LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Community Doesn't Want El Toro Stadium

Supporters of a proposal to revamp the football field at El Toro High School have 'no consideration' for Lake Forest residents who live near the school, writes Bob Clark.

Bob Clark, a Lake Forest resident, sent Lake Forest Patch the following letter to the editor:

In the District’s haste to push this project through, there are a number of disturbing trends happening with this project that almost everyone seems to be overlooking for some reason. 

First, plans for an ETHS stadium project have been rejected by the community multiple times in the past. The District just doesn’t get it. The community doesn’t want or need this. How many times do we have to rehash this? The District and a handful of other supporters have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no consideration for the impact on surrounding communities. We whose properties border the high school, will have to live with it for the rest of our lives. 

Second, while light spillover is an issue, and technology can address some of it, the real issue is the aesthetics of four 80-foot high poles visible from up to a half a mile away. The pictures the District displayed are perceptually distorted, making the poles seem less than what they really are. The surrounding homes in the adjacent Ranchwood tract bordering on the field, average about 18-feet in height. These poles are more than four times that height. Curiously missing are pictures and references to any new scoreboard and what its dimensions and height will be. Considering the proposed bleachers will rise to a height of 30 feet and the sign needs to be visible to the press booth at the top, it will need to be of significant size to say the least and will also generate considerable light pollution as well. Where is this to be located? 

Third, this doesn’t add value to the surrounding properties regardless of the suspiciously contravening real estate statistics presented by the District. Since the announcement, I have been approached by two realtors, both of which indicated if I were to sell my property I should do so before the District approves the project or I will lose money. The District also failed to note that of the “other stadiums” listed in the scoping meeting, some are well below the level of any surrounding housing and others have no surrounding housing at the same distances from the field as El Toro. Also it appears that in some cases housing may have been developed after the stadiums were built, which is a whole different scenario. 

Fourth, this is not the first time the District has tried to obtain funds from outside sources to avoid having to get voter approval. In the past, the District gave up previous opportunities to expand when they sold adjacent properties to developers in their quests for more money. More recently, they” deferred” the project and used the monies for other improvements to avoid building off site, which was voter approved. Now the District along and a handful of supporters apparently have decided they are going to have an on-site stadium no matter what it takes, in spite of the District’s current “budget shortfall”. What all of this is going to cost has never really been the issue even though the District’s estimates of 4-5 Million are high. The real question is how the money is being obtained. It still is not clear as to whether or not the proposed funding can legally be used for this purpose. The question has been raised, but never answered. 

Fifth, the District makes it seem like they just can’t get along or compete without this. Yet if one meanders through the campus, especially the gymnasium and music areas, you see trophies and banners from year after year of successful seasons for the teams, the bands, the cheerleading and so on. Clearly not having bleachers and stadium lighting has not impeded the ability to turn out champions. And, as for the missed time, perhaps we should go back to making sure that school comes first and these extra-curricular activities remain just that. Extracurricular. Academics should always come first. Or has that changed? 

Sixth, the District is setting a horrible example civics lesson for the students. I am referring to the excuse that “the District has outgrown the shared use agreement with THHS”. Part of educating our youngsters is teaching them how to resolve conflicts properly and this would be a great way to set a real life example of how it gets done. Instead we seem to be teaching the kids that it’s all about what they want and not to worry about how others feel or are impacted. 

Seventh, parking and traffic concerns are valid. The District keeps saying that traffic and parking concerns will be addressed in an EIR (environmental impact report). Keep in mind that an EIR’s purpose is identify potential impacts, not mitigate them. Having gone through this before, the community should note that plans to address the parking and traffic issues were never done because the project was not pursued. Therefore, there are apparently no plans at this point on how to address the issues. The district wants to seat approximately 4200 spectators with these new bleachers. They are unnervingly quiet about having roughly 650 parking spaces available. That’s about 6.5 people per vehicle. Ridesharing, walking and carpooling aside, no reasonable person would believe that is achievable. Even an average of more than 2 persons per car and that would be overly optimistic at the very least. At that rate, you would still need three times the number of parking spaces available. The reference to using La Madera Elementary School’s handful of parking spaces wouldn’t even make a dent in the overflow. So where will it be handled? Adjacent residential streets, just as it is already happening now, only worse. The location is bordered by Serrano Road. This street is badly lit and very narrow with parking already allowed. The problem is that the athletic field butts up to Serrano Road and already presents a problem for local residents, and emergency crews when the need arises. Access from Ridge Route and Toledo Way means pedestrian traffic will need to cross the campus to access the athletic field. As a result, the bulk of the traffic will be on Serrano Road and will spill over into the residential neighborhoods. This apparently doesn’t seem to bother the District. However, when a pedestrian get hit by a celebrating spectator and the District gets sued, maybe they will finally get it. 

Eighth, trash is not just limited to the ETHS campus. Surrounding residents are constantly cleaning up lunch time trash, cigarette butts, beer bottles, soda cans and other stuff. In the past, the District has never taken action to curb or remedy this for the surrounding neighborhoods and they have no plans to do so now it seems. 

