Red balloons in Solana Beach cause confusion, then concerns about field light proposal

Residents have been asking questions about the balloons at Santa Fe Christian Schools.
(Luke Harold)

Santa Fe Christian Schools is asking the city for permission to add 10 light structures between 60 to 90 feet tall


Decorations for graduation?

Weather balloons?

Residents throughout Solana Beach have been left guessing why 10 red balloons are floating high above the city, visible to the west when driving through the city on Interstate-5.

They’re also visible from much farther away than the 1,000-foot radius of homes that received notice from the city about their intended purpose: to serve as story poles for a proposed set of lights at Santa Fe Christian Schools.

The school has asked the city for permission to install four light poles at the school’s softball field and six at the multi-use field, each one between 60 to 90 feet tall.

The city typically requires an applicant to use story poles so nearby property owners can see how a proposed structure would impact their views and community character. Installing 60- to 90-foot poles would have been difficult, so the City Council approved the use of balloons instead of poles.

The Solana Beach View Assessment Commission and City Council still have to weigh in on the proposed lighting, with meetings tentatively set for this fall, but some residents are already voicing their disapproval with the proposal and the lack of notification from the city.

Sue Beckman lives east of Interstate-5, about a half-mile away from Santa Fe Christian Schools, well outside of the 1,000-foot radius of homes that received notification from the city. But the balloons are all clearly visible from her backyard, just beyond two Torrey Pines. She said she assumed they were for a school event.

Beckman said she wouldn’t have known their real purpose “if I hadn’t had a neighbor who told me and she hadn’t had a neighbor who told her.”

“That shows you the level of misunderstanding of what’s going on,” Beckman said.

Mary Dhooge, who also lives east of Interstate-5, posted on Nextdoor about the balloons and received more than 40 comments from neighbors who were largely unaware.

“Think about the light pollution that will fill up the beautiful sunsets and night sky for all those who enjoy views of the greenbelt and the ocean!” she wrote. “Everyone east of Santa Fe Christian School will be affected.”

In an interview, she added that the school has distributed information that says the lights would be in use from “only” August through May, which is 10 months each year. According to the school, the lights would never be used on Sundays and would be limited to three Saturdays per month.

“Everyone thinks it’s a terrible idea in the middle of that small, residential community,” Dhooge said.

In a press release, school officials said the new lights would help the school host evening games, extend practice hours and allow multiple teams to use the fields at the same time.

“SFC has limited field space,” Rod Gilbert, head of schools, said in a statement. “Athletic programs are an important element of childhood development and a key component of our 6-12 grade curriculum.”

The press release added that the school is “dedicated to collaborating with relevant stakeholders and engaging in constructive dialogue with the local community” about minimizing light pollution and other adverse impacts.

Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner wrote in a guest commentary published in this newspaper that in addition to view impairment, “some residents have expressed concerns about light pollution and increased noise from the expanded nighttime hours for sports activities.” She added that residents can share their opinions during a public hearing the council will hold this fall.

“Finally, residents have asked why SFCS is allowed to ask for sports field lights as their current CUP prohibits them,” Heebner wrote. “They are within their rights to ask, and the Council is eager to hear from our residents their opinion on the request as we consider SFCS’s proposal.”


11:54 a.m. July 3, 2023: Updated with a statement from Santa Fe Christian Schools