Talmadge residents and others upset that stadium lights will be installed at Hoover High School are suing the San Diego Unified School District, arguing that the project violates the law because it was not specifically listed when voters approved a $2.1 billion bond for school renovation and construction.

The lawsuit calls for an immediate halt to construction, which has not yet begun, saying its completion would “irreparably cause the waste of public funds” if the suit is won. It also challenges a study on the construction’s impacts and says the lights would violate zoning rules.

“We voted yes on this bond because we saw this as a good thing — making schools safer for the students,” said Ronald Anderson, a Talmadge resident and president of the newly formed nonprofit Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending. “This was not what taxpayers voted on.”

School district staff was not available Friday to comment because the district was closed. San Diego Unified attorney Andra Donovan wrote in an email that the lawsuit had just been filed and that the school district had not yet been served, but “we are confident that the District is on solid legal ground.”

Leonard Pinson, who sits on a watchdog committee that is supposed to ensure that bond funds are spent legally, said the Hoover High lights had been a topic of concern for the group, but legal staff assured them that the project was legal.

The specific language in the bond envisions “school security improvements, including increased lighting” and to “modernize and renovate physical education facilities, playgrounds and fields.” It also mentions field lighting as one in a long list of incidental costs that could happen on other bond projects.

Construction and renovation projects listed for Hoover High specifically include security lighting, renovating the stadium bleachers,and upgrading the fields for accessibility to the disabled. The question is whether stadium lighting fits under that language or not; Anderson and his group argue it doesn’t.

This isn’t the first time that San Diego Unified has had to answer questions about whether it is spending bond money as promised: Devoting bond money to leasing space for a charter high school in the planned downtown library upset the county Taxpayers Association, whose president called the plan a bait-and-switch since the school district initially floated plans for an elementary school.

The school board cleared the way for the lights after an emotional meeting last month. Several residents argued that installing lights for nighttime games would lead to more noise, traffic and crime. Others pleaded alongside teens and Hoover High staff for lights and nighttime games to build school spirit and community. Football coach Cree Morris said for working parents, afternoon games are impossible.

“I’ve had to pull money out of my own pocket just to feed some of these kids,” Morris said. “All we’re asking for is lights so they can play on Friday nights.”

I’ll try on Monday to get more response from San Diego Unified. Check back then for more details about the lawsuit.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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