Originally published in The Collegian
In another late marathon Moraga Town Council meeting on Wednesday, the five member council unanimously upheld the Saint Mary’s appeal requesting to operate the lights on the intramural field until 10 p.m. under certain conditions.
Under the appeal submitted by Saint Mary’s, the College will now retrofit the existing lights by building hood devices around them to reduce glare, as well as build three new light poles while disabling one tier of lights on the existing two-tiered poles. Saint Mary’s will be allowed to operate the field until 10 p.m. for a maximum of 305 days per year. The approved resolution also requires the College to address the use of profanity on the field, as well as provide open channels for residents to file any glare or noise complaints. Once Saint Mary’s has finished construction and starts operating the field until 10 p.m., the College will then engage in dialogue with Town Council evaluating the field framework on a yearly basis, according to Town Councilmembers during Wednesday’s meeting.
The debate over one hour of field light operation has been years in the making, though this week’s decision is one that is likely a relief for Saint Mary’s administrators and one that signifies improving relations between the College and the town of Moraga. Speaking to the council on Wednesday, College President James Donahue offered his personal word that the College would be held accountable for its actions — a strong move that ultimately influenced the council.
“When I took over the presidency of Saint Mary’s College a year and a half ago, I made it really clear that one of my primary goals was fostering and developing positive and constructive relationships between Saint Mary’s College and the town of Moraga,” Donahue said. “It has been, continues to be, and will be one of my highest priorities. Part of that is making sure that we have the trust between us, our residents, and our neighbors to make the compromises necessary to achieve and find that mutual goals are possible.”
Residents’ reactions to Donahue’s appellant speech were mixed, with a smaller number of residents speaking during the following public comment period compared to two years ago, and Associated Students President Hope Blain was the only student speaking this time. Many residents expressed negative reactions to the lights, though several also showed optimism at the College being able to keep its word on its promises.
Town Council deliberated for an extended period of time while periodically calling up the College president for clarifications before ultimately upholding the appeal unanimously. During this process, Vice Mayor Michael Metcalf gave an impromptu 13-minute speech on town and College relations.
“Do you know how sad it is to listen to personal attacks from Moragans on the president of the College? It’s disgusting. I’m embarrassed,” said Metcalf. “If we don’t allow this appeal, what incentive does the College have to do anything with those lights that they have? What incentive? None.”
In 2011, anticipating less field space to prepare for the construction of the Alioto Recreation Center, Saint Mary’s sought and acquired the necessary permits to construct an intramural soccer field and light poles adjacent to the former football field at the edge of campus.
The field opened at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year with a 10 p.m. shutoff time, though once the lights turned on, residents living primarily in the subdivisions along Bollinger Canyon Road began complaining to both the College and the town. A Planning Commission meeting in October 2012 directed Saint Mary’s to reduce the operation hours of the field to 9 p.m., among other restrictions. In a 3-2 decision in a nearly four-hour-long debate among the town’s and the College’s most passionate voices, the Town Council denied Saint Mary’s appeal of the Planning Commission decision in March 2013, though the council left room for Saint Mary’s to appeal at a later date, which happened on Wednesday.