“A football game at school is the best place for kids to be on a Friday night. So many students came to the games and now where will they go?"
  • “A football game at school is the best place for kids to be on a Friday night. So many students came to the games and now where will they go?"
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When the Hoover High School Cardinals take the field Friday, November 8, for their final home game of the 2013 regular season, it will be an afternoon game under the sun, not a traditional 7:30 game under the lights.

Hoover High School

4474 El Cajon Boulevard, Talmadge

On the afternoon of Friday, September 20, San Diego Superior Court judge Timothy Taylor, following a decision from an appellate court, ruled San Diego Unified School District had failed to conduct an adequate environmental review before installing the light towers over Hoover’s newly renovated football field.

Hoover is San Diego Unified’s second-oldest high school, located on the border of City Heights and Talmadge. During the past four years, the school has been blamed for un-neighborly conduct.

Evading proper environmental review wasn’t the only foul that the district committed. The court found the district improperly used bond proceeds from Proposition S, originally meant as a facilities improvement bond, to pay for the two 90-foot and two 100-foot light towers. Taylor ordered the district to shut off the lights until a full environmental impact report was conducted. Six hours after Taylor’s decision, the Cardinals played on their home field under the lights for the last time this season...and for seniors on the team, the last time ever.

The installation of lights at Hoover High School’s football field cost the district $462,800. Now, a judge has ordered them turned off.

In the waning minutes of the first half of that game, senior-class president Jennifer Nguyen was busy drafting the announcement she was to make to parents, students, and cheerleaders on the field.

“My ASB [associated student body] advisor came up and told me, like, ten minutes before halftime,” Nguyen said during an interview two weeks after Taylor’s ruling.

“So, I made the announcement at halftime over the loudspeaker. I was crying while writing it.”


Hoover High football

Footage of the field at Hoover High, cheerleading and football practice, and a chat with some players.

Footage of the field at Hoover High, cheerleading and football practice, and a chat with some players.

She pauses to hold back another rush of tears and fans her eyes with both hands.

“There was just so much happening at the time. I just felt like our senior year was going so bad..and then she told me and I had to make the speech.”

After her speech, Nguyen walked up and down Hoover High School’s new bleachers, installed at the same time as the lights, and began taking people’s names down for a petition. She wasn’t sure whom she was petitioning.

“A football game at school is the best place for kids to be on a Friday night. So many students came to the games and now where will they go? We feel robbed and are totally disappointed, especially us seniors.”

Nguyen isn’t the only student who feels strongly about shutting off power to the lights. “It’s every kid’s dream, at least it was mine, to go to high school and play under the lights,” said Austin Brown, a tall, muscular junior who plays defensive tackle and center for the Cardinals. “It’s just a different experience that you don’t get when you play day games.

“When you watch football on TV and see them play night games, you see how hard they work. It’s like teammates really become brothers out on the field, and that’s how I felt. For me, football is my life, and taking the lights away is like taking away part of me.”

The on-field camaraderie isn’t all that Brown and other players will miss. “The other problem is that fewer people can make it out during the day. Parents that work during the day have to miss the games. The same amount of support is just not there.”

Brown and Nguyen’s comments reflect those of many students at San Diego Unified’s second-oldest high school, located on the border of City Heights and Talmadge in Mid-City. During the past four years, the district has been blamed for un-neighborly conduct and the residents have been labeled overdramatic NIMBYs. Meanwhile, the students remained on the sideline, having to make sense of it all.

“I didn’t want to be angry and tried to be as understanding as possible,” Brown said in a soft-spoken voice. “It just took a while for me to accept it as truth. It came as a surprise. We are looking for support out of the community, not to be torn down by them. We are an inner-city school, and this is one way that we can try and make a better life for ourselves.”

The issue, however, is more complex than grumpy neighbors who have nothing better to do than complain about noise and traffic. It involves what appellate-court judges ruled to be a misuse of taxpayer monies as well as a refusal by the district to look into the impacts the lights and night events would bring to their quiet neighborhood.

Yet, despite the defeat in court, San Diego Unified refused to give in and continued to charge forward with similar projects at nine other high schools. Since 2008, district officials have spent millions on stadium lights for Clairemont, Patrick Henry, Madison, Morse, Serra, and University City High Schools.

Public records obtained by the Reader show the lights at Hoover High, complete with the four 90–100-foot poles, a 300-kilovolt electrical substation, drilling, and labor for installation, cost the district $462,800, not including planning costs and employee hours.

And then, of course, there’s the $405,000 in attorneys’ fees that the district paid to outside counsel.

It might not be the end of legal expenses. The district plans to install stadium lights at Crawford and Point Loma high schools, as well as Kearny, La Jolla, Lincoln, Mira Mesa, Mission Bay, San Diego, and Scripps Ranch.

First on the list, and currently under review, are projects at Crawford and Point Loma. The move-first-ask-later attitude employed by San Diego Unified staff has residents crying foul and accusing the district of selling out residents in order to commercialize high-school sports fields and tap into a new revenue stream.

