Monterey High School Football

The Monterey High School football team practices on the school field in October 2019.

The Monterey Peninsula Unified School District had been moving toward the goal line with plans for major upgrades to the Monterey High School stadium and athletic field, but will hit pause on that project to conduct an environmental impact report. 

An EIR, per the California Environmental Quality Act, details the impacts a project will have on a number of factors including wildlife, greenhouse gas emissions, viewsheds and traffic. MPUSD officials expect the EIR will cost about $250,000 and take up to a year to complete.

"We think it will push the project out 10 months to a year, but we believe this is the right step to take and will help avoid litigation," Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh says. 

Central to the process of completing an EIR is a public comment process that allows people to make comments on a draft, then final version, and requires the developer—in this case, MPUSD—to consider alternatives that minimize the anticipated impact. 

The proposed modifications to the 3.5-acre football stadium include new field lighting, with three 80-foot high poles and one 70-foot pole, a big part of what neighbors have been concerned about when it comes to light pollution. They also include new 500-seat visitor bleachers and a new press box. Proposed improvements at a 2.2-acre dirt lot include a new softball and multi-use synthetic field and 2,400-square-foot weight room

They have garnered some vocal neighborhood opposition primarily due to anticipated lighting and parking concerns (which will be detailed in the EIR), and because members of the public believe the impacts warrant more detailed public hearings. The district had originally published a different document per the California Environmental Quality Act, a mitigated negative declaration, which provides less analysis than a full-blown EIR, and doesn't explore prospective alternatives. The public review period for the mitigated negative declaration ended on Aug. 26.

Part of the purpose of the change of heart regarding the EIR, Diffenbaugh says, is avoiding potential litigation based on CEQA 

“Though a delay is not what we had hoped for, every dollar we spend fighting a lawsuit could be a dollar spent on improving education for our students," he said in a statement. "It is MPUSD’s hope that the more extensive environmental analysis it will now undertake will both help give assurance that the district is in full compliance with CEQA, and might also avoid such costly litigation.” 

The project was proposed as part of Measure I, a $213 million bond for infrastructure improvements approved by voters in 2018. 

Mary Duan contributed to this report. 

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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