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Neighbors blast district on solar panels

Original post made on Aug 23, 2018

New solar panels installed at several Palo Alto schools this summer are drawing heat from residents who say the district failed to conduct public outreach about the project and are demanding the panels be moved.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 22, 2018, 7:13 PM

Comments (47)

Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 23, 2018 at 8:41 am

DTN Paul is a registered user.

Brilliant. Now let's spend thousands to move them. By the way, donate some money to PIE.

Posted by Mushrooms
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2018 at 9:00 am

I think it’s great that the district is committed to solar. But now everyone else knows what it’s like working woth the district. They listen mostly when the richest complain, but mostly do what they want without bothering to talk with anyone because they are used to saying whatever they want about what hapoened and frustrated parents and students can either lump it or leave.

“neighbors say they were never informed or asked for their input about the placement of the panels, despite administrator and board members' urging that staff do so months ago”

Neighbors can absolve themselves of any guilt about not attending school project “outreach” meetings that allow public “input”. You get like 90 seconds to say something, you are likely to get shot down by someone in the district with a completely ill-informed or false statement, and then someone will reinterpret what you said for the record making you look like a complete dolt but without really getting to your real concerns. Your personal info will be made public with someone else’s interpretation of your input, becuse they wouldn’t let you speak if you didn’t provide it. That’s my experience, at least. Real outreach today could start online but then they’d actually have to deal with people and a hard to deny record, shudder.

That said, if our new administrator was directing staff to reach out and they did this, I hope it results in some changes in the office culture.

We arrived home from travel to see the front of Terman/Fletcher full of panels. I like the change but unlike Paly the school itself was never attractive from the street. Neighbors never heard anything. There is this thing called PAN, by the way. Easy to reach everyone around town. I don’t understand why the JLS panels weren’t put over the parking lot like at Terman, it’s out of sight of the street. Or on the roof where they would shade the school from the perpetual roof leaks, maybe help them reduce all the ground water there. Maybe the ground water is why they chose the field. Help encourage more mosquito growth for science; JLS has the best mosquitos and most persistent ground water in town.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2018 at 9:43 am

eileen is a registered user.

It seems that you do not have to inform neighbors when installing ugly solar panels. I understand that you save $$ on your energy bills but I wish these panels did not look so ugly! Our nextdoor neighbor installed angled panels on their entire roof. Now, instead of seeing the sky and clouds, we see the side of angled solar panels with all the ugly wires hanging down. The view of the sky is forever changed outside in our backyard. .....only trees 30' high will help :-(

Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 23, 2018 at 9:52 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Peter Wood
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 23, 2018 at 10:03 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 23, 2018 at 10:31 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Mushrooms
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2018 at 10:39 am

@Peter Wood and @Stew,
In this story at least, the problem is not the solar panels, but the fact that the district placed them without any discussion with the neighbors. As I mentioned, at JLS, the panels could have been placed over the parking lot; why was there no discussion about that first?

But you do bring up a good point about calls of NIMBYism. Around here, charges of NIMBYism mainly seem to get lobbed indiscriminantly to squelch communication and solving problems. Just so you know, when you do that, you hurt the power of the term when it is really apt.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2018 at 10:42 am

eileen is a registered user.

Actually Peter, I do like green energy. My neighbor chose the ugliest option. The panels could have been installed flat
on the roof instead of projecting up another 24" in the air with exposed wires hanging down. That kind of mount is better on the ground. I just spent three weeks in Germany where they have beautiful solar panels. I think NIMBY is a word that is used when you can't articulate your point of view.

Posted by There should be a law
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:02 am

Is there a law in the city books that says that people not only have control of their own property, but also get to control their neighbors property.

Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:04 am

It takes a truly shocking level of incompetence and lack of common sense to take a no-brainer project like installing solar panels using some "free money" and turn it into a debacle. PAUSD should hold hearings on remediating the situation, and then remove the offending solar panels and put them in a more suitable location. At JLS, why wouldn't that be the roof or over the bike racks or parking lots rather than blocking windows and taking up scarce playing fields? I haven't personally seen the Escondido or Nixon installations, but those should be handled similarly. It's going to cost money to fix this mistake, but it should be fixed. Simply ignoring it under the heading, "what's done is done," only compounds the injustice to the community.

Posted by Mushrooms
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:11 am


The reality of living in the world is that what you do on your property impacts everyone else nearby, that's why we have zoning codes.

In Palo Alto, unfortunately, at least in less less hoity toity parts of town, the City pretty much doesn't care to enforce the zoning codes and you can in fact usually destroy someone else's peace by building a two story house with a viewing arena of the neighbor's backyard and rear windows (in contravention of the codes requiring some recognition of privacy). If we had the money, we'd put up some solar panels to block the view from the neighbors' new addition into our living room. The City was as bad as the district is about following the rules.

Posted by There should be a law
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:17 am

Mushroom- so were any zoning codes violated?
Also in palo alto you have many cases we're homeowners meet the code, but yet neighbors get to appeal. Seems like neighbors have as much say about another property as their own
And the reality of living in the world is that things change and you may not always be happy with it.

Posted by Kattiekhiba
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:22 am

So why were the solar panels placed where they were? This article says nothing about that. Is there a reason they weren't put over parking lots or bike racks, which are the obvious places to put them? They are hulking. My kids go to Escondido and they take up 1/3 of the sports field. There is a parking lot that would have been perfect for them. I'm all for solar but this just doesn't make sense.

Also, what company was contracted to do this?

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:31 am

"This article says nothing about that. Is there a reason they weren't put over parking lots or bike racks, which are the obvious places to put them? "

Where have you been? That's what PAUSD wanted to do with Paly, but nooooooo... neighbors complained about that.

Hey, you live next to a school. Deal with it. That's like moving next to a club and complaining about the noise. It's not a house, but a pseudo-commercial property.

I bet the folks complaining probably include people who don't have to pay the PAUSD part of the property tax because they're older too.

Posted by common sense first please
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:41 am

I saw the JLS panels last night at back to school night.
As I was walking under them my very first thought was:
Why were these installed directly over usable field space instead of over some of the vast areas of aspalt around?

Posted by Erik
a resident of Woodside
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:44 am

I find it disgusting that people are demanding that these changes be removed or altered to cater to their property and esthetic... from a school... So you want to take money away from education or remove their ability to reduce their costs?

I have to ask, How self centered, narcissistic bunch of sociopaths demand money from a child's education?

Posted by common sense first please
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:46 am

@ Me2

I understand your frustration with after the fact complaining.

But I try to stay informed about what is going on in my community. I plan to attend the rail crossing meeting tonight. Still, I knew nothing about these panels going in. (I'm not opposed. But do think the placement was bone-headed.)

Communication in advance of these kinds of projects is frequently inadequate. That's why people are caught surprised when the construction happens.

Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:55 am

cvvhrn is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by hnw
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 23, 2018 at 12:14 pm

hnw is a registered user.

PAUSD has a notoriously bad history of relating to its schools' neighbors (of whom we are one). Having suffered over the years from lack of information and consultation on what is being built at Nixon School, we are particularly attentive to any notice or invitation on what is planned, and we have received none whatsoever on the solar project, nor on the meetings in February.

Posted by PAer
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 23, 2018 at 12:31 pm

“save Palo Alto Unified nearly $600,000 over 25 years”. The article didn't even mention how much it costed to install all the solar panels in all the schools! I smell something fishy here.

Posted by School & City Field Space Issue
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2018 at 12:33 pm

School & City Field Space Issue is a registered user.

@ Erik and anyone else who thinks this is just about the impact on private property aesthetics or property values.

Read the article more carefully. And consider coming to look for yourself before blasting affected neighbors as "self centered". (I don't live anywhere near these horrible installations but would also be upset if they were installed next to my home.) The main issue is that these monstrosities were placed on precious school field space, which is also precious City of Palo Alto Park & Rec space. There is already a huge shortage of recreational field space in Palo Alto, and now it's worse with these things plunked down in the middle of the school yards.

My family is involved with field space for sports and raised the red flag with the City Parks & Recs 9 months ago, who communicated with PAUSD, and they were IGNORED!!!

The bottom line is that it's not rocket science to figure out that these behemoth solar panel structures installed into school playing fields did NOT have to be there! Ugly, use up precious field space, possibly violate city code on daylight planes. Every school has tons of roof space, where everyone in the world already puts their solar panels! Not to mention the parking lots and bike rack options others have mentioned, or maybe a creative implementation like shade for the kids at lunch over picnic tables. Good intentions PAUSD, but trully moronic implementation of solar panels. Total FAIL!

Posted by PAer
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 23, 2018 at 1:04 pm

One law suit will probably cost district more than $600,000.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 23, 2018 at 1:06 pm

"It's like standing under aluminum bleachers at a football stadium," said Michael Ostacher, who lives next to Nixon Elementary School. "My backyard, frankly, is ruined by them."

Palo Alto needs to mandate story poles* to show the placement and massing of all major construction proposals for at least six weeks before bringing the proposal to evaluation. Santa Clara and San Mateo counties require them.

I cannot understand why Palo Alto ignores this obvious planning tool. It would forestall numerous major SNAFUs like thus one and avoid much ill will.

*"Story poles are three-dimensional, full-scale, silhouette structures that outline the location, bulk and mass that a proposed structure will occupy on a site. They are required for certain design review applications and may be requested for any discretionary review where warranted by visual impact or location issues. Story poles allow Planning staff, neighbors and others to assess the location and general massing of a proposed building from various vantage points. Story poles shall accurately outline the building’s major wall planes, gables and ridges." Source: Web Link

Posted by Pro solar but...
a resident of Nixon School
on Aug 23, 2018 at 1:33 pm

Hey @Eric -- they wouldn't be asking for them to be moved if they had been involved in the process of placing them in the first place because they would have been placed in any of a number of other locations that would have been less disruptive (and perhaps even less costly). Not one person said not to put solar up on the school grounds. Did you even read the article?

Posted by Don't criticize
a resident of Duveneck School
on Aug 23, 2018 at 1:53 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 23, 2018 at 2:09 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Norm
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 23, 2018 at 2:28 pm

Almost all schools and companies install these panels over parking lots. Employees love parking under them to keep their vehicles cool during the summer and rain away when entering and exiting the vehicle.

Posted by Coooper
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2018 at 2:43 pm

Schools are building these solar arrays with public money meant for education or direct educational needs like school buildings, then pocketing the $600,000 or more in savings from their electric bills. (Money the the city utility will have to replace by raising your bill.) I have yet to see any payback to the long-suffering property tax payers, much less even an iota of letup from the onslaught of education, teacher-pay, and HVAC school bonds.

Posted by They knew
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 23, 2018 at 4:08 pm

They knew is a registered user.

When the construction at JLS was just starting, I (very politely) asked a person standing by a truck what they were doing. The first thing he said was "I'm just in construction, this wasn't my idea", which struck me as very odd. In retrospect, even he knew that there were better places for the panels.

Posted by Charlie
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2018 at 5:15 pm

I wish there was also a photo of the view from Escondido. These panels were installed on the grassy field where the children play all sorts of sports and do PE. Now these thick cement pillars are all across the lawn and it is not only very ugly but creates a hazard for the kids.

One can't help but wonder what in the world PAUSD was thinking.

Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 23, 2018 at 5:16 pm

Rick is a registered user.

Between this and the traffic “calming” fiasco we need to do a clean sweep of the entire city council come next elections. Vote them all out.

Posted by Do not sweep out CC
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 23, 2018 at 5:51 pm

Do not sweep out CC is a registered user.

Not to hijack the thread, but I think it would be a grievous mistake to sweep out City Council. They do not have direct responsibility over much of this. Instead, look at what the CC members are supporting and not, and vote selectively. They are very different in approaches and styles, and a "clean sweep" will create more problems than it solves.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 23, 2018 at 5:55 pm

> only trees 30' high will help :-(

Which will then block the next person down-sun.

They should move them, and decide if this is negligence by whoever designed this installation. After all it is not impossible to foresee that you are going to cause problems with neighbors if you block their sun.

Was this really the fault of the city council, or the people who were give the trust to design and install this solar plant? It was their, whoever's, incompetence, and they or their insurance should pay for it. After all, do we really want to reward a company that made such a mistake?

Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 23, 2018 at 8:26 pm

I am not involved in this, in any way, but wanted to point out:

"The district held two public meetings in February on the solar panels, a districtwide project that is estimated to save Palo Alto Unified nearly $600,000 over 25 years.

The community meetings were admittedly not well attended: only one community member attended the first and about three were at the second meeting,..."

This is the same old story. You supply the problem. This is the pattern for how it failed. Lack of communication. When will we ever learn?

Posted by DT North
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 23, 2018 at 10:31 pm

I will have to check Escondido as we've graduated out. I can't imagine why they were put over the fields. I have been to many sporting events in the San Jose and Saratoga area school districts (maybe Los Altos High too?) and they are on the roofs and also they make for nice shade over the parking lots. I always wondered why we didn't have them in PAUSD. I can't imagine why they're over playing fields instead of roof tops, will have to check that out, makes no sense whatsoever.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:31 pm

I have seen many other solar panel installations around the Valley and they have always been over parking lots. Makes perfect sense -- asphalt parking lots are ugly and hot, and the solar panels provide shade and thus actually become an amenity. Here in town, the Elks just installed panels -- over the parking lots. I've seen them at a number of community colleges -- over the parking lots, and at high schools, e.g. in Fremont Union-- over the parking lots. (And, of course, on rooftops.)

Has anyone received an explanation for why field/open space was used at some of the PAUSD sites?

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 23, 2018 at 11:43 pm

Unless my memory fails, didn’t PAUSD hire a PR executive and shouldn’t SHE have been responsible for this communication/outreach- which was certainly poorly handled?
This would seem to be an ideally mayched task for a PR staffer.
Or is she only there to issue a random press release.
Much more could have been done without great expense or difficulty.
But “somebody” didn’t care.
(I truly don’t know who that was - a project managet? A VP in the school district? The Board of Education?)

Solar needs to be positioned in an optimal fashion, unless it rotates or something.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 24, 2018 at 1:09 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Wow, why couldn't these solar panels go on the roof? I don't understand why they had to be placed on playing fields.
I get why the neighbours are upset! I just returned from Germany where solar panels are quite common but are located on the roof of the house. I did not see ugly solar farms in backyards, playing fields, etc. Was this decision not to place on the roof because of cost?

Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 24, 2018 at 1:42 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

I can only believe that PAUSD TRIES to screw things up as they do. No one can be this incompetent unless they actively make an effort. This way, the public will become numb to their mistakes and we'll begin to accept them.

Posted by Matt
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 24, 2018 at 2:43 pm

Wow, is there ANYTHING that people on these boards wouldn't complain about? What's next? The trees around town are too leafy? The shade of pavement on sidewalks is too gray?

The biggest irony: apparently the town DID hold public comment sessions. No one bothered to show up -- they prefer to ignore and then whine about it after the fact.

Posted by Get out of the Bubble!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 24, 2018 at 3:13 pm

Seriously, the fact that this story even gets published anywhere is pathetic. Come on Palo Alto, get over yourselves! It is ridiculous waste of time bickering like this that reminds me of why I am so happy I no longer live there. Was a great town for most if it's existence, but anymore has been totally overrun with monied entitled whiners who don't have a clue. 1st to worst Palo Alto. I was 4th generation born and raised, 105 years of continued existence by my family in this town we know a thing or two about how it has changed, it's sad to see it now. It Was a Eutopia

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 24, 2018 at 3:52 pm

Confirmation bias.

Posted by Not a snow FLAKE
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 24, 2018 at 5:27 pm

People will complain about anything!
Palo Alto is snow FLAKE central! Followed by Portola Valley, and Los Altos too

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2018 at 9:49 am

Posted by Not a snow FLAKE, a resident of Palo Alto Hills

>> People will complain about anything!

Nevertheless, I would like to understand what PAUSD was thinking regarding the JLS installation. If there is a good reason for this layout, PAUSD should give the public the information. Oh, and don't bother to say that this was covered in a public meeting back in 2017 or whatever. When the solar project started, I'm guessing that most people, like myself, just assumed that solar panels would be built over parking lots. The JLS/Fairmeadow configuration is strange and reduces available recreational field space. I haven't seen Nixon or Escondido yet, but there are also concerns there. For comparison, the Fletcher (Terman) installation is over the main parking lot, as would be expected.

Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2018 at 10:59 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

Roof installs are expensive, and make future roof maintenance more complicated and expensive as well. This is classic crony capitalism - solar company gets a big government contract while their install is absolutely as cheap as possible, subsidized by the city and utility rate payers with inflated solar rates. But we can feel good about being green.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2018 at 4:24 pm

Posted by john_alderman, a resident of Crescent Park

>> This is classic crony capitalism

It is? Because you don't like solar?

>> But we can feel good about being green.

I feel good about being green AND saving money. I don't like the particulars of the JLS/Fairmeadow installation, but, I support the overall goal.

Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2018 at 4:47 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ Anon - how many solar cold calls to your get a day? All fishing for some government money, only PAUSD dumb enough to bite. The goal of PAUSD is supposed to be educating children, not speculating on electric boondoggles. I like solar, and took a $7500 gift from the govt for buying a $100k car - I just recognize it is dumb, wasteful, regressive, and crony capitalism. In a few years, it is going to look really silly when someone adds up all the money that got funneled to companies like Tesla and SolarWorld.

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