Ninth, noise pollution is always a concern. Most of us already live with the band practices and drum line rehearsals to all hours of the evening. For the most part that is tolerable with the exception perhaps being the incessant metronome that is often present. However, the level of noise generated by up to 4200 spectators is something else. Markedly absent from any of the District presentations is any mention of new public address speakers and horns for the announcers and the new press booth. The proposed new press booth will sit atop the new 30-foot high bleachers. Having the spectators elevated to that height increases the ability of the noise to carry over into the neighboring residential areas where homes are only half that height.

Tenth, what about the maintenance issue? It’s not simply a matter of installing this stuff. It has to be maintained and that is expensive and costs money. I see no stated provision for that in the proposal. In fact it says maintenance costs would be negligible. However, the District seems to typically employ two or three people for three or four hours after each event for cleanup already. With the additional events that would be taking place, their already strained budget will be taxed even further. Based on external estimates, it could range from $2,500 to $3,000 for each lamp when it has to be replaced. On top of that, there is no mention of cleaning up the surrounding neighborhoods, only the school grounds proper. 

I see no mention of the additional insurance and legal liability issues addressed either. Having students on bleachers up to 30 feet high inherently presents risks and liability. The District will have to budget additional insurance funds to cover that. What additional security measures are being included to be sure that vandalism and other crimes and damage will be mitigated? Sales from the new concession stand are planned for other things, and are not likely to cover all of this anyway, so the District budget will take another hit. 

I have been a Ranchwood homeowner since 1986. My children graduated from El Toro HS. They were participants in color guard and marching band. The fact that these facilities were not available then or now has never hurt the school’s ability to excel in athletics and competitions. I have heard all the arguments for and against. I can only believe that most of the proponents don’t live adjacent to the school and won’t have to put up with the fallout. 

I have no issue with the district wanting to build new things and spend money. It’s not just that the district seems to want to do so at the expense of everything else. I believe that improving student to teacher ratios, updating textbooks, paying better teacher salaries, repairing and improving existing facilities and a concerted attempt to put California schools back at the top of the leader board in academic excellence should have the higher priority. If you’ve read this far, thank you.

R.S.G. January 26, 2013 at 09:59 AM
Hey Bruce, Were you for the international airport? Did you like the idea of noisy jets flying over your house at all hours of the day and night? You and few others who no longer have kids attending ET and live nowhere near the school, have nothing more than selfish greed and you don't give a ---about the traffic and probable traffic accidents that will occur, not to mention deflating property values. I can already hear the lawyers making their case against the city and SVUSD.
Kenny Strawn May 22, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Okay Mr. Clark, have you ever thought one minute that you and your little group of friends that live by ETHS are the ONLY people who live by high schools in all of South Orange County that complain about traffic or noise? http://strawn-04.blogspot.com/2013/04/socal-diaries-trabuco-isnt-real-enemy.html
R.S.G. June 17, 2013 at 07:06 PM
The homes located near and around the school, despite whether they moved in yesterday or 30 years ago, have the same rights as do the homeowners who live between Lake Forest and Bake, in Foothill Ranch (funny how the FH residents did not want stadium lights at Borrago Park, therefore the city didn't install them), or Trabuco Canyon. That said, the location of ETHS is too close to residential homes to consider having such a project built on the grounds of ETHS. The SVUSD did a bait and switch, to get a Bond Measure passed giving them $180,000,000. The district Board of Trustees just signed a contract with Balfour Beatty for modernization of THHS costing about 16 million dollers of Measure B funds, at the same meeting another resolution was approved for FIELD UPGRADES for the Trabuco Hill High School costing almost $400,000, also in Measure B funds. Conversely, the contract for the ETHS onsite stadium a.k.a.; lights and bleachers contain no information about what funds are used or approval of funds. This issue is about manipulating tax payers, while making more money for the developers, construction companies, leasing management companies, and despite the marketing BS of this proiject it has absolutely no regard for the students.
MFriedrich June 18, 2013 at 01:01 PM
Can our priorities seriously be this screwed up? I guess so. A high school football stadium has a far lower priority than other requirements for students. Here's an example: How about the hundreds of modular classroom buildings in SVUSD and Lake Forest, most of which are over 30 years old, have poor ventilation, poor to no A/C, and have growing structural mold/wood rot. Let's fix that embarrasment first as it adversely affects all students. After that's done, go ahead and build your football stadium and concession stands for the players, cheerleaders and band members. We keep succeeding in taking something really obvious and easy and making it unnecessarily complicated.
R.S.G. June 18, 2013 at 03:25 PM
I completely agree. I thought the General Obligation Bonds were to address the crowding and modernizing the schools. A look at the projects listed on the DSA project tracking identifies a stadium sign as modernizatioin project. The District Board Meetings look more like a distribution of contracts routinely given to the same contruction companies. It's no wonder the state is at the botton compared to other schools in U.S. But at least the District Offices are getting a remodel, and it goes beyond "getting it up to code"


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