Misuse of taxpayer funds from the sale of school bonds has become a major issue for school districts across the county. Last year, board members from Poway Unified School District were slammed by legislators at the local, state, and federal levels after an investigation, conducted by online news organization Voice of San Diego, found district officials opted to saddle future generations with massive debts in exchange for fast cash payout.

And while San Diego Unified’s bond infractions won’t result in billion-dollar losses, they will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, drawing attention to the lack of oversight for taxpayer-funded bonds.

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eastlaker Nov. 6, 2013 @ 2:29 p.m.

This situation points out the need for Bond Oversight Committees, and for giving such committees real information, real power and having individuals with real integrity on board.

In addition, I would like to point out that those communities with Mello-Roos funds are finding it difficult to monitor what is going on, as there is now state oversight of all those monies. Most communities do NOT have anyone overseeing the allocation and spending of Mello-Roos funds, which means that all sorts of wrong-doing can take place while the public is in the dark.

There are honorable processes for these public bonds, and they should be honored. When short cuts take place, they for the most part do not benefit the public.


eastlaker Nov. 7, 2013 @ 1:53 p.m.

Sorry--should read "there is NO state oversight of all those monies." Forgot to proofread.


community_watch Nov. 6, 2013 @ 9:28 p.m.

Scott Barnett has totally missed the whole point of improper bond money expenditures. If the district was upfront with the voters and listed Field Lighting as a specific project in the bond measures for each of the high schools in both Prop S and Prop Z and those bonds passed with Field Lighting listed as a specific project, taxpayers would have no issues with the district spending bond money on Field Lighting. Prop 39 changed our California constitution and requires strict accountability of school bonds. Prop S and Prop Z are both Prop 39 bond measures. One of the advantages of Prop 39 school bonds, and why the school districts really like using them, is because they only require a 55% majority of votes rather then the previous requirement of 2/3 majority of votes. One of the strict accountability requirements of a Prop 39 bond measure is to include specific projects that the bond money will go toward so the voters are fully informed of what the money will be spent on when they go to the voter booth to cast their vote. The project that the district decided to include Field Lighting was a project in the Prop S bond measure under a heading labeled “Projects to Improve School Accessibility, Code Compliance Upgrades”. Under that heading is where you will find two projects related to the football field and stadium renovations; 1) Renovate/replace stadium bleachers, including press box. 2) Upgrade fields, track, and courts for accessibility compliance. Again, both of these projects were presented to the taxpayers as ADA compliance and Code compliance efforts. ADA compliance and Code compliance upgrades are a welcome improvement to all of the school facilities and also one of the reasons that voters cast their vote to approve Prop S and Prop Z. Here is the catch, Field lighting can not be tethered to any projects under that heading as an expense that was “incidental to and necessary for the completion of the listed projects”. Close to a ½ Million dollar expense at Hoover alone definitely fails the “incidental” requirement and Field Lighting is not required for a football field and stadium to be ADA compliant so it also fails the “necessary” requirement: http://www.ada.gov/stadium.txt">http://www.ada.gov/stadium.txt

From a SDUSD Declaration, in response to Judge Taylor's request, disclosed the following costs associated with field lighting using Prop S money:

Clairemont - $408,431; Madison - $611,590; Morse - $302,154; University City - $803,030; Hoover - $490,968

Total - $2,616,173

The truth of the matter is that the District purposely didn’t include Field Lighting as a specific project because they knew that the controversial project would affect their chances of getting voter approval of both Prop S and Prop Z. The district took their chances and hid it in the fine print. But this time the fine print wasn’t fine enough and it has worked against them.

Learn more at: http://www.tfasbs.org/">http://www.tfasbs.org/


aardvark Nov. 7, 2013 @ 12:49 p.m.

Patrick Henry is mentioned in the above story. They have had lights for over 25 years, and were mainly paid for through donations, so they should have no bearing on this story--although it would be nice if they could put shields on them to direct the light downward to the field instead of all over that area of San Carlos and Del Cerro.


Dorian Hargrove Nov. 7, 2013 @ 1:18 p.m.

Aardvark, you are correct. Including Patrick Henry was my mistake. Upgrades to the athletic facilities have not been completed. Thanks for the clarification...-dH


Tighelander Nov. 7, 2013 @ 9 p.m.

Lighting seems like an unnecessary waste of money in these times of tight budgets.


monaghan Nov. 19, 2013 @ 10:16 a.m.

The advice school districts get concerning bond issues usually is calibrated to the lowest standard of whatever will fly. Consultants offering this advice get paid handsomely for it, long before the bond is ever expensively marketed to the community as Motherhood and Apple Pie. When school bonds do pass muster -- at the new lower rate of 55% -- they are treated as exemplars of patriotism and democratic faith in public education. In fact, as Dorian Hargrove is explaining in this instance, bond issues lately have been treated as cash-cows for doing things that were not on the laundry list presented to the voting public. Another such example is the $20 million taken from a past SDUSD bond to build the new downtown Central Library -- a very political venture that was supposed to be entirely privately funded.


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