directors. Harding said he received and read “numerous letters and emails espousing the advantages and drawbacks that could result from the installation of stadium lights on the main playing fields.”

According to Harding, the new policy “supports student engagement in school while minimizing the impact on the community … a balanced compromise between valid competing interests.”

Trustees are scheduled to discuss the draft policy after receiving the additional written comments during the 30-day window.

The effort stems from campaigns in recent years by athletic boosters for permanent outdoor lighting at the high schools.

Proponents said the lack of lighting discourages fans from attending games because most of them are held during the day. In recent years, Mountain View has rented temporary lights to host night football games and Los Altos usually plays at least one night football game per year at Foothill College. St. Francis High School, located nearby, has outdoor stadium lights and regularly schedules night football games.

Neighbors of Los Altos and Mountain View highs have voiced noise, traffic, parking and other environmental concerns.

Harding noted the district recognizes “the use of stadium lights and public address systems can have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods of our high schools. The board acknowledges the importance of being a good neighbor in taking reasonable measures to mitigate these impacts.”

Proposed guidelines

To address objections, draft policy guidelines limit night varsity games to no more than five per year for football, girls and boys soccer, girls and boys lacrosse, field hockey, track and field, and any future varsity field sport. Additionally, stadium lights may be used for practices during weekdays until 8:30 p.m.

Marching bands are allowed use of stadium lights and public address systems two nights, Monday through Friday, one ending by 8 p.m., the other by 6:30 p.m. Multi-school marching band competitions are limited to one per year per campus, ending by 7:30 p.m.

Use of lights also would be limited to three evening “special events” ending by 9 p.m., not including the possibility of evening commencement exercises.

Lights would not be used on Sundays except “under special circumstances,” according to the draft policy.

Public address systems also would be limited to sports competitions and special events. Play-by-play announcements would be limited to football games. The systems also would be used for emergency drills and evacuations. The policy calls for “tolerable sound levels as measured at the property line of neighboring residences.” The levels are to be determined “in consultation with specialists.”

Another lengthy part of the draft policy concerns facilities use, including their “civic centers,” with no community use available until school-use schedules have been set.

Also per policy, the district offers to dedicate a web page to “community relations and communications,” to create an ongoing forum for questions, concerns and suggestions.

“At this point, it would be premature for me to estimate if or when the policy might be approved or if (or) when lights might be installed,” Harding said last week after the meeting. “The board would first need to contract with a firm to write an environmental impact report, and with an architect to design the lighting system. Nothing within the realm of school construction moves quickly, but I would say that the district is moving forward as planned.”

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