Neighbors feel burned by solar panels

La Crescenta homeowner Bill Ryburn takes pride in his backyard. A pretty expanse of grass is followed by a terraced garden, rustic wood fence, trees and lots of blue sky.

But the agrarian setting, which abuts Monte Vista Elementary School, is about to gain what Ryburn and his neighbors are describing as an unwanted shadow.

The Glendale Unified School District broke ground last week on a $7.2-million project that will see solar panels installed at seven schools, including Monte Vista.

School officials are touting the solar project as a fiscally and environmentally responsible way to leverage dollars from Measure S, a $270-million school bond passed last year. The solar panels, to be mounted atop carport-like structures, are projected to save the district $543,000 in the first year alone, and some $18 million over the next three decades.

“They are high priority because as soon they are operational, they start saving money right away,” district spokesman Steven Frasher said, adding that all the panels should be installed by the start of the school year.

But according to some homeowners in the 4900 block of Vickwood Avenue, Glendale Unified’s gain will be their loss. The panels are being installed along the perimeter of the school playground, adjacent to their property lines, and at 14 feet tall, will be visible throughout the neighborhood, they say.

What’s more, they will loom over backyards and reduce current lines of sight by more than 10 feet.

“It is going to decrease our property values when it comes time to sell because who wants to buy a house with a big structure like that?” said homeowner Herb Poppe, whose backyard abuts the campus.

He and others are also taking exception to the blue color scheme planned for the installation.

“When they try and hide cell towers they do them as fake trees and they are either brown or green, but they are going blue,” Ryburn said.

The homeowners said that they did not receive notification from school district officials, but instead learned about the project after questioning workers on site.

“If they didn’t notify us, I am sure the neighbors at these other schools were not notified either,” said Poppe.

School site projects aren’t bound by the same local city codes that require public notices and hearings, and are instead governed by the California Division of the State Architect.

Still, district officials plan to meet with disgruntled neighbors Thursday, Frasher said, who added that notifications for the solar panels were handled school site by school site.

“In the case of Monte Vista, with the slope of the hill and the backyard foliage that everyone has there, it is going to be minimal impact there once it is all finished,” Frasher said.

The homeowners said they would like to see the installations moved to lessen their effect.

“If they moved it back into the school’s property a little farther we wouldn’t be seeing it,” Brandt Clark said. “It wouldn’t be right in our backyard, right in our face.”

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