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By Dave Boyce
For hockey enthusiasts, the sssshhhh of skates on ice, the grunts and groans of body checks, the slap of a wooden stick on a hard rubber biscuit … well, it's music.
To residents of the hills straddling the border between Portola Valley and Palo Alto, such emanations coming from the home of Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy are not terribly welcome, given the flattened fabric dome that encloses his hockey rink and creates, a neighbor says, something of an echo chamber.
The dome, of a faint golden color, also sits on a visible promontory and reflects sunshine in every direction, says Ted Lamb, who lives across the valley in the uplands of the Golden Oaks neighborhood of Portola Valley. The half hour before noon is particularly bad, he says.
"You cannot even look anywhere near that direction," Mr. Lamb said in an interview. "It's like a nuclear blast each day, every day, forever."
"This thing is like a gigantic white whale that is lying there. It's monstrous," he said. "I have to stare at this thing all day from every window in my house."
Mr. McNealy was away when The Almanac asked for a comment. According to his biography at Sun's Web site, Mr. McNealy, 54, is married, has four sons, and is an "avid hockey player."
If the dome is that bothersome to Mr. Lamb, he figures he's not alone, and he isn't. Four of his immediate neighbors agree with him, he said.
The Planning Department in Palo Alto, the jurisdiction that oversees the McNealy home, has its code-enforcement people looking into the permitting, said interim Planning Director Curtis Williams in an interview.
Mr. McNealy has a permit for a hockey rink; he does not have one for the dome, Mr. Williams said.
The "very large" home was approved five years ago and finished in 2008, Mr. Williams said, adding that Mr. McNealy may not have the square-footage allowance to enclose the 7,000-square-foot rink in a building. The matter is likely to require review by the Planning Commission and the City Council, he said.
Palo Alto's planning manager has heard from her counterpart in Portola Valley and from at least two Portola Valley residents, Mr. Williams said.
The topic also came up during the waning minutes of the Feb. 11 Portola Valley Town Council meeting.
"For sure, Palo Alto would never have a basis for approving something like this," Planning Manager Leslie Lambert told the council. "It's not a pretty sight," she added. "Ugh. It's horrible."
Peggy Law, who is trying to sell her Palo Alto home that looks down on Mr. McNealy's, said the dome has been in place since about November. The sounds of slap shots are occasional and whether they're audible depends on atmospheric conditions. "It's not quite like gunfire, but it's pretty noticeable," she said.
The dome itself is a constant irritant, she said. "Nobody could come up here and not say 'What's that?'" she said of potential home buyers. "Now that they know it's there, they're not happy with what they see."
As for the dome's fate: "I've been very pleased (with Palo Alto city staff) and quite sure it's going to be resolved," Ms. Law said.
Mr. Lamb, a retired builder, estimates that the 200 or 300 homes in Portola Valley from which the dome is visible have each lost about $300,000 in value.
"It's very destructive to the view of these homes and it's a very ugly thing to have there," he said.