With the gift of water from heaven over (for now), I am wondering how each of you enjoyed a drought-free January. My sprinklers have been off for almost a month, which cut my last water bill in half. All the while, my landscaping is looking better and better.
Since old man sunshine decided to show his shiny face yesterday (Saturday), my wife and I decided to take a drive around Santa Clarita. As we drove down some of Santa Clarita’s main boulevards, we could not help but notice how fresh and clean the air smelled, and how beautiful all the trees were looking. We remarked how we remember the city planting the then scrawny young saplings, and how time has helped them grow into mature, luscious trees.
As we drove down what used to be old Bouquet Canyon Road, my sense of humor kicked in. I chuckled about how our decision makers renamed the street “Railroad Avenue,” and then started planting climbing vines along the side of the road to screen out our view of the trains. Sometimes you just have to wonder, what are they thinking?
Then it was eastbound on Soledad Canyon Road back to Canyon Country, when those unattractive, waywardly placed solar panels above Canyon View Estates came into view.
If you recall, solar panels started to appear on the hillside in June of 2017. Unfortunately, the permitting process for projects within Manufactured Home Parks fall under the jurisdiction of the State of California’s Housing and Community Development (HCD) department. KHTS published an article alerting the public. While HCD indicated they “consider local city and county ordinances that would be applicable … There was no basis for us to say no, deny the permit.”
Plus, there is no appeal process. In addition, the City of Santa Clarita informed the public, “A City inspector was on site recently to verify the project did have the necessary permits filed with HCD”.
But it was not that cut and dry. It turns out, the HCD planning process provides for “Local Approval,” which never happened, and the appropriate section on the Canyon View Estates permit application form was not filled in. In addition, city staff did not even know the boundaries of the Canyon View Estates Mobile Home Park, so how could they have determined all required permits had been obtained?
Plain and simple, HCD and city staff dropped the ball. Then, after community outrage and a year of investigation, KHTS reported on July 16, 2018, the solar panels did not comply with the conditional use permit for the Manufactured Home Park. The permit was originally issued by the county and required 50 percent of the property be maintained as open space. As a remedy, the city sent a “Notice of Violation” citing the property owners for installing solar panels both inside and outside the park boundaries, without having obtained the required permits.
When the Notice of Violation did not produce any results, The Signal (on September 12, 2018) reported on the city filing a lawsuit with the Los Angeles Superior Court, asking for a “preliminary and Permanent injunction” and to “abate a public nuisance.”
In addition to not obtaining required permits, “City officials said other complaints in the lawsuit include the owner’s failure to submit a hillside development plan or a geotechnical report which determines whether the land can support the structure. Operating a power-generation business on the park property, which is not zoned for such activity, is also a violation of the city’s municipal code.”
To add insult to injury, On January 11, The Signal reported “Power first went out for almost half of the 445 residents in Canyon View Estates at shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday (Jan. 9).”
On Thursday, two electric company employees joined the property’s maintenance personnel at a bank of transformers to affect repairs, but only succeeded in causing additional equipment damage. “The transformers (equipment), according to residents, are part of a hybrid system integrating energy transferred from the hillside solar field.” Finally, to temporarily mitigate the power outage, The Signal reported on January 14 that generators would be brought in, but “only to part of the neighborhood on Thursday and then the other part on Friday.”
As a city, we are now over one and a half years into this issue, with no final resolution in sight. To make matters even worse, the Canyon View Estates Management Company even installed additional panels, after the issue of their placement was questioned. Does this indicate the owner has a special in with the city, or is this just pure arrogance?
Then comes the question of public safety. Even though HCD spokesperson Alicia Murillo was quoted as saying, “The inspection revealed the installation was in accordance with the approved plans and there were no violations,” I question why those plans were not immediately available to service personnel, and wonder if the design provided for modern troubleshooting provisions.
Next comes Julia Roether, the Edison Senior Project Manager, who did not know what kind of electrical distribution and billing system Edison has with Canyon View Estates. Are you kidding me? What kind of records does Edison keep?
Finally, there was a property owner, who believes the benefits far outweigh the aesthetics. He is quoted in the Gazette as saying, “the complex will have power during a rolling blackout.” But according to Steve Hochman, an energy broker with Solarhawk, unless Canyon View has a battery backup, (which it does not) the power couldn’t be stored. And in the event of a rolling blackout, the loop between the battery and the homes must not be linked to the power grid, or it will shut down.
Organizations who provide the public with critical resources, like power, need to do better when interfacing with the public. They must start requiring communication specialists to not just shoot from the hip, but take enough time to understand what they are talking about. That is, if they intend to maintain our trust.
All these issues are a part of the problem, and as community members, the burden is on us to ensure problems raised do not slip through the cracks. The city taking a year and a half on an issue of public safety, as well as a property owner leaving residents without power for a week, is far from acceptable. Remember, you can accomplish a great deal by making your voice heard.
Governmental agencies, public utilities and even private endeavors work at the pleasure of their customers. When confidence is lost, customers leave elected officials at the ballot box, and they put private companies out of business by spending their money elsewhere. So, even when we have voted for officials who claim to take care of business, it is up to us to hold them accountable.
Hopefully, it will not be long before I get to take another sunny day drive around the city, and at the end, view a beautifully landscaped hillside having returned to Canyon Country.