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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Planning Panel Reverses Its Earlier Stance on MHS Parking Lot Lighting

• Sparsely Attended Meeting May Have Been an Indication that Complicated Compromise Was Anticipated

BY BILL KOENEKER


Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District officials, who had successfully sought delays for a Malibu Planning Commission hearing since last year, were successful Monday night in convincing a majority of the commissioners to allow lights on the proposed upper parking lot, with modifications.
The modified project includes a redesigned lighting proposal for the new 150-space parking lot and upper walkways that access it, according to a city planner. “Lighting along the new access road leading up to the new 150-space parking lot was eliminated from the original design.”
After nearly three hours of public testimony and commission deliberation, with newly installed chair Jeff Jennings recusing himself, it appeared the commission was locked into a two-to-two tie.
Commissioner John Mazza reminded his colleagues that a tie vote on the motion would be the same as a losing one and the matter could be tied up for years if it was appealed to the city council and to the California Coastal Commission.
Panelists then began in earnest to deliberate and debate sometimes heated in an effort to see if they could come up with a compromise.
As at the previous meeting in August, commissioners were focused on lighting issues on a 150-space parking lot and whether it should remain unlit.
When the dust settled, the commissioners devised a complicated scheme in which they allowed the lights to be built, but placed numerous conditions to control the timing and nights the lights can be used, what section of the parking lot is usable and upgrades to lighting standards on other parking lots.
The 150-space lot will be open at night for the same 16 nights when the athletic field lights are in use and an additional 15 nights for special events.
Lots A and B will operate as close to what is called “Light Zone One” as possible, to be determined by the planning director with a one year review.
The district had already offered a lighting proposal, which was different than the one proposed in August that “utilizes advanced lighting technology with light emitting diode fixtures, three occupancy/motion-sensitive areas in the new 150-space parking lot, and redesigned pole heights, styles and orientation that adhere to the most recent version of the International Dark Sky Association/Illuminating Engineering Society Model Lighting Ordinance,” according to the district.
Another modification the district promised was that 217 existing exterior lighting fixtures at the school campus, which comprises all exterior lighting fixtures currently in use will be replaced.
The district has started replacing the fixtures with IDA-compliant, 26 watt LED fixtures with full cut-off performance. Priority is being given to the fixtures that pose the greatest lighting impacts to neighbors, according to school officials. Perimeter lighting will be replaced within six months, the commissioners were told.
Another modification involved the Morning View Drive right-hand turn lane. The modified project also includes an approximately 700 foot long, dedicated, right-hand turn lane along the south side of Morning View Drive from Merritt Drive to the entrance of the new 150-space parking lot access road and restriped. It will further help alleviate congestion by moving arriving vehicles to the campus, district officials explained.
It was the oft-repeated phrase school officials offered planning panelists in explaining the configuration of the driveway and parking lots.
During the last hour of debate between the commissioners, Mazza initially said he could not make the finding for approving the lights.
Planners told commissioners, the revised lighting proposal builds upon the mitigation measures identified in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report in order to reduce the effects of the parking lot on sky glow.
Mazza noted the project would still result in a new source of light associated with the addition of lighting in the 150-space parking lot proposed in an undeveloped portion of the campus.
While sky glow would be substantially reduced as compared to the original proposal, according to a city planner, as compared to the original proposal, a new source of sky glow would still be introduced and the impact would remain “significant and unavoidable with respect to the impact of the project EIR.”
“I can’t support that,” Mazza said.
While the development of the parking lot and upper walkway without lighting would completely eliminate the significant and unavoidable effect of sky glow, such a condition would result in added neighborhood parking impacts by rendering the parking lot unusable during after 3 p.m. uses, district officials argued and many of the public comments were directed at the darkened lot.
Several speakers told the commissioners that they were concerned about the danger to their young daughters.
“A dark parking lot is not a safe place for a high school girl,” said Colleen Baum.
Newly installed Vice Chair Mikke Pierson said he did not think what happened at  the upper parking lot affects the quality of education. “One thing that concerns me is that lot is isolated. My primary concern is the safety of a young lady. I don’t know if I’d want my daughter walking up to that lot,” he said.
The new application is to redevelop portions of the MMHS campus with a new classroom/library/administration building totaling 20,274 square feet of net new building area; approximately 12,509 square feet of interior renovation and modernization of existing classrooms.
The commission approved the new 150-space lighted parking lot; a reconfigured 119-space lighted parking lot with an onsite roundabout; a reconfigured 61-space lighted parking lot and outdoor lighting.
The school district also got approval for a new student drop-off and pick-up lane; a right-hand turn lane for about 700 feet along Morning View Drive; two new unlit tennis courts; new outdoor common areas; new fencing, landscaping, retaining walls and grading; relocated equestrian trail and the renovation of existing facilities.
During the previous hearing many public comments endorsed the staff recommendation about reduced lighting.
However, district officials reiterated their concern about the unlit parking lot and told commissioners they were also bound by code and safety requirements. The big issue, commissioners were told, is the parking lot lighting and walkway lighting.
The standards, according to school officials, are not .established by the district but are adopted by other agencies requiring the district to meet those mandated safety and liability standards. A school campus requires a certain kind of lighting, according to the district.
After hours of questions and deliberations, the commission tentatively approved the staff recommendation of the unlit parking lot, some traffic changes and for two new unlit tennis courts, new outdoor common areas.
The Conditional Use Permit is for operation of a public educational institution and the expansion of more than 500 square feet in that zone.
Variances were sought for grading in excess of 1000 cubic yards, and constructing structures on 2.5 to one slopes and impermeable coverage over 25,000 square feet.
The school district, which is the lead agency, issued a FEIR last fall.
An FEIR describes the project as approximately 76,694 square feet of new construction, some of it replacement building since 15,041 square feet of old buildings are earmarked for demolition while other buildings will be upgraded.
The FEIR, which was approved by the school district prepared for the proposal, acknowledges that the project would not be able to avoid adverse impacts related to increased sky-glow because of night lights.
Although the debate over the high school parking lot lighting issue has been heated, it appears that the majority on both sides of the issue are comfortable with the compromise.

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