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It appears the soccer field at Leo Mullen Sports Park in Encinitas will get lights following a City Council vote on Wednesday. Photo by Tony Cagala
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Encinitas starts process for Leo Mullen field lights

ENCINITAS — After months of polarizing discussions about the installation of field lights at Leo Mullen Sports Park, city officials, the soccer organization that is requesting the lights and the neighbors concerned with the proposal appear to have reached a tentative accord.

The City Council unanimously voted to move forward with the process of amending the plan that governs the Encinitas Ranch community and the major permit that would allow for 30-foot lights on the soccer field, a process that could take up to 18 months if a full environmental study is required.

The council also voted to allow the city to negotiate with the soccer club to restore the temporary lights the club has used the past 12 years at the field, but on a limited basis that would cease once permanent lights were installed.

Meanwhile, the Encinitas Soccer Club — known as the Encinitas Express — and homeowners in the Cambria at Encinitas Ranch subdivision announced they tentatively agreed to a compromise on the field lights.

“I am telling you this is going to take some time,” Mayor Kristin Gaspar said of the specific plan amendment and the major-use permit. “This will give the Encinitas Express and the HOA time to expand upon their proposal so that when we enter the community feedback phase of the process, we will have a more streamlined proposal that could be agreed upon by all sides.

“I think we can come up with something if we work through it,” Gaspar said.

Representatives of the soccer club and the homeowners association met formally Thursday for the first time to discuss the compromise that they had arranged over the past few days.

The tentative parameters of the agreement would call for the city and soccer field to agree to limit the height of the lights to 30 feet and for the city to plant a grove of adult trees along the south side of the soccer field to shield any lighting that spills over into the backyards of the homes adjacent to the field. It also calls for the lights to be turned off no later than 9 p.m.

Adam Jacobs, a Cambria homeowner, also said the homeowners want assurances that the city won’t install lights on the park’s baseball field. City officials said they would have to determine what would be the appropriate mechanism to accomplish this without hamstringing future councils.

According to the agenda staff report the city must find $125,000 to complete the amendment, which will include an environmental assessment that will determine if a full environmental impact report is necessary for the project, as the field abuts a strip of wetland habitat.

Doug Jacobs of the San Elijo Conservancy said that if it is determined that endangered bird species nest in the park, the lighting use would have to be limited during the nesting season, which runs from February to September.

But Jacobs said the lights would not have to be completely shut off, but a plan to limit or shield lighting from those nesting areas would have to be in place.

Encinitas Express has lobbied the city for more than a year to install artificial turf and permanent lighting at the soccer field located adjacent to the Encinitas Ranch Town Center, which serves as the organization’s primary practice field. Currently, the rules governing the Encinitas Ranch neighborhood prohibit lights at the park, which the soccer club of about 1,700 participants says reduces practice time.

After nearly a year of delays, the city proceeded with installing the artificial turf and completed it in September. But soccer club officials said without the lights and with daylight savings time ending soon, the lack of practice time could force the club to shut down.

The lighting has proven to be more complex, as neighbors and residents have questioned if installing lights would trigger an election under Proposition A, and whether the impacts of the lighting needed additional environmental scrutiny.

City Attorney Glenn Sabine issued an opinion in March that a public vote wouldn’t be required as long as the field lights were below 30 feet.

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