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Simitian 'trees vs. solar' bill passes Senate

A bill authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, to strike a balance between protecting trees and allowing solar access has passed the Senate on a 38-0 vote and now moves to the state Assembly for a July hearing.

Simitian wrote the legislation to allow homeowners protection for pre-existing trees when a neighbor installs a solar energy system and complains that the trees are blocking sunlight.

"Right now, a new neighbor can move in next to you, install a solar energy system and then — under threat of criminal prosecution — force you to take an ax to your trees if and when they grow," Simitian said.

SB 1399 is intended to clear up ambiguities in an existing, "well-intended but over-reaching" law regarding solar energy systems, Simitian added. The idea for the legislation came from an entry in his annual "There Oughta Be A Law" contest when constituents send him ideas.

The contest entry was from Sunnyvale residents Richard Treanor and Carolyn Bissett, who were forced to chop off the tops of their redwood trees after a neighbor had them prosecuted under a 1978 law for blocking sunlight to his solar panels. The couple also paid $35,000 in legal fees.

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"We're grateful that the Legislature is addressing the inequities of the California Solar Shade Control Act," Treanor said. "I understand that people who invest tens of thousands of dollars in home solar systems need to be protected. However, when solar systems are installed causing obvious conflict with existing trees, it defies logic to then subject people to criminal prosecution who legally and innocently planted those trees."

"I continue to support renewable energy," Simitian, the chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, said. "I'm just trying to avoid a million neighborhood arguments."

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-- Don Kazak

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Simitian 'trees vs. solar' bill passes Senate

Uploaded: Tue, Apr 22, 2008, 11:06 am

A bill authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, to strike a balance between protecting trees and allowing solar access has passed the Senate on a 38-0 vote and now moves to the state Assembly for a July hearing.

Simitian wrote the legislation to allow homeowners protection for pre-existing trees when a neighbor installs a solar energy system and complains that the trees are blocking sunlight.

"Right now, a new neighbor can move in next to you, install a solar energy system and then — under threat of criminal prosecution — force you to take an ax to your trees if and when they grow," Simitian said.

SB 1399 is intended to clear up ambiguities in an existing, "well-intended but over-reaching" law regarding solar energy systems, Simitian added. The idea for the legislation came from an entry in his annual "There Oughta Be A Law" contest when constituents send him ideas.

The contest entry was from Sunnyvale residents Richard Treanor and Carolyn Bissett, who were forced to chop off the tops of their redwood trees after a neighbor had them prosecuted under a 1978 law for blocking sunlight to his solar panels. The couple also paid $35,000 in legal fees.

"We're grateful that the Legislature is addressing the inequities of the California Solar Shade Control Act," Treanor said. "I understand that people who invest tens of thousands of dollars in home solar systems need to be protected. However, when solar systems are installed causing obvious conflict with existing trees, it defies logic to then subject people to criminal prosecution who legally and innocently planted those trees."

"I continue to support renewable energy," Simitian, the chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, said. "I'm just trying to avoid a million neighborhood arguments."

-- Don Kazak

Comments

No to Nanny Joe
Ventura
on Apr 22, 2008 at 1:45 pm
No to Nanny Joe, Ventura
on Apr 22, 2008 at 1:45 pm

I plan to enter next years "There Oughta Be A Law" contest. My suggestion for a law--a law prohibiting Nanny Joe Simitian from passing any more of his "I Know What is Best for everyone because I am a product of Palo Alto politics laws " aka Nanny Joe Laws.
Time for Nanny Joe to retire.


a long time resident
Charleston Gardens
on Apr 22, 2008 at 11:06 pm
a long time resident, Charleston Gardens
on Apr 22, 2008 at 11:06 pm

This is an "Openly Hostil to Solar Power" Law.

He probably owns stock in coal powered elect utilities or gets cash from the coal industry.

The city has a law that houses be built so that they do not block sunlight to the neighbors.

Anyone planning on or thinking of using solar energy for hot water or electricity needs to reconsider. If your neighbor can ever plant a tree that could grow up to block the sun in a few or even ten years should drop the idea.

All the neighbor has to do is plant a seedling and keep it growing then tell you you better not plan on putting in solar as I don't like the looks of them and my trees will grow fast and block the sun and too bad for you . HA!,HA!!


Dan
Midtown
on Apr 23, 2008 at 12:28 pm
Dan, Midtown
on Apr 23, 2008 at 12:28 pm

This is one of the few sensible laws that I've heard about from Simitian. It makes no sense that you can plant trees on your own property, invest time, effort, and money to have them grow and then someone can come along, install a solar panel forcing you to cut down the trees or trim them to the point where they become an eyesore.
Pre-existing solar panels should have protection but that is the reasonable limit of the law's reach. If I want to install solar panels I know up front if there are trees which could be an issue in the present or future and if I want to plant a tree I'm not expected to plan for what neighbors might do some time in the future. Of course there is still always room for the old-fashioned method of conflict resolution outside the courtroom: talk to your neighbors.


John
Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2008 at 6:58 am
John, Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2008 at 6:58 am

Someone came up with an assessment that trees, by absorbing carbon dioxide, are cheaper and better for the environment than solar panels. Also, the kind of solar panels which are offered right now will be obsolete in a few years as the technology progresses. They will be as obsolete as the old fashioned roof panels that circulated water for your swimming pool in the 1970s and '80s.


Cedric
Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2008 at 2:13 pm
Cedric, Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Joe Simitian is smart and sensible and acts in the best interest of our local and global community. I was too young to know his actions on the Palo Alto City Council, but I often appreciated his positions as a Santa Clara County Supervisor. I was pleased to have him represent our community in the Legislator, and we're lucky to have him in the State Senate.

To correct the posting of Apr 22, 2008 at 11:06 pm, this law protects existing trees from new solar installations, and not new trees planted after existing solar panels. Any properly trained solar installer will make sure to install new panels where they will not be significantly shaded now or in the future by nearby trees. Like Joe, I support Solar and protect trees: I have solar panels on my house, plan to get solar hot water, and I volunteer with Canopy to plant and care for trees.

Go Joe, and keep up the good work!


Donald
Stanford
on Oct 20, 2008 at 3:35 pm
Donald, Stanford
on Oct 20, 2008 at 3:35 pm

If you don't want anyone messing with your trees, you should plant them in the middle of your property so they shade your house and not your neighbor's house. Trees on the property edge are a hassle for your neighbors and do not deserve total protection.


Ben
another community
on May 1, 2009 at 8:07 am
Ben, another community
on May 1, 2009 at 8:07 am

I know I'm a little late on this posting, but doesn't it seem counterproductive to cut down trees in order to install solar? I am a huge supporter of renewable resources, however I am not a supporter of trading one for the other. A local solar firm is preparing to cut down approximately 10 acres of trees to install a mere 1.5 MW solar array. This seems ludicrous to me.


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