Reflective dome over hockey rink irks neighbors


For hockey enthusiasts, the sssshhhh of skates on ice, the grunts and groans of body checks, the slap of a wooden stick on a hard rubber biscuit … well, it's music.

To residents of the hills straddling the border between Portola Valley and Palo Alto, such emanations coming from the home of Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy are not terribly welcome, given the flattened fabric dome that encloses his hockey rink and creates, a neighbor says, something of an echo chamber.

The dome, of a faint golden color, also sits on a visible promontory and reflects sunshine in every direction, says Ted Lamb, who lives across the valley in the uplands of the Golden Oaks neighborhood of Portola Valley. The half hour before noon is particularly bad, he says.

"You cannot even look anywhere near that direction," Lamb said in an interview. "It's like a nuclear blast each day, every day, forever."

"This thing is like a gigantic white whale that is lying there. It's monstrous," he said. "I have to stare at this thing all day from every window in my house."

McNealy was away when The Almanac asked for a comment. According to his biography at Sun's website, McNealy, 54, is married, has four sons, and is an "avid hockey player."

If the dome is that bothersome to Lamb, he figures he's not alone, and he isn't. Four of his immediate neighbors agree with him, he said.

The Planning Department in Palo Alto, the jurisdiction that oversees the McNealy home, has its code-enforcement people looking into the permitting, said interim Planning Director Curtis Williams in an interview.

McNealy has a permit for a hockey rink; he does not have one for the dome, Williams said.

The "very large" home was approved five years ago and finished in 2008, Williams said, adding that McNealy may not have the square-footage allowance to enclose the 7,000-square-foot rink in a building. The matter is likely to require review by the Planning Commission and the City Council, he said.

Palo Alto's planning manager has heard from her counterpart in Portola Valley and from at least two Portola Valley residents, Williams said.

The topic also came up during the waning minutes of the Feb. 11 Portola Valley Town Council meeting.

"For sure, Palo Alto would never have a basis for approving something like this," Planning Manager Leslie Lambert told the council. "It's not a pretty sight," she added. "Ugh. It's horrible."

Peggy Law, who is trying to sell her Palo Alto home that looks down on McNealy's, said the dome has been in place since about November. The sounds of slap shots are occasional and whether they're audible depends on atmospheric conditions. "It's not quite like gunfire, but it's pretty noticeable," she said.

The dome itself is a constant irritant, she said. "Nobody could come up here and not say 'What's that?'" she said of potential home buyers. "Now that they know it's there, they're not happy with what they see."

As for the dome's fate: "I've been very pleased (with Palo Alto city staff) and quite sure it's going to be resolved," Law said.

Lamb, a retired builder, estimates that the 200 or 300 homes in Portola Valley from which the dome is visible have each lost about $300,000 in value.

"It's very destructive to the view of these homes and it's a very ugly thing to have there," he said.

-- Almanac staff


Like this comment
Posted by jack
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 17, 2009 at 11:46 am

Hahhaha...nice. I can just see now that the City will go up in a legal fight against this wealthy resident. Right, and no-one knew all along during the lengthy building permit-application and inspection phase that a dome is going up?

Like this comment
Posted by rem
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Why don’t we have a honest City Council that will honestly say “Developer (Contractors) Lobbyists , Developer (Contractors), donate to us and we will approve!!!!”

It would be great if the City Council and all the other “Councils” and “Work Shops” learned a new word – NO or new phase – DISAPPROVED….

There is no sane reason for this PROBLEM except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not caring about the people of Palo Alto or ANY of the other communities …..

Like this comment
Posted by Rob
a resident of Woodside
on Feb 17, 2009 at 1:59 pm

This guy destroys a perfectly viable company and is rewarded with a personal hockey rink? Why have there been so many stupid so called leaders the last 10 years? Can you people please start using your heads?

Like this comment
Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 17, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Gee, lifes rough. Another stellar example of 'might makes right' in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by bruce
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 17, 2009 at 6:20 pm

He destroyed Sun Microsystems for his personal ego gratification, why should he care anything for his neighbors. Too bad a community cannot banish someone that behave anti-socially anymore.

Like this comment
Posted by MR
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 17, 2009 at 9:17 pm

McNealy doesn't give a hoot about anyone but himself; never has and never will. Good luck to his neighbors. They'll lose beause he has more money than they do, and in Palo Alto, like else where, money buys priviledge. (And people.)

