Dwyer case may go to court

The dispute over the planned solar panels at Dwyer Middle School may soon head to court, an attorney said during a student rally Jan. 27.

Ryan Easter of the Irvine-based firm Palmieri, Tyler, Wiener, Wilhelm & Waldron said he had been in talks with a group of parents regarding the Huntington Beach City School District's plan to erect solar panels on the school's front lawn.

"We're in the process of exploring our options," Easter said. "Right now, we are hoping that the school board will, if they didn't recognize it before, will recognize that there is essentially universal opposition in the community to placing the solar panels at this location."

In recent weeks, parents have petitioned the district and crowded school board meetings to urge administrators to move the panels elsewhere on the Dwyer campus. Among their concerns are that the school, built in the 1930s, is designated by the city as a historic landmark, and that most people in the Dwyer community were unaware of the project before the district signed a contract for the panels in April.

"We do believe that there is no doubt that this is an illegal project," parent Annelle Wiederkehr said.

While Easter stood on the sidelines Thursday, the rally got a hand from Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who stopped by to praise the demonstrators and voice support for their cause.

Allred, who represented Nicole Brown Simpson's family in the O.J. Simpson trial and represented claimants in lawsuits against Arnold Schwarzenegger and rock drummer Tommy Lee, among others, visited the rally at Lake Park after a student invited her the day before. Standing on a picnic table bench with hundreds of students in front of her, Allred complimented the students on their organizational skills in planning the rally and encouraged them to run for public office in the future.

She also chided the district and Police Department for not allowing students to rally in front of Dwyer, as they had originally planned.

"This was a teaching moment, an opportunity, that, unfortunately, the police and educators missed," Allred said.

Allred, though, said she attended the demonstration merely to support the students and did not plan to take any legal action regarding Dwyer.

By 1:35 p.m., the crowd had already begun moving to Lake Park a few blocks away. Allred said many students had the impression that they would be arrested if they stayed on the school grounds. However, Police Chief Ken Small, who met with a group of parent and student protesters at the school Monday, said police had made no such threat.

Supt. Kathy Kessler said the district barred the protest on campus because the organizers had not obtained a permit to use the field. When she heard that the organizers had identified Lake Park as a backup location, she opted to move the event there.

"Without that permit, the district had that liability, and given that they had an optional place to go that eliminated the whole liability issue, that was the decision we made," Kessler said.

While the superintendent praised the students for behaving respectfully during the protest, she said it would not change the district's plans to erect panels in front of Dwyer.

"The board has taken action three times on this, and we are moving forward with that action," Kessler said.

Even in its new location, the rally still drew passersby's attention. As students and parents walked to Lake Park, many of them waving signs and shouting into megaphones, motorists honked and yelled support, and a group of students stopped on the sidewalk at one point to chant "Get off our grass!" and shake pom poms.

At the park, several students joined Allred in addressing the crowd. Eighth-grader Caroline Wiederkehr, who invited Allred, noted that the protesters had no problem with solar panels at Dwyer and objected only to their placement on the school's front lawn.

"We are pro-solar," Caroline said. "We just do not want the solar panels in this location on the lawn in front of our school."

The rally Thursday was targeted at Chevron, which signed a contract with the district to erect panels at five schools. Many of the demonstrators wore white shirts with the slogan "Stop Chevron" and an image of the gas company's logo with a red slash through it. Parents have said they plan to picket a nearby Chevron station in the coming days.

The rally was scheduled to last overnight, and parents set up food tables in the park while Allred and the students were speaking. In the end, though, all the students left by 6 p.m., Wiederkehr said.

"The important thing was that they wanted to make their voice heard, and they accomplished that goal," she said.

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