The proposal has garnered more than 1,000 signatures on an online petition. The lights would cost about $600,000, according to supporters Tony Franceschini, a San Marin parent, and Dennis Mancuso, president of San Marin Football and Cheer.
“We are talking about an eight-pole system instead of the standard four-pole design. This allows for more concentrated light and eliminates light wash and ‘head light’ glare significantly,” Franceschini said. “The glare will be minimal. We will put in a PA system that will be top of the line” to minimize sound carryover, he said.
Franceschini and Mancuso are part of a group of about 10 families working to get the lights installed.
With soccer now a winter sport, “sometimes soccer can’t finish their games” because the playing field gets dark, Franceschini said.
“(The school has) too many teams. You are trying to load up all these games on one turf field,” and extending the hours of the field by lighting it would help solve the problem, Franceschini said.
“There’s very good reasons why San Marin would like to have lights,” said Jim Hogeboom, superintendent of the Novato Unified School District. “Not only is it needed for Friday night football games, but just as important is our practice time for lacrosse and soccer teams.”
Franceschini’s group held a community meeting on Jan. 27. About 30 people showed up, he said.
Michael Joly, a 34-year resident of the neighborhood who opposes the project, attended the meeting. Joly is concerned about noise from the games and what he believes is a distinct possibility that the school would rent out the field for adult sports.
“I’m a few hundred feet from where the lights are proposed,” Joly said. “I can hear the football kids in my yard.” He said he is an avid gardener, and he often hears noise from the playing field when he is in his yard.
“I can hear the kids practicing from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. It’s just what you accept as a neighbor to a high school. You want the kids to have fun. That’s not a problem.
“The weekends are when the youth teams take over and that’s when the announcing can be pretty loud,” Joly said.
“It’s not every weekend. But it’s still disturbing. I’ve actually gone into my house saying I need a break from this and heard it in the house,” Joly said.
In response, Hogeboom said: “Just as one possible scenario, if the lights are installed, San Marin football could move to Friday nights because they could play at night. Then, San Marin youth football could use the field Saturday instead of Sunday, and there would be no use of the PA system at all on Sunday. That’s just one way we could work with the community.”
Franceschini said, “Currently the speakers for the PA sit at the roof level of the two-story announcer’s booth, which allows the sound to carry.
“The new system will have speakers closer to the ground and closer to the bleachers for more direct sound, allowing the system to be run at a lower setting. The district will be held to a strict sound decibel level appearing in the district administration regulations. These regulations are created during the CEQA process, based on feedback from the community,” Franceschini said.
Joly, who said he didn’t know how many neighbors oppose the proposal, said, “How about when the lights get left on? Who do we call if we have a complaint?”
Hogeboom said, “We have met with the neighbors to discuss this, and we would be sure there is a key administrator contact for the neighbors with an after-hours number.”
Joly said he worried attempts would be made to “commercialize it.”
District officials said adult leagues would not be permitted at night.
“The lights will not be used for adult sports,” Franceschini said. “The field will not be rented out. The entire purpose is for the students at San Marin High.”
There are three high school campuses with lighting in Marin County: San Rafael High School, Tomales High School and San Marin, which has a lighted softball field.
It’s not for lack of trying. In 2009, a proposal was on the table to install lights at both San Marin and Novato high schools. At that time, the installations would have cost $400,000 for each field, $200,000 less than the present cost.
Then, as now, the athletic boosters’ proposal met with opposition from neighbors.
“It’ll be in constant use, and that’s not fair to the people who have houses nearby. If they had lights, they’d want them on seven days a week,” Virginia Huss, a neighbor of Novato High, said at the time.
“We seem to be caught in the political crossfire,” said Greg Mack, then-athletic director for Novato Youth Football.
Neither of the two proposals came to fruition.
Another proposal for night lighting on an athletic field has been made at Marin Catholic High School.
The high school is applying for a county permit to install night lighting on four 80-foot poles on the 10-yard line at each side of the field. Some neighbors say the plan would disrupt the character of the community with night lights, night noise and night traffic.
In an emotional meeting in late January, an advisory board deemed the proposal incomplete and recommended further study.
SCHOOL BOARD REVIEW
As for the San Marin lights, the next step is for the Novato school board to consider whether to do an environmental impact report to help decide whether to pursue the lights. The board will likely take up that question in April.
“There is improved technology for lights today. The circumstances are different,” said school board member Ross Millerick. “It’s worth being looked at. This is a time for an environmental impact study. It’s not a decision, it’s a fact-collecting exercise.”
Hogeboom said, “As usual, the district is trying to balance the needs of practice space, sports and students with our community needs.”