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Monday, September 26, 2016

City Council votes to halt Montecito Heights solar panel construction

The City Council voted unanimously this morning to order work stopped on the installation of more than 1,400 solar panels on a Montecito Heights hillside to give the Fire Department time to study safety issues.  Councilman Ed Reyes asked for worked to be stopped after residents complained  about the safety and aesthetics of the project, which would occupy an area the size of a football field a steep hillside near Debs Park. The property is owned by Broadview, a Christian Science nursing home located near the base of the 11-acre  property on Griffin Avenue. Broadview executive director Michael Fisher said the nursing home received all the necessary city building permits for the solar array to  supply 93% of its electrical power.

Fisher, who appeared before the City Council this morning along with Broadview’s attorney, said the solar panels do not pose a fire hazard and would also not blind motorists on the nearby 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway or aircraft and helicopter pilots with glare.  “There really aren’t safety issues here  … but I know there are legitimate concerns that the  community has  expressed through their councilman,” Fisher (pictured at right) told the council “We’d be happy to meet with his staff and the community to talk these things out.”

But Reyes and fellow council members, many of them supporters of renewable and sustainable energy, voted in favor to stop the Broadview solar panels and study the fire safety issues posed by the project.  Several council members and residents had also voiced concern over state laws that had limited the abilities of cities to review and restrict solar panel projects. State for law, for example, prohibits local government from placing restrictions on solar panels based on aesthetic concerns. One resident who spoke before the council on Tuesday said it appeared the state law conflicted with a city ordinance and guidelines to protect the hills of Northeast Los Angeles from improper development.

Reyes spokesman Monica Valencia said  by email:

“At the request of the Los Angeles Fire Department, the City Council authorized the work stoppage on the solar panels until the Fire Department can review plans to determine if there are any fire safety issues. In addition, Councilmember Reyes requested a report back from Planning and Building and Safety departments on any other permits that may be in the pipeline. Separately, we have the prior motion asking Planning Department to create an ordinance in light of the state law.”

Related posts:
Blowing a fuse over solar panels. L.A. Times
Montecito Heights solar panel project sparks debate. ABC7
Montecito Heights solar project leaves some residents blindsided. The Eastsider

Photo by Martha Benedict



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33 comments

  1. And there you have it. Hilltop residents don’t like the aesthetics of the project, but the city is barred from stopping such projects for reasons of aesthetics. Solution? Accuse it of being a fire hazard and enlist the fire department to study “safety issues” even though this is a permitted project. This is a knee-jerk response. The city council doesn’t like the state dictating. But this kind of NIMBY crap is why the state needs to in the first place. Shame on you, Ed Reyes, shame on you, L.A. City council.

  2. people are not educated enough about solar panels to know if there is a hazard or not. so if you were a sitting city council member and you alllowed something to pass without knowing the full extent of the issue, wouldn’t that make you an asshole? I’m glad they stopped it to analyze these panels. currently no system is in place to deal with issues like this, maybe this issue will spark a conversation…

  3. Important to note, I think, that this work order has only been “stopped” for two weeks — for study of possible safety concerns. If the opponents can’t find (or invent), some legitimate grounds to delay it any further, then this perfectly legally acquired work permit is in full force once again by about Oct. 6.

  4. The aesthetics issue might be mindlessly barred by state law, but it is a very significant issue. Yes, I agree that this fire hazard concern is a fake issue to stop it now — but there certainly was no time at this point to consider a more legitimate way to do so. The real issue, though, the destruction of a residential neighborhood’s ambiance, is something that should not be so lightly disregarded.

    And I note, I don’t live any where near that location, live probably 5 or more miles away, and only very rarely go over that way, generally just passing by on the freeway. This is not mere NIMBY to me, as it is in someone else’s backyard. But there is a real quality of life issue that needs to be addressed.

    I’m all for solar power. But certainly at this size a project, it is an INDUSTRIAL use that needs to be relegated to an industrial zone, not at a residential zone up by a regional park and up high to make sure no one will miss it. Put this project in an industrial area surrounded by warehouses and factories, not in the middle of a residential area.

    Favoring solar panels and other green does not mean nothing else matters! Solar panels have great potential to help boost quality of life; they should not be used in a manner that destroys quality of life.