Like this comment
Posted by SL
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 17, 2009 at 9:49 pm

I can't believe that the planning commission would approve such a monstrosity. Are they so special that they cannot drive to hockey rink? Just think of how much energy they are wasting, no to mention all the CO2 generated, just to satisfy one person's ego. The city should tell him to install solar/wind power so that it doesn't use power off the grid.

Like this comment
Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2009 at 1:07 am

At least paint it in cammo to match the surrounding countryside, or with his money, use that invisibility paint like on the stealth bomber!

Like this comment
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2009 at 11:05 am

The planning dept. thought he was going to build a hockey rink and not cover it? Come on! At least they could have required him to blend it in to surroundings. It's going to be like San Jose telling Larry Ellison he couldn't land his jet after hours at the San Jose airport. "Ha! Try to stop me." Haven't the neighbors already lost value in their homes from the financial downturn? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I'm afraid they can't blame it on this guy's hockey rink. Why did they wait all this time to complain, anyway? bah

Like this comment
Posted by Party at McNealy's House!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 19, 2009 at 4:13 pm

How about this for fair play: McNealy is forced to convert it (& his "very large" home) into a homeless shelter for the 6000 they're laying off at Sun Micro this year!

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Wow, I feel sorry for his neighbors (apparently both Palo Alto and Portola Valley residents are affected nearby). This rink and cover sound HORRIBLE. What a neighborly spirit McNealy has (NOT)! Some would say he has no sense of aesthetics though he lives in a scenic, attractice area, but that's his choice. However, like others, I wonder how on earth this dome managed to be built in the first place -- without declaring it on the permit application, through the approval process, permit progress checks for the rink?!

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 20, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Ever here the saying - ask for forgiveness not permission? What's the worst the city can do?

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 22, 2009 at 3:12 pm

HOw about a fine? City of PA could use the $.

Like this comment
Posted by mb
a resident of Portola Valley
on Feb 22, 2009 at 6:48 pm

So when did the Law's 3000 sq. ft. house deserve a 6.6 million dollar ask price....not even at the 2005 top. Anybody listing a 3k sq ft house at 6.6 million probably is not a credible source to complain about puck noise and the aesthetic impacts of the tennis court/hockey rink cover. The Law's sound just plain nuts....along with the realtor who took the 6.6 mill listing.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 22, 2009 at 9:36 pm

He's agreed to remove the dome, end of story.

Like this comment
Posted by Rick
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 22, 2009 at 10:24 pm

People should realize that Portola Valley and Woodside are the cause of all of the flooding that occurrs in Palo Alto.

Thier high density developments cause the run-off that occurrs when it rains.

I wonder if Palo Altons objected to thier developments they would listen and start tearing things down.

Where is all of the critics of all of the high density housing occuring in South Palo Alto. They are destroying our neighborhood and causing flooding with their almost 100%ground coverage and filling our streets with run off and clogging the storm drains.

Like this comment
Posted by Reader
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2009 at 12:33 am

From Mercury News:

She drove down to the Palo Alto building department and learned that while McNealy did have a permit to build a tennis court that could be flooded in the winter to create an ice rink, he didn't have a permit for the bubble roof.

McNealy didn't return my call to his office, so I couldn't ask him why he installed the roof without a permit. But he returned a call from Curtis Williams, Palo Alto's interim planning director. Williams told me that the Sun chairman was very polite and promised to take the roof down immediately.

"We're pleased that Mr. McNealy was willing to do that," Williams said. "He understood there were concerns from neighbors."

But even without the dome, it's likely that hockey has come to the hills for good. My sources tell me McNealy plans to play next season without a roof and is working on improvements to make the neighbors happy.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2009 at 8:08 am

He tried to get away with it- he got caught- he is taking it down without a fight. This post is over!

Like this comment
Posted by bruce
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2009 at 3:37 am

Scot McNealy's slogan at Sun Microsystems was to ask for permission is to seek denial, just do it, don't ask for permission, seek forgiveness if necessary. In other words the ends justifies the means. This is all image and marketing, that is all these people think the world is about.

Like this comment
Posted by Right D
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2009 at 7:27 am

How do I get some ice time? When is pick-up?

Like this comment
Posted by Other Side of Coin
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2009 at 10:50 am

What about this perspective? That the roof reflects sunlight much like clouds do... and some places are making rooftops white to help reduce global warming.

Like this comment
Posted by GR
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 28, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I can't believe some of the ugly posts I read here ...
Scott is actually a very down to earth guy. (actually, down to ice ...)
He's very flexible and will try to keep everybody happy.
Bring your skates over and go knock on his door.
Mountain View, TX.

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