Solar panels draw flak
THE FENCES IN THE south parking lot at Sonoma Valley High will be down by Saturday's rush. The carport solar panels that are set to be installed in the lot are awaiting approval from the Division of the State Architect, and that could take about three-to-four more weeks. But in the meantime, the parking lot will be open.
School district officials got an earful - and then some - Tuesday night as neighbors of two of the district's solar panel sites complained that the school district wasn't "a good neighbor."
After giving the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board an update on the solar project, Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese told the board that he and a landscape architect would be meeting with neighbors on Woodworth Lane and Railroad Avenue on Monday and Tuesday in separate meetings.
But some of the neighbors showed up at the school board meeting to air their complaints in public.
James Ligon, who lives on Woodworth Lane, just to the south of Adele Harrison Middle School, was "very upset."
"We feel like you've robbed us," he said. "These things are huge. We have an 8,000-square-foot solar array in my back yard."
Ligon told the board that the panels "trashed" his view.
"You are the worst of neighbors," he said. And he said the solar field is affecting his property values as well.
Ligon told the board he was never notified that the panels were going to be installed.
"No one knew you were going to build a massive power plant in the ground," he said.
After her husband spoke, Nancy Ligon got up and told the board that they didn't know anything was going on until June 23. And she said the solar farm has dropped the value of their house.
"What's next?" she asked. "Are we going to have a nuclear power plant on the grounds?"
Tim Simonson, a neighbor on Woodworth Lane, was interested to know what sort of flooding problems might arise since the solar panels are anchored on a retention pond for rain runoff.
"It's not unusual to see water overflowing the pond," he said. "And now the edges of the pond have been damaged."
Simonson said that 64 concrete footings were poured in the pond and that 1,500 square feet of absorbing ground is now covered.
Simonson's wife, Pamela, told the board that the district should be honest and respect others. "There's no communication with the neighbors," she said.
Anne and Rick Phillips, who live on Railroad Avenue across from the panels at the district offices, complained about the glare from the panels.
"As a resident, we didn't know anything about this," Anne Phillips said, adding, however, that, "Every time I've called the district offices, they've been highly cordial."
She pointed out that on the district's website it said the neighbors would be involved with the planning, but that wasn't the case.
She said the district told her that the site would receive landscaping and that there was a $20,000 budget to install it.
Rick Phillips, a construction superintendent, told the board that $20,000 doesn't buy much landscaping.
"You guys are terrible neighbors," he said. "It's easier to ask forgiveness than get permission. But you're not going to get a lot of forgiveness from us."
School Superintendent Louann Carlomagno apologized to the Ligons, the Simonsons and the Phillipses.
"I regret that the communication didn't happen," she said. "And I regret that we're not being good neighbors. I apologize. I don't want to be a bad neighbor."
But the panels won't be moved. Landscaping will be going in at both the Railroad Avenue site and at Adele Harrison.
The board, too, apologized.
Board member Helen Marsh said the site selection wasn't done quickly and wasn't done hastily. "We have obligations to our neighbors on Railroad and Woodworth," Marsh said. "But we also have obligations to every taxpayer in the district."