    At least at this size a project, this cannot be allowed in a residential area. Perhaps to allow, even require, solar panels on house roofs would be appropriate, but not an array this size.

  5. There are just a loud minority of people who are opposing the panels. This is real funny thar Mr. Reyes is championing this cause. Two weeks ago Mr. Reyes told this small group of people that Broadview hard all the permits to install this project. This is the Montecito Heights Improvement Assoc. (MHIA) trying to circumvent the laws. They do not like the fact that they were not consulted on the planning of this project. As a community we have been after Mr. Reyes and his whole office to help curb the trash dumping, robberies, car theft to no avail. We have also been promised for the past 3 years that our roads were going to be repaved. I have lived there for 13 years, and other that pot holes, there has been no repaving. The community has also asked Mr. Reyes to have the drainage fixed that is on Griffin the street that Braodview is on, because it floods at the slightest rain. They repaved the road, but didn’t fix the drainage. the street was flooded out 3 times last year. Mr. Reyes is just jumping on any band wagon that will put his name out there in the media. Alot of residents are going to remember his self serving agenda when it comes time for his re-election. It should aslo be known that 75% of the residents do not recognize MHIA representing them or their voice in the community. This is apparent when they have their meetings and so few people show up even with a months notice of a meeting. MHIA stated they have had several discussions about this. How can you claim to represent a group of people when you will not hold open and fair discussions about this. If the discussions were moderated by anyone else other that the group the runs the MHIA, there would have been an overwhelming response from the community.

  6. Interesting comments all around. This is the first (al least locally that I know of) in what will likely me many discussians going forward as we move towards lesser dependents on fossil feuls – either by choice or necessity. Like so many decisions in life there is no right answer here but a cost/benefit weighing. Interesting.

  7. @Gary,

    No, this wouldn’t make you an asshole precisely because there is a system in place to deal with issues like this: Zoning laws, Codes and the plan review and permitting process. In addition to the applicable California Fire, Energy, Electrical and Building Codes (both commercial and residential), as well as International Codes (including International Wildland Urban Interface Code) we have L.A. City and L.A. County Building, Residential and Green Building Codes. This project could not have been permitted without passing review by agencies in place utilizing these legally adopted codes and the standards they reference. To claim that a project such as this needs to be stopped by the city council because it has not been vetted in due manner or time is laughable. The system in place is being overridden in this case by special interests. That is the problem.

  8. Puttin’ solar panels up is like flyin’ a yuppie liberal flag over the whole dang neighborhood, an’ that’s what people don’t like.

  9. Apologies for the typos and grammar mistakes in the above post! I need coffee.

  10. There is a big issue here: The adjacent Audubon Center generates its power using solar panels on its roof. Now Broadview says too much of its roofs are too shaded to be effective. Fair enough. But does a panel array the size of a football field only produce power for Broadview? We need to see some power bills of Broadview to know with any certainty.

    Broadview says it needs panels covering a natural hillside the size of a football field to generate 93% of its power. I am skeptical of this claim. There are 1441 solar panels in the project. The 93% figure is an average. At night and on cloudy days, the panels will generate next to 0% of the energy of the center. On other days, it will far exceed the electrical needs of the Broadview during peak electricity demand hours. When it exceeds, the meter may spin backwards, or in the near future, DWP may pay for the power during peak demand times.

    Broadview says it has entered into a lease with the Solar Max, the solar company. (www.solarmaxtech.com) Did Broadview lease its land to Solar Max and Solar Max is making the investment? Or did Broadview enter into a lease agreement for the solar equipment?

    Broadview says it will take 12 years (144 months) for the $1.6 million project to “pay for itself”. Divide $1.6 million by 144 and you get $11,111 per month. Divide that by 39 patient rooms and you get $285 per month per resident. Is Broadview willing to share its month bill with DWP? How many kilowatts does it use? How much does it currently pay? If it pays $11,111 or more then the story hangs together. If it pays less, then it suggests that this system may be purposely overbuilt as a power harvesting business instead of merely supplying power for onsite uses. On site systems may be exempt from most local regulation because the system is ancillary to the main land use: nursing home. But if the system is oversized, then the array is a new land use: solar farm business producing electricity for export from the property.

    The Montecito community should be filing Public Records requests for all permit application materials and all email communications between Broadview, Solar Max and LADBS officials. The City, in order to evaluate the reasonableness of the project to meet onsite needs must require production of the lease agreement between Solar Max and Broadview. Only then can an informed decision be made about the project.

  11. @Henry – Can you be more specific about how this is destroying quality of life?

  12. Just to clarify the misinformation posted by Sol R above:

    This project has not been under a stop work order. The solar company has been working every day of the week except Sunday over the past two weeks. If a stop work order issued at all, it will be issued today.

    It is simply untrue that this project was previously stopped. If anything, it was in HIGH GEAR to try to build as much as possible so a court will not grant an injunction against it.

  13. Very discouraging. And before I moved out here I thought Los Angeles was progressive. My mistake.

  14. William (Bill) O'Rights

    Hey, if you want to control the “ambiance” of a community, then buy the property yourself. Using govt. to limit what an owner can do on his own bought-and-paid-for plot of dirt to just those things that others nearby – or passing nearby – want, need, or feel they can “tolerate,” is a form of de facto eminent domain. Except that in this case, there’s no check in the mail for the owner as eminent domain seizures require. It’s no different than telling a farmer he can’t raise food to feed his family. This property owner is trying to make ends meet, too – “farming” energy to save thousands of dollars a year in hard, and getting harder, actual costs.

    (And what’s it called when someone’s property is eminent domain-ed without govt. paying a fair price? Simply put . . . theft!)

  15. Marlene….

    Do yourself a favor and read a little more carefully before you respond, including the original story posted by EASTSIDER. You then won’t shoot yourself in the foot again. The “misinformation” you just “corrected” was itself a correction of the news story posted today, and was simply adding a timeframe detail to the report of today’s City Council action that has JUST NOW “stopped” work — but only for two weeks, starting NOW.

    No one said it was “previously” stopped. And yes, as we can ALL see from the very recent pictures, the work has obviously been going forward up until now.

  16. William, are you serious? As a resident of this country you are probably aware that there are numerous limitations on what a property owner can and can’t do. Farming is actually one of them! I don’t have a dog in this fight, and I don’t really have enough info to have an informed opinion either way on the solar panels, but you are certainly off base with your comment about property rights.

    The reason these laws exist is because we live in a community, and like it or not, what one person does on their property has the potential to effect others. If that’s unacceptable to you, then I would suggest living in a rural area and not an urban one.

  17. Great, Lauren. When I move next door to you, we’ll take a vote in the community as to what color you should paint your house, whether your kids can play in the front yard, and decide for you the type of lawn you plant — because, after all it’s a “community” and so we all get to decide what happens where you live, too. Right? If we outnumber you, you lose.

    And, by the way, the “laws” that do exist in this situation are all 100 percent in favor of the owner being able to do exactly what they have been doing. But, NIMBY’s are now attempting to change the rules of the game to suit their own interests. The potential “effect” that they’ve been waving their pitchforks over since this first came up have been very clear… “I don’t like what I see” happening, on a piece of property I own. All other exaggerated and silly suggested “effects” have been smokescreen for an effective illegal “taking” of another’s property – which is exactly what Broadview’s lawyer will probably argue it court if it comes to that. “If I can’t do perfectly legal things on my own property, then you’ve stolen the use and value of it from me, just as much as if drove me off the land by force.”

    Sorry, a free society doesn’t work that way – at least not if it wants to stay a free society.

  18. I bought a house next to an empty, privately owned hillside lot. I knew I was taking my chances since I didn’t have the money to buy the lot, which was for sale at the same time. After living there for several years, and enjoying the park-like open space as if it were my own, a developer bought the land and built a huge house that dwarfs the surrounding homes. And you know what recourse I have? Pouting.
    Anything could have gone in this Montecito Hts lot that was to code – a parking lot, maybe another structure, if I was a neighbor, I’d pout, be glad it was solar, and get over it.

  19. I think it is inappropriate to stop every project on personal property just because it isn’t PERFECT for everyone. Things change and that is really OK. This project was for good reasons and I don’t think it would look bad. City Council gives in too easily to noisy people who don’t represent our real interests.

