Reflective dome over hockey rink irks neighbors


Click on picture for larger image and caption.

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.


Like this comment
Posted by Sunshine Girl
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 17, 2009 at 1:21 pm

The dome's reflection of sunlight causes global warming.
Shame on Mr. McNealy.

Like this comment
Posted by Kevin
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 17, 2009 at 4:32 pm

I understand the hockey rink involves constant use of a generator, too. Isn't that creating some noise problems?

Like this comment
Posted by portolaresident
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 18, 2009 at 11:52 am

This story shows me that some people of Portola Valley have way too much time on their hands.

I've seen the dome, and it never bothered me. I actually welcome the reflection of sunlight. Vitamin D is good in the winter. As is exercise. An old fashioned pond hockey game in Northern California is not an option. If I had the money, I would put one in my yard. And give it a bright shiny aluminum dome.

Get a Life, and maybe go out for a walk, or go for a skate at your local rink :)

Like this comment
Posted by Slap-shot
a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Feb 19, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Old-fashioned pond hockey is not an option in Northern California, so what's the sense in trying to create it in your backyard? There's something to be said for having a backyard that respects the terrain and climate.

Like this comment
Posted by PV Neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Feb 19, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Sunshine Girl, you have it backwards. A reflective dome would REDUCE global warming, not increