saint ignatius

New Lighting Plan Approved for SI Sports Field

By Thomas K. Pendergast

After months of debate and appeals, a deal has been made to allow the permanent installation of 90-foot-tall stadium lights at J.B. Murphy Field at Saint Ignatius College Preparatory School (SI) for nighttime games.

Under the new agreement, the field lights may only be used Monday through Thursday during the school year for up to a total of 150 nights a year. 

si field lights photo mjsd SB 11-20

Sports teams at St. Ignatius College Preparatory School in the Sunset District will soon play on a lighted field. Photo by Michael Durand.

Events must end and lights must be dimmed by 8 p.m. and then completely shut off by 8:30 p.m. Amplified sound shall not be used past 7:30 p.m. and can only be used during games and not during practices. 

For 15 evenings out of the 150 available nights per year  the lights may remain on until 10 p.m. on any day except Sunday. Those events must end and lights must be dimmed by 9:30 p.m. Amplified sound shall not be used past 9:30 p.m. 

The lights will not be used for practices but only spectator-attended events. On Sundays, field lights and amplified sound shall never be used, and field use shall be limited to the hours of noon to 5 p.m.

The school is also required to provide off-street parking for 200 vehicles for events of more than 500 attendees. They are also not allowed to use the lights for events or groups not affiliated with SI.

Additionally, Verizon Wireless will install cell-phone service gear on the northwest tower of the field lights. 

“Now, more than ever, it’s important that we protect and promote the health and well-being of our youth.” District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar said at an Oct. 20 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. ”The impacts of our public health crisis and sheltering-in-place underscore the need to ensure children have an environment that is as safe and enjoyable as possible under such trying circumstances. For me this includes providing consistency, stability and reliability in our home lives. It also includes enhancing access to outdoor space and recreation. 

“I believe that the SI field lights and expanding access to outdoor recreation space could be desirable for our neighborhood community and certainly for the community that SI serves,” Mar continued. “I’ve heard from Saint Ignatius their expressed limitations securing alternative practice and game space and that field lights would increase the number of available hours for youth to participate in athletics without interfering with their academic school day. By intensifying its existing usage for practices and games, it will expand the use of the facility and thus opportunities for the youth and their community, who are represented citywide and across the Bay Area.”

The SF Planning Department had previously set conditions requiring that on Mondays through Thursdays the lights should be turned off no later than 9 p.m. for a total of 150 nights each school year, and of those they were allowed to stay on until 10 p.m. for 20 nights to accommodate big late-night games.

But the new plan will replace the department’s originaly proposed hours.

Neighbors around the school, led by the citizen group Saint Ignatius Neighborhood Association, appealed the department’s decision to the Board.  

At a previous appeal hearing on Oct. 6, a member of that group, Deborah Brown, argued against the department’s decision. 

“The San Francisco Planning (Department) conditions and event management plan are just words on paper. There is no enforcement,” Brown said. “Let’s say a game is still in progress after 9 p.m. Will SI abruptly turn off the lights? We think not. Who is to make sure they only use the field and lights as specified? We’re not sure and that is a great concern.

“We’ve made it clear that the project has impacts and has been allowed to skip over key planning codes, ignores the SF general plan as well as any environmental impacts,” she said. “We question any mutual benefit that (SI) tries to claim.”

During the appeal hearing before the Board, the school’s principal, Michelle Nevin Levine, elaborated on why she believes they need the lights at night. 

“With 31 sports and 91 teams across our middle and high schools, field access has been a constant challenge,” Levine said. “Our solution is to install next-generation lights on our field to accommodate our needs while being a good neighbor.

“The impact of these lights will be much less than the existing (lights) next door at the South Sunset play fields and much different from the lights we’ve rented in the past; 90-foot lights equals more focused light on the field,” she said. “It’s a critical project for our school. The respect that we show our neighbors is critical and we do not take it lightly.”

Mar addressed these concerns as well during the Oct. 20 meeting. 

“Regarding operational hours, we should consider the differences between a facility for youth, as opposed to adult use, and we should limit athletic practices so they don’t regularly go late into the evening during time that is necessary for rest,” Mar said.

The Board then accepted the new plan with a unanimous vote. 

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