  20. Very interesting information on this NELA post:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nelalist/message/29767
    an excerpt:
    “Basically it says that they got all their permits nine months ago. Building and Safety, Fire Department, DWP etc all signed off. They went ahead with installation and have spent a million dollars so far. That when it comes to solar energy the state law supersedes the city. That they are willing to work with the community on real or imagined issues such as glare. (My words not theirs, for their words read the pdf).”

    and includes this:
    “You can read what the Broadview lawyer said here:”
    http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2010/10-2410_misc_09-17-10.pdf

    which is well worth reading…

  21. I’m betting that if the owners agreed to use the panels to spell out “Hope” and “Change” under a picture of our current Commander-in-Chief, the controversy would die down immediately.

    If one think trumps “green” around here, it’s the divine essence commonly known as “art”.

  22. This s NOT a NIMBY issue. This is an issue of general public policy that affects everywhere. This is a new issue that many (including me) think is getting started out very wrong. The feeling is that this is an industrial scale that belongs in an industrial area no differently that if it were a warehouse development. An industrial development does not belong in ANY residential area, not just not in this neighborhood. Thus, this is not an issue of NIMBY, of “have it in someone else’s neighborhood but not mine.”

    As stated above, green may be good, but it does not mean nothing else matters.

    Also, no one is saying Broadview did anything wrong. They do seem to have followed the rules. No one is advocating they be sentenced to some punishment. But the laws that provided for this must be changed to be sensible. Just because there may be a law on the book doesn’t mean it is a good law.

    As for those saying that they should be able to do whatever they want because it is their property, well, that is out of whack with the US Constitution as interpreted by the US Supreme Court. The court says simply limiting what can be done with a property is not a taking, that is it does not constitute eminent domain. You merely have to allow some kind of gainful use of the property, and that is allowed here.

    As for the apparently state law that says you can’t limit solar due to aesthetics, that doesn’t seem to bar you from limiting where it can be due to industrial scale use. Of course, I don’t know the specific language of the law that has been mentioned.

  23. @lynda – Thanks for the link. I just read the letter from Broadview’s lawyer. This guy knows his land use case law!

    Seems to me that the Council broke more than a few laws in issuing the stop order, and that they could actually be held liable for damages. Broadview has every right to keep building.

  24. Bill, your hyperbole is is a great literary tool, but has little to do with what I actually said. Nowhere in my response did I mention lawn type, kids, or house paint (although, there are neighborhoods where that is a factor. They’re called HPOZs, and the neighborhood itself organizes to create them, to preserve the historic character. But I digress.).

    What I was actually responding to was …”Using govt. to limit what an owner can do on his own bought-and-paid-for plot of dirt to just those things that others nearby…want, need, or feel they can “tolerate,”. Now, that is a very subjective characterization, “feel they can tolerate”.

    That may be how YOU feel, but there are numerous laws that seek to balance the rights of the property owner with the best interest of the community. That is the kind of government we have, and the kind of culture we have as a whole. That’s why there are zoning laws, and someone can’t just tear down the house next to you and build a 30 story office building. That’s why someone can’t decide to turn their house into a bbq restaurant and have 5 smokers going 24-7 right next to your window. That’s why someone can’t open a public pool in their backyard, with 50 screaming splashing kids all day long. You want 100% property owner rights with no restrictions? You should be careful what you wish for.

    And again, I have no opinion on this solar panel issue, I just had to respond to that comment.

  25. Lauren: Just out of curiosity, when was the last time (in your research on the subject, of course) government was allowed to enact laws prohibiting those uses you describe — months after they had granted the owner all the necessary permits, and cleared them in every way for that use, which was legal at the time they were applied for?

    . . . or, to extend the earlier analogy, after the seeds for the completely legal crops were planted, the land was plowed, and owner and his contractors were already heavily invested in the process?

    The answer is – never.

    If you – or anyone else – wants to argue for turning legal activity on private property into illegal activity, that’s fine. Knock yourself out. It would apply just as soon as the LAMC was changed, and apply effective that date. But you can’t begin applying it retroactively, and without giving the current, invested owners due process, just by creating “straw man” arguments that are laughable, at best.

    (Yes, Councilman Reyes – pandering to his peeps – actually did suggest at Council that Police helicopter pilots could possibly be “blinded” by the reflections of solar panels while chasing criminal suspects up the hill). Just exactly “how” would that be any different than solar panels placed on anyone’s roof, including this owner, anywhere else in the City?

  26. Yes, the city could become liable for stopping the project. That will hinge on whether the court considers there to yet be a “vested interest.” That is a pretty tricky thing to nail down. In the past, I have been told by lawyers that often, once ground is broken on a development, that is when “vested interest” kicks in. But it is never quite that simple, so I don’t know just how it will play out in this case.

    But no matter this case, this is an issue that must be addressed for any further such projects, relegating industrial-scale uses to industrial zones.

  27. @Henry,

    Your argument hinges on this being an industrial-scale use, and it is a point worth considering. However, I disagree that solar panels constitute an industrial scale use and must therefore be relegated to industrial zones. Such a restriction would not augur well for the survival of our planet. Clearly we must imbricate passive means of acquiring energy with the spaces where we live, and that means not limiting panels to rooftops but allowing arrays as well. Ultimately, I think this will be a tempest in a teapot. If this array is allowed, I think it would soon become accepted as a unique and valued part of our neighborhood.

  28. Bill- I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but I DON’T HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS ISSUE. Okay?

    Once again, I was responding to your blanket statement that property owners should have no legal restrictions on what they can or can’t do. This is what you said; “Using govt. to limit what an owner can do on his own bought-and-paid-for plot of dirt … is a form of de facto eminent domain.”

    Your comments about the solar project thing totally make sense, but when you make far-fetched assertions like the one above it kind of undermines your credibility. That is all.

  29. Directed at HOLDEN,

    First of all you obviously know nothing about solar in the first place, lets just move that out of the way from the start. Your math does not make any sense. “Broadview says it will take 12 years (144 months) for the $1.6 million project to “pay for itself”. Divide $1.6 million by 144 and you get $11,111 per month. Divide that by 39 patient rooms and you get $285 per month per resident” You forgot to add the cost reduction from LADWP’s own rebate and the Federal Government. Which in most cases reduces the cost of a solar system in half. Sorry ,your math is wrong buddy. Secondly, you state that, “The City, in order to evaluate the reasonableness of the project to meet onsite needs must require production of the lease agreement between Solar Max and Broadview” If you took the time to look past the hype and called to the city, they would tell you that they have no say in the matter of the size of the system. LADWP obviously reviewed the application and approved it. LADWP would not let Broadview over size this system anyhow. Come on people take a minute to look at LADWP’s website, all the information is there, the process, what they require to be submitted etc… LADWP reviews everything and then it goes to the city fire department and building and safety departments for approval.

  30. the whole aesthetics argument is ridiculous. i think telephone poles and wires are hideous; by this logic, we shouldn’t have them. it’s up to the individual to find an easy on the eyes solution for getting power and phone service. why do I have to look at wires so that you can have cable?

    you see? ridiculous.

  31. i read what everyone said about the solar issues, I live in pa and now unfortunately will have solar panels in the farmers field behind us. Nothing was in place in our township as far as zoning so it went through. However now the farmer is continuing this solar energy across the street from our home. Nothing was posted to notify the public of what is happening. Does anyone out there know how you can stop this from continuing to happen all over PA. The panels are an eye sore and devalues your property even more. The field this farmer used was suppose to be ag preserve. NOTHING WAS EVER SUPPOSE TO BE BUILT ON IT.

  32. The aesthetics argument is valid. It is possible to have an entire neighborhood telephone pole free. It just costs more money. In general it is very pleasant to be in a neighborhood that doesn’t possess telephone poles and other industrial pieces of architecture. It’s also more pleasant to be in a neighborhood where there is no graffiti or garbage on the street. For that to happen the residents of the neighborhood have to actually care about cleaning up the garbage, and stopping the taggers. That’s what sucks about LA it’s too big, and the majority of the people who live here don’t really give a damn about living in a pleasant environment. If they did, then it would be nice. Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Burbank, and other such incorporated towns prove my point. You can call the people who care about their home and property values whiners, but that probably makes you one of those who support litter, tagging and general urban decay.

  33. I would loved to have seen some follow up on this:
    ok what happened, did they get to put the solar panels up or did they get stopped and what was the reason for stopping them???
    let us know in here.

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