Residents living near Clairemont High had no reason to believe that the school and district had any intention of turning their newly renovated football stadium into a nightly playing field for adult soccer leagues.
Why would they? The mitigated negative declaration the district submitted before the renovation began was clear: "The District anticipates that approximately 15 evening events would occur with implementation of the proposed project. The District notes that due to routine practices and the potential for unforeseen events, such as playoff games, a few more events may occur."
During the course of the past year, the "few more events" line from the environmental document has morphed into allowing an adult sporting league known as VAVI to rent the field for 190 nighttime sporting events. As of February 21, VAVI has rented the field out for 117 nighttime sporting events, with 73 more planned until June 30. In exchange for use of the field, VAVI agreed to pay $48,129.
Residents say they, not the sports leagues, are paying the real price. Anywhere from three to five nights a week until 9:30 p.m., they are under the lights. They say families are moving out and the San Diego Unified School District is unresponsive to their complaints.
"Since they've been up, two families have already moved out — my neighbors across the street will soon make three," Clairemont resident Tom Ford tells the Reader. "Light comes in my entire house at night. I can't even sleep in my own master bedroom because my window faces the field…. There's no reason for us to go outside at night and enjoy our fire pit or look at the stars. What's the point when you're under a huge spotlight and you can't see the stars?"
Ford says the district caught them off guard about the proposal to build the lights.
"San Diego Unified never approached us about the lights, or the field renovation. The mitigated negative declaration they released was a complete joke. To hear that the school district is renting out the field 190 nights a year for forty some thousand dollars is upsetting. Add to it the fact that San Diego Unified used taxpayer money to pay for stadium renovations instead of on classrooms. And trying to get through to San Diego Unified is next to impossible."
That last point has been raised by several other communities located near high schools where large-scale field renovations have taken place or are planned to occur in coming months. In 2013, after years of fighting the proposed stadium renovations at Hoover High School, a group of Talmadge residents sued San Diego Unified over their use of Proposition S funds and an apparently false statement similar to the one found in Clairemont's mitigated negative declaration: that the district planned only 15 nighttime events at the high school.
Approved in 2008, Proposition S (and later Z) is known as the “School Repair and Safety Measure.” To date, the bonds have generated an estimated $2.1 billion in revenues. The funds, according to bond language, were intended to pay for repairs to “outdated student restrooms, deteriorated plumbing and roofs; upgrading career/vocational classrooms and labs; providing up-to-date classroom technology; improving school safety and security, and replacing dilapidated portable classrooms.”
There was never any mention of new stadiums, 90-foot light towers, or state-of-the-art public-address systems.
The Talmadge residents were eventually successful in their lawsuit, forcing the district to conduct proper environmental review, effectively capping the number of night events at Hoover. The residents are currently asking the court to force the district to repay the $2.6 million dollars of Proposition S and Z funds.
Despite the court defeat, San Diego Unified went ahead with plans to renovate Clairemont High School's stadium, submitting an abbreviated environmental document stating that only 15 nighttime events would occur.
Clairemont residents are joining with residents in Talmadge, Point Loma, El Cerrito, and other communities to hold the district accountable and force them to be good neighbors.
On February 19, more than 50 El Cerrito residents and others from Clairemont attended a community council meeting to address the $16 million stadium renovation planned at Crawford High School (in El Cerrito) and the situation in Clairemont.
"We are not opposed to modernizing the school, including the stadium," El Cerrito resident Jim Zumbiel told those in attendance. "This will only benefit the students and the community. However, it is now apparent that the school board's main objective in building such a huge sports complex, that goes beyond the needs of students at Crawford or [Horace Mann Middle School], is simply meant to generate revenue. This money could be used to renovate the classrooms built in 1957, not build a state-of-the-art stadium for adult league and other outside third parties."
Zumbiel said that the group is speaking to legal counsel about the next step to take to force the district to be responsive to neighbors and abide by the language in the bond measures.
But according to a San Diego Unified spokesperson, the impacts at Clairemont are not felt by the entire community, and, in fact, represents only a small minority of residents.
"In contrast to the handful of individuals who have complained about the activities, we have received dozens of requests from community members not to cancel the permit," writes San Diego Unified communications director Linda Zintz. "The owner of VAVI is an active member of the Clairemont community."
Zintz says that the district is meeting with Clairemont residents and is dedicated to figuring out a solution.
"The district will be holding a series of meetings with a group of diverse stakeholders to determine the field use policy for Clairemont High School. The policy will be a collaboration that takes into account what’s in the best outcome for the school, students, community and the neighbors. These meetings have not been scheduled but will be held prior to the end of the current school year."
(corrected 2/22, 6:30 p.m.)