Encinitas Express Soccer is once again urging the city of Encinitas to install field lights at Leo Mullen Sports Park, indicating in a recent letter that legal action may result if the city drags its feet.
Originally, the city planned to put in 30-foot lights at the same time as artificial turf. However, the Encinitas council in March moved forward with only turf to speed up permitting so that the city could meet a grant deadline for the turf. Officials from the youth soccer league have argued both turf and lights are needed to maximize playing time.
Attorney Cynthia Morgan-Reed, representing the league, sent a letter to the city manager and city attorney on April 25 saying the city has the discretion to approve lights there under development documents and a “specific plan” governing the area.
If the city doesn’t want to go that route, the letter maintains it has two additional options. The city could also approve a special conditional-use permit and classify Leo Mullen as a stadium, or amend the specific plan to explicitly allow lights, the letter adds.
“Encinitas Express is committed to lighting Leo Mullen,” Morgan-Reed wrote in the letter. “We believe a court would agree with the legal options we have outlined.”
Morgan-Reed did not respond to a request to comment.
Because her letter alludes to potential litigation, the Encinitas City Council on April 27 discussed the matter in closed session. During the report out of closed session, City Attorney Glenn Sabine said he would issue a legal memorandum next week on how the development documents and specific plan affect the lights.
During the March council meeting, city staff and some residents called into question whether lights would trigger Proposition A, which requires a public vote for intensification of land use.
But the league letter argues the lights aren’t “intensifying or densifying the land use,” so they’re exempt from Prop A.
Encinitas Express Soccer has offered $200,000 toward Leo Mullen improvements, but that’s contingent on installation of the lights.
Morgan-Reed at the March council meeting said that the council shouldn’t remove lights from the bid package.
“My client has waited for over 10 years for lights on this field, and it’s extremely important for them that it move forward together (with turf), or else it may not happen,” she said.
Councilmembers at that time awarded a $1.03 million contract to install artificial turf, but said they’re still committed to lights down the line. They stated a study to gauge the impact of the lights on surrounding habitat could take up to a year, and waiting that long would mean losing out on a time-sensitive $172,000 rebate for the artificial turf.