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Battle over San Francisco high school’s football lights rages on with new court ruling

St. Ignatius and St. Francis play under heavy fog in San Francisco on Sept. 30, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Though lights at St. Ignatius’ J.B. Murphy Field have brought nighttime football to the school’s Sunset District campus this season, the legal battles with neighbors aren’t over yet.

The SI Neighborhood Association sent out a press release Monday afternoon, claiming victory in a yearslong battle to have the lights looked into for their environmental impacts on the neighborhood.

The California State Appellate Court sided with neighbors, who claimed that the lights were not exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Both the school and the San Francisco Planning Commission had claimed the opposite. The San Francisco Superior Court previously sided with the school and Planning Commission.

The court has ruled that the lights’ lasting impacts on the neighborhood must be analyzed under CEQA regulations, which could result in new measures to reduce the lights' impact.

The court also said that since the 90-foot-tall lights are significantly higher than other structures in the surrounding neighborhood, they cannot be classed as small structures with no impact.

“We are extremely gratified that the appellate court recognized our valid position articulated by our counsel, Michael W. Graf, at the recent hearing,” neighborhood association Secretary Deborah Brown said in the release. “A complete CEQA review is the outcome we had hoped for.”

Jen Kwart, spokesperson for City Attorney David Chiu, said: “We are disappointed in the outcome and are evaluating any potential next steps.”

St. Ignatius fans try to rally their team during a 17-7 loss to Jesuit in San Francisco on Sept. 2, 2022. | Chris Victorio for The Standard

The stadium hosted five regular season games and two playoff games for the Wildcats’ varsity football team, including last Friday’s 28-14 win over Aptos to advance to the Central Coast Section (CCS) Division II Championship Game.

The lights have also provided greater windows for practice times for SI’s football and field hockey teams throughout the fall season, and will continue to present those opportunities for the school’s outdoor teams throughout the winter and spring. Before the lights were installed, teams often had to compete for practice times on crowded fields, the school said.

Practice and game times have been an issue at many of San Francisco’s schools, which lack lighting.

Last week’s Academic Athletic Association (AAA) football semifinals kicked off at 1:30 p.m. on a Thursday, while students were still in class.

Practice times at schools without lights are greatly reduced in the winter months, with San Francisco students in class until at least 3:40 p.m. as a consequence of Senate Bill 328, which barred schools from starting classes before 8:30 a.m.

Crowds within J.B. Murphy Field have had no security issues this season, though neighbors have detonated fireworks on two occasions, once immediately after a win over Palo Alto on Aug. 26, and during the third quarter of Friday’s playoff victory against Aptos.