A school district does damage control facing lawsuit threats over stadium.

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PK Diffenbaugh isn’t sure who delivered the flyer to his door, although he is sure it’s loaded with incorrect information, most notably that the project the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District wants to undertake to update the athletic facilities at Monterey High School will be the end of civilization as people know it.

OK, that last part is an exaggeration: Stadium lights, a press box, handicapped seating, spectator seating, a new second field that means a half-dozen teams don’t have to share a single practice space, won’t be the end of the world. But for a time at least, during construction, it’s going to be inconvenient.

It’s most everything else on that flyer that Diffenbaugh, the MPUSD superintendent, maintains is problematic.

First there’s the incorrect idea that the district will install 93-foot stadium lights – “as tall as 8 story buildings,” the flyer reads – at MHS’ Dan Albert Stadium. There’s the incorrect idea that the project will remove on-campus parking and flood the neighborhood’s narrow streets with the overflow. There’s the incorrect idea the project will lead to noise pollution at night via amplified speakers, air horns blaring and crowds. And there’s also the idea that MPUSD admits there will be many more night-time school and non-school-related sports and non-sports events, including concerts.

The perceptions might not be real, but their existence is, and it’s why MPUSD is pumping the brakes on the project, briefly at least, as it rejiggers its outreach to concerned neighbors and tries to set the record straight on the MHS project. The district also has rejiggered some of the more concerning aspects of the project: They’ve placed restrictions on when the lights (three of which will be 80 feet high, and one which will be 70 feet high) will be used (with the exception of seven Friday night games during the season, the lights will be out by 8pm); they’ve blacked out dates when the field can be rented; and they’ll hire security during games so if there is overflow parking during those seven Friday night games, drivers will be directed to park at the MPUSD offices or a city-owned lot, with 60 spaces each.

“We originally planned to have the public hearing and vote on Sept. 24, but we will postpone that for at least a month to try to continue to work with some concerned neighbors in order to avoid costly litigation,” Diffenbaugh says.

And as far as concerned neighbors go, well, Diffenbaugh is one of them, as he and his family live a block away from Monterey High.

“I think the majority of individuals who have expressed concerns, when we lay out the restrictions we’re putting into place, they say, ‘Wow, that’s great and I’m for it,’” Diffenbaugh says. “There are a handful of very passionate individuals that have not been swayed and those are the individuals who have indicated they will file a lawsuit against us and we’re trying to avoid that.”

The Monterey High project is being funded by Measure I, a $213 million bond voters passed in 2018. Before it was even placed on the ballot, Diffenbaugh made presentations to various civic groups about what Measure I funds would be used for, and athletic upgrades at Monterey High were on the list.

On Nextdoor, an online platform where neighbors share information, there’s a lengthy discussion about the project. Most everyone commenting is being reasonable, with some calling for more public outreach and some concerned that all of the Measure I funding being directed at Monterey High in its first year – some $12 million – is going to athletic infrastructure. One commenter suggested that MPUSD should contract for an environmental impact report (a lengthy and costly process) as a gesture of goodwill toward the community, and as a responsible act to those voters who supported Measure I.

But the most priceless comment came former Herald editor (and my friend) Joe Livernois, an Old Monterey resident: “When I see an illuminated field and hear the cheer of a crowd cutting through the evening chill, I know I live in a vital community that isn’t all creaky with cranky old people who get hysterical about their property values. I live nearby and I fear that the property value vigilantes won’t be happy until they’ve driven all the noisy children out of town.”

MARY DUAN writes Local Spin for Monterey County Weekly. Reach her at mary@mcweekly.com or follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan
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