11

We live in Portland, Oregon (USA), in a neighborhood next to a high school which has an adjoining football field. The field is in a publicly accessible park.

There is a proposal from the school district to upgrade the field to include stadium lighting, stadium seating and a fence around the field. Access will remain public, but the fence will be locked some of the time. I think it'll always be a park in that no professional sports will be played there. Very infrequently, games will be ticketed.

I think that the improvements will destroy the character of the park and force the neighbours to look at stadium lights until late at night (I believe that the lights will also support local adult teams). The proposal has a lot of support from high school parents in the community (who don't live near the field) so I suspect that my view is not the majority view.

My question is: what are my rights here? Looking around a bit, I see two possibilities:

  1. I have no rights. The district can do whatever they want. I can vote against them in the next election.

  2. The constitution protects my (minority) rights and I do have options.

I would prefer option 2 as option 1 is not helpful. Is option 2 at all applicable? Can anyone point to a reference document or documents?

For background on this topic, see: https://www.pps.net/Page/14612

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Dale M Dec 10 '19 at 23:49
31

You have a third option: Sue the district for violating state or local law. There are lots of recent news stories about people doing just this and winning.

The US Constitution Can't Help You: The school district is not violating your constitutional rights by installing lights at the stadium. The only constitutional protection remotely connected to your situation is the "takings clause" of the 5th Amendment. It says, "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Unfortunately, the "takings clause" only applies if there is a "taking." A "taking" is generally understood to be exactly that -- you lose your property. The loss can be literal -- the government takes title to your house and turns it into a football field or freeway on-ramp -- or figurative -- the disturbance from the football field or on-ramp is so pervasive that your property becomes worthless. Since having the lights on will not destroy the value of your property, the takings clause does not apply to you.

As one Justice said in a related case, the lesson here is simple: "the federal Constitution does not prohibit everything that is intensely undesirable."

State or Local Law Might Help You: Even though you don't have a constitutional claim, depending on what state and city you live in, you may have a claim under state or local law. (These might be statutes, regulations, ordinances, or even your state constitution.)

For example, in 2010 a group of home owners in Atherton, California who lived near the local high school sued when the school announced plans to install stadium lights. The suit claimed the lights violated local height limits, and that the night games would violate noise ordinances. The suit, plus a savvy pr campaign, got the school to agree to limits on night games.

Atherton is not alone. All the way across the country, in Greenwich, Connecticut, neighbors upset about stadium lights sued and got an agreement about the use of lights. A search using high+school+lights+neighbors+sue turns up plenty of other examples.

You will have to talk to a local attorney to find out what state or local laws you can use.

| improve this answer | |
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Dale M Dec 10 '19 at 23:49
5

You need to call and find a lawyer right away. The first action will probably to get a court order to temporarily block the construction until the case can work through the courts. At the same time, find the list of all your legislative representatives including your senators (you'll have two), your Representative (You'll have one) and your state legislature equivelents (different states use different numbers and names.). Your Rep is your best bet because as of time of writing, it's less than 11 months from election. They can't do much, but all politics is local.

You would also want to start attending local council meetings including school board, meetings of the Parks and Reqs (not the tv show... most counties and cities have one) and find out the name of the organizations that would maintain the park for the public. If the school is a private school, there is still the board of directors and other school governors (I had a similar battle with a private school over similar football related problems for residents. I finally e-mailed the school's president, the dean of students, and CCed the Board of Directors to put them on notice that they were causing real problems and while many of the residents felt the school was quite generous by being open to the public off hours and the last thing we wanted was to resort to legal channels, the issues during home games were frustrating us and we would be holding the school liable for the behavior of students and guests from both the school and the visiting team if the problems continued. It helped immensely if you have an alumn or two (or family of one) who are willing to support... Private Schools bend over backwards if the alums threaten to withhold donations.).

If you're one of those "Football towns" where life revolves around the game, then you might want to organize the neighbors to protest on current game days... see if you can get advance schedule for an organized march on game days on the streets (As I said before, traffic is difficult without streets shut down for protests... try to get the permits for the big ticket games like rivals or schools visiting from out of the area but in your state. Sure your town may hate Shelbyville and their HS football team rivalry with yours is discussed in the most ancient of viking songs about glorious battles, but they hate your team too and are more then willing to support a position against the stadium your town calls home.

As mentioned, check your local ordinances and the zoning for the park space and the stadium. You should also get some info on when the park is opened as they're likely to turn the Friday Night Lights off at a reasonable hour (the aformentioned school had a clock tower that would sound on the hour... but the speakers for the "bell" were programmed to go off at 8 pm at night every night... so it was never an issue with an around the clock chime waking up neighbors at 2 pm.).

These are all constitutional rights under the first amendment, which protects five basic rights, not one (Right to Speech, Right to Religion, Right to Association, Right to Assembly for Redress of Grievences, and Right to Freedom of the Press) and all these rights are on the table and you're permitted a wide breadth of perfectly legal uses of these rights to leverage your governments (You'll have three to complain to. The most local is the easiest to move, but be prepared to take this as high as you can go to get what you want. Don't stop until the Supreme Court refuses to hear your case (or you get lucky and they hear it)... but this is a little below the need to call them in my opinion. Not saying it's not important, just that they have lots of important cases to hear and they aren't young men and women.). Technically, you do not even have to speak to be protected on First Amendment Rights.

One key thing is that unless construction starts to go up, you should only be speaking to lawyers for consultation and to get an idea of local and state laws that the government will be in violation of. The slightly good news is that if you have to go to court, you won't have a jury trial (its good in that you don't have to wait for hours for 12 people to decide... but it's actually more in the states interest than yours. In the U.S. anytime the a government is the defendant in a suit, it's automatically a Bench Trial, which means the judge will also be the jury. The reason for this is that the jury trial is the right of the defense, never the prosecution/plaintiff and Jury duty is never popular... so when the government has to force 12 people to decide if the government was right or wrong over the course of days... well that kinda prejudices the jury... and because Americans have been accused of many things, but placing an overabundance of trust in the government has never been one of them.).

Without your specific state, I cannot begin to find laws (and rarely do I search for specific laws for these answers as I'm not a lawyer... I just have an ability to read the law, attention to details, and a knack for abusing loopholes... finding applicable laws is the dull part of this aspect.). But you should look at zoning ordinances, park ordinances property laws, laws pertaining to large events, and school mission statements (not legally binding, but if you're gonna write a strongly worded letter to any organization, I find that Mission Statements offer enough of a rope in the form of moral platitudes to hang the org over your reverence... and many times, the org ties the noose knot for you.).

| improve this answer | |
  • I tried to comment on this but for some reason the comment vanished. Anyway, I just said that these are very good suggestions for an active opposition. – abby yorker Dec 11 '19 at 19:39
  • @abbyyorker: And you live in Portland... you are aware that it's got a reputation of being a city with people who are willing to protest about anything because we gotta protest? I mean, the one show set in the city I'm aware of uses this as the only joke. Keep the spirit of the '90s alive! – hszmv Dec 11 '19 at 19:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.