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Discreetly green: Santa Monica wants property owners to hide solar panels

July 2, 2009 |  9:01 pm


Santa Monica has held itself up as a model of innovative energy policies, but now the city may be moving to hide away some of its solar technology.

Solar equipment must be installed "in the location that is least visible from the street" on certain properties, according to a 4-1 decision by the city council on Tuesday. The measure provides exceptions for when energy production would be decreased by more than 10% or the cost would go up significantly. It passed as part of an ordinance specifying standards for solar permits.

"From my perspective, the ordinance will simplify permitting for the installation of solar panels, and it still respects reasonable aesthetic concerns," said Mayor Ken Genser in a phone interview Thursday.

But Mary Luevano, policy director for Global Green, a Santa Monica-based advocacy group, said: "It creates what we think is unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. There are cities outside the state that are looking at Santa Monica, because they have been a leader for years."

Luevano said the decision is puzzling given that Santa Monica is "a progressive, environmentally conscious city."

Opponents argued that the measure violates California law by regulating solar panels based on aesthetics, not health or safety, but the city's attorney found the measure was consistent with state law.

Genser said arguments against the measure "just didn't seem to have merit." 

Councilman Richard Bloom, who voted for the ordinance, said in a written statement that the ordinance "removes virtually every roadblock to solar installation."

The requirement about visibility, he said, is a "small tweak to the law that balances another high community sustainability priority: neighborhood compatibility."

"I, along with other members of the city council have championed and pressed for our ongoing environmental leadership and will continue to do so on issues like solar energy, alternative fuels, reducing ocean pollution, public transit, open space, water quality and conservation and, of course, our plastic bag ban that, parenthetically, is moving forward in spite of intense industry opposition," Bloom added. 

--Amy Littlefield 

*An earlier version was titled "Santa Monica City Council wants residents to hide solar panels." The regulation does not apply to single-family homes.

Photo: Solar panels on a residential roof in Venice. Credit: Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times