A bill authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, to strike a balance between protecting trees and allowing solar access has passed the Senate on a 38-0 vote and now moves to the state Assembly for a July hearing.
Simitian wrote the legislation to allow homeowners protection for pre-existing trees when a neighbor installs a solar energy system and complains that the trees are blocking sunlight.
"Right now, a new neighbor can move in next to you, install a solar energy system and then — under threat of criminal prosecution — force you to take an ax to your trees if and when they grow," Simitian said.
SB 1399 is intended to clear up ambiguities in an existing, "well-intended but over-reaching" law regarding solar energy systems, Simitian added. The idea for the legislation came from an entry in his annual "There Oughta Be A Law" contest when constituents send him ideas.
The contest entry was from Sunnyvale residents Richard Treanor and Carolyn Bissett, who were forced to chop off the tops of their redwood trees after a neighbor had them prosecuted under a 1978 law for blocking sunlight to his solar panels. The couple also paid $35,000 in legal fees.
"We're grateful that the Legislature is addressing the inequities of the California Solar Shade Control Act," Treanor said. "I understand that people who invest tens of thousands of dollars in home solar systems need to be protected. However, when solar systems are installed causing obvious conflict with existing trees, it defies logic to then subject people to criminal prosecution who legally and innocently planted those trees."
"I continue to support renewable energy," Simitian, the chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, said. "I'm just trying to avoid a million neighborhood arguments."