District stands by solar panel decision

The Huntington Beach City School District Board of Trustees reaffirmed its decision Tuesday night to allow solar panels in front of Dwyer Middle School at an often-heated meeting marked by audience protests, walkouts and admonishments from the dais.

The board voted 4 to 1 to maintain its Dec. 14 vote in favor of situating the panels down a small slope on the school's front lawn. President Catherine McGough dissented.

Many parents and others in the Dwyer community have criticized the placement, calling it a detriment to the school's appearance and a hindrance to outdoor activities.

Trustee Brian Rechsteiner, who called for the special meeting, asked that construction be delayed 30 days to give the community time to seek ways of funding a new location for the panels. Moving the project from the approved spot could cost more than $200,000 for engineering, soil samples and more, according to the district.

Ultimately, the board declined the 30-day waiting period and upheld its previous vote. Rechsteiner said he voted to keep the panels in place because he didn't want to take money from the general fund.

"I vote for people over things, and people's jobs are very important in this district," he said.

Parent Steve West, a member of the Dwyer Solar Group, which that formed last year to urge the board to move the panels, declined to comment on what action his group would take next.

He and other parents decried a series of illustrations posted around the dais that showed the panels not blocking the base of the school building; the images, he said, were from an overhead perspective and didn't depict an eye-level view.

"I just am worried that this is going to turn into an example of what not to do," West said.

More than two dozen people opposed to the panels' placement spoke during the public comment section at the three-hour meeting. McGough asked that audience members refrain from applauding speakers, but the crowd proceeded to cheer for everyone, sometimes eliciting a protest from McGough.

Toward the end of the meeting, tempers flared more than once. Two audience members stood up and yelled at the board before storming out, and McGough threatened at one point to go into recess if another outburst occurred. The board's vote drew groans and protests from the crowd, with a small group at the back clapping and chanting, "Lawsuit!"

The district signed a contract with Chevron in April to install the panels in front of the building, but the board voted to move them slightly downhill in December after more than 100 parents signed a petition opposing the placement. Many of the protests centered around the fact that Dwyer was built in the early 1930s and is listed by the city as a historic landmark.

Gloria Alvarez, a member of the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn., showed the board a picture of her father standing in front of the school in 1935.

"Please, please, remember that at this time, you are merely the current custodians of Dwyer," she said.

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