Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Kaiser School Field Lights - Yes Or No?


So, let's just cut to the chase.  Last night, Tuesday, the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously - but not without some hesitancy - to authorize the placement and use of six portable light units on the playing fields at Kaiser School so approximately 12 dozen kids - half of which apparently live in Newport Beach - will be able to practice soccer after the sun goes down.

During an unusual special meeting - with only one agenda item - the commission chaired by Byron de Arakal affirmed what the staff report, HERE, implied it would do.  It had promised the neighbors of Harper School that they would not be expected to endure the noise, inconvenience and intrusive lights for a third year in a row.  That burden will now be transferred to the contiguous neighbors of Kaiser School for at least this winter season.

During the Public Hearing on this item more than two dozen people spoke.  20% of them were in favor of lighting the Kaiser fields.  All of those represented youth sports groups or adult soccer organizations.  The bulk of those who spoke against the plan, not surprisingly, were Kaiser School neighbors.  However, several Harper School neighbors - the ones who have been carrying this burden - spoke in support of the Kaiser School neighbors and demand a better solution than simply moving portable lights from one school to another.  They demanded a permanent solution to this issue, which has continued to fester for more than a decade.

In an interesting twist, City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch was in the audience and, immediately after new Recreation Manager Travis Karlen, presented the staff report, Hatch stepped to the speakers podium to tell the commission and the audience that he had correspondence that very afternoon from Dr. Fred Navarro, Superintendent of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District that requested the commission NOT make a decision on this issue.  His letter, below (click on it for easier viewing) made it very clear that the school district was not happy with what appeared to be a unilateral decision to place infrastructure on school district property without even so much as consultation.

Even more interesting is the fact that, although de Arakal acknowledged Hatch's presentation of this information and the existence of the letter, it was completely ignored the rest of the evening, including when the final discussions were taking place before the vote.  It's hard to know what Dr. Navarro's reaction to this will be, but I suspect he will not be a happy camper today.

I'm not going to try to give you a verbatim transcript of what the folks said tonight as they opposed the plan.  Concerns were expressed about noise, light, diesel fumes, enviornmental damage to the fields, danger for the children and residents of the neighborhood due to the increased car traffic, and on and on.  None of those concerns are insignificant.

One resident, a gentleman with expertise in lighting situations, spoke at length - or as much as he could within the prescribed time - and explained that the lights being used were absolutely NOT the proper kind of lights for this application.  He did acknowledge, though, that proper portable lights, used correctly, would only worsen the situation because the lights would then shine DIRECTLY into the homes nearby.  He opined that the only good solution for the site would be proper permanent lights.

As an aside, obviously recognizing the sensitivity of the issue, de Arakal was VERY generous with the speakers last night, giving many a chance to complete their presentations even though they used well beyond their authorized 3 minutes.   In fact, at the end of the meeting, just before their vote, he permitted resident activist Anna Vrska to speak a second time to present what turned out to be quite relevant information to the issue - the complete lack of lighted fields to the California Youth Soccer League, which serves 100% Westside Costa Mesa youth.  She also asked for clarification about a comment concerning Group 3 users, mentioned below.

Among the five speakers who supported the plan was Brett Eckles, representing AYSO District 97 - the group involved - and a member of both the Charter and Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committees.  He presented us with numbers, most of which were delivered much too rapidly to record.  He eventually did calculate that the actual impact of not lighting fields this winter would mean that approximately 144 kids would not be able to practice.

During the deliberations staff provided information in response to questions from commissioners about how many lighted fields we presently have and if there were any groups other than Group 1 users - AYSO is a Group 1 user - were using any of them.  The response, clarified later, was that three Group 3 users utilize segments of Jack Hammett Sports Complex along Fairview Drive adjacent to Costa Mesa High School.  Two of those those are programs with paid staff -  Friday Night Lights Football and Matt Lienart Flag Football - and Newport-Mesa Soccer is "club" soccer.  It was interesting that there was NO discussion about displacing one - or all - of those organizations so the AYSO youth sports groups could use the time.

Former city council candidate Harold Weitzberg stepped up and suggested that half of one of our municipal golf courses could be leveled to install a dozen playing fields - a move that would immediately fix the problem.  He suggested a nine-hole "executive" course with the remaining 9 holes.  Many in the crowd cheered, but the idea got very little traction with the commission.

One of the pro-field lights speakers, Bret Woods,  suggested putting several fields in Fairview Park.  De Arakal explained that the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee was working hard on the plan for the park.  He also explained that the Master Plan of Parks and Open Spaces needs to be updated, and that money has been budgetd to do that update this fiscal year.  Part of that process is a significant public outreach element, at which time residents and other interested parties could make their views known.

Near the end of the discussion, and before the vote was taken, de Arakal promised the folks present that he WOULD get something done about this situation - soon.  He all but guaranteed that this situation would be temporary.  He said he would create an ad hoc committee to study field use, and mentioned as participants council members, planning commissioners, parks and recreation commissioners, members from all the youth sports groups and, almost as an after thought, members of the public.  I don't believe he has the authority to create such a committee - that's the City Council's job.  If that scheme goes forward I foresee another committee stacked with council supporters, just like both commissions and several committees are today.  It seemed to me that this was just a ploy to difuse some of the very significant negative energy in the room as the vote was about to be taken.  It's very possible de Arakal will not be on the commission when that committee gets vetted - his term is up next year.

This process should have taken place months ago.  Because it did not, the commission is up against a nature-imposed time limit - it's going to get dark earlier very soon.  I believe it is within the rights of the opponents to appeal this decision to the City Council, but de Arakal didn't tell them that.  If someone decides to appeal - spend the money or convincd a symphathetic council member to appeal it for them - that will stretch out the process and probably place it before the City Council just before the election.  And, it would delay lighting the fields until a determination is made.  I doubt if anyone running for office wants to have this facing them so soon before folks vote for them - or not.  There are only a couple council meetings left before the election.

Speaking of the city council, candidate Chris Bunyan attended this meeting, arriving shortley after the meeting began.  Candidate Lee Ramos showed up later, after attending a meet and greet event for him and Jim Righeimer at the home of Planning Commission Chairman and Righeimer sycophant Jim Fitzpatrick.  Fortunately, the meeting ended before 8:30 - the time Ramos usually leaves those infrequent council meetings he attends.

When the vote was called each commission member expressed their views.  It was clear that none of them saw an alternative and commissioner Don Harper actually paused a little and made me wonder if he might vote against this plan - but he didn't.  Commissioner Dean Abernathy mused that it might be fairer to light two schools fields and spread the grief, but let that thought pass.  Vice Chair Kim Pederson suggested, once again, that consideration be given to working with the folks across the street at the Orange County Fair And Event Center toward the possibility of using part of their parking lot for the installation of roll-up artificial turf "fields".  He broached that question a couple years ago. After all the conversation, all five commissioners voted for the plan.  The Chairman gave very clear, specific direction to staff that the lights WOULD be turned off NO LATER than 7:30 each night of operation.
 Karlen assured us that, although his organization is short of Field Ambassadors, they are working on hiring more and those should be in place in time for the winter field use season in a couple weeks.  We'll see.

I heard mutterings among the crowd as they left to the effect that they'd heard this all a decade ago and hoped it didn't take another ten years to fix this problem.  Amen to that!  Now we'll see what happens.

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Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

Quick correction, Geoff - Friday Night Lights and Matt Leinart flag football are not adult leagues. Strictly kids.

10/01/2014 06:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Could this "spread the pain" plan be a way of building support for lighted fields at Fairview Nature Park? It would be interesting to know how many of the kids playing soccer on those fields are from Newport. How many lighted fields does NB have?

10/01/2014 07:55:00 AM  
Anonymous xyn bohemia said...

oh my gosh, they ignored the letter from the superintendent of newport mesa schools??? who the heck do they thing they are? i am dumbfounded... :(

10/01/2014 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

The city knows that it has the upper hand in this one. No one on the school board is going to oppose anything that is "for the kids" especially this close to election time. I have to hand it to the sports organizations and the parks and rec commission - they orchestrated this flawlessly.

10/01/2014 04:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

So... Tom Hatch stepped up to the speakers podium to address the dais with information that this situation supersedes their authority? And they ignored him?

Really, now, THAT is rich.

10/01/2014 04:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Byron de Arakal said...

We did not ignore Dr. Navarro's letter, xyn. Dr. Navarro articulated very well the district's desire to work with Mr. Hatch to "craft a more inclusive process." That collaborative effort will take place. However, Dr. Navarro also asked the commission to "consider this news process, IF NOT TONIGHT (emphasis added), for all future decisions on properties under our current Joint Use Agreement." In my view, Dr. Navarro - in his statement - clearly recognized the implications of the commission failing to act on the Kaiser matter, particularly the real impact of displacing a significant number of Newport-Mesa youth from their fall/winter sports season. I appreciate his sensitivity in that regard, and can assure him that Mr. Hatch's office will be working with the district to develop a more inclusive process for the consideration of portable light placement in the future.

10/01/2014 04:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Interesting that a committee chair now makes assurances about what "CEO" Hatch will do.

10/01/2014 09:11:00 PM  

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