The obliteration of a second story ocean view from a Mystic Hills home has the property owner and the city asking if energy conservation holds all the trumps.
Unlike view obstructions from architectural elements, neighbors have no say in the installation of solar panels on rooftops, regardless of the effect on their property or lives. Under a state law, the installations are exempt from the usual design review required for building alterations and the City Council wants to know what can be done to make the installations less upsetting to neighbors.
"I don't think anyone would appreciate the devaluation of their home and the loss of quality of life looking at a metal platform 24 to 30 inches high that can prop up 30 to 50 solar panels," said Lea Eastman, who brought the issue to the attention of the City Council at the July 20 meeting. "It has turned a home into a power plant."
Although the ocean view from her downstairs living room has not been affected, Eastman is furious that she no longer can see the ocean from second-story master suite and a deck. The view is blocked by of the installation of solar panels on the roof of a home which sits in front of hers, without her approval or the city's.
Neither approval was needed and it certainly wouldn't have been forthcoming from Eastman.
The city's Design Review Board specifically asked if the platform that holds the panels itself is exempt when the project came before it for a building permit, which is required. The question has been referred to City Atty. Philip Kohn for review.
"I have written to the governor and Senator Dianne Feinstein asking them to empower city officials to intervene to preserve the harmony, esthetics of the community and the ocean views," Eastman said.
James Mouradick, owner of the Caribbean Way home on which the panels were installed, said the solar system conserves energy and help clean up the environment and the installation complies with all applicable laws.
"The system reduces CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions by more than one-half million over the life of the system, estimated to be 15 years," Mouradick said.
"If the state didn't think it was a good idea, why would they give a rebate to the installing company — $7,500 for our job. And the federal government gives a $12,000 tax credit to the system owner. We just lease the system."
If excess energy is generated, at the end of the year, Southern California Edison writes the user a check.
The Mouradick system doesn't qualify for a payment because it only reduces usage by 80%, but it does reduce the bill by 90%.
"I am energy-responsible, but why do I have to pay the price for someone else's economic decisions?" Eastman said.
The system was installed by Solar City, headquartered in Foster City, in Northern California. The company did not return telephone calls by the deadline for this story.
"I originally spoke to eight companies and received five bids," Mouradick said. "I interviewed three."
Before making a decision, Mouradick said he checked out Solar City every which way.
"It is the second largest solar company in the western United States," Mouradick said. "They install more systems in one week than the other two [interviewed] do in a year. They know all the laws and regulations."
Eastman contends that the 15% pitch of the platform that props up the solar panels on the flat roof of the Caribbean Way home may not be illegal, but it is unnecessary. She said she was informed by a solar expert that a pitch of 5% would not significantly reduce the efficiency of the panels.
Neighbor Parvis Shoaii, a mechanical engineer, said an alternate solution could optimize the solar panel system without affecting Eastman's view.
Mystic Hills resident David Gibbs told the council that if the homeowner in front of his home added a similar installation, it would completely obliterate his view.
"I just think it is an abomination," Carolyn Gibbs said.
Jason Paransky suggested the city contact Solar City and let the company them know that if it expects to do business in Laguna it needs to be more responsive to community values.
"The company has already installed four systems on my block and probably others in the city without any complaints," Mouradick said.
Community Development Director John Montgomery said that some cities offer business incentives to solar companies or fee incentives to the property owner.
Eastman wants the platform re-pitched to 5 degrees and the size of the home on which it stands appraised for the number of panels needed to eliminate energy use.
"The reduction in efficiency would be insignificant in the summer and with four or five more panels insignificant in the winter," Eastman said.
Eastman has lived in her home for 11 years. It took two years to be approved and constructed.
When the home at 1521 Caribbean was in design review under a different ownership, Eastman successfully appealed the height of the building and other design elements that impeded her ocean view.
"The council reduced the height of the roof by three feet and eliminated a chimney, leaving just a flue, to preserve my view." Eastman said.
"What are we here for but ocean views? Why spend two years building it with the windows deliberately positioned, if not for the views?"
However, changes in city policy probably would not affect the Caribbean Way installation since it is already in place.
Mouradick said no installation would have made Eastman happy.
"I told her we have a permit, would try to keep the noise down, warn the workers not to park in front of her house and if any debris landed on her property to call us," Mouradick said.
"But we are living in a hostile environment. We have had to call police on previous occasions," he claimed.
Little else generates neighborhood conflict like the loss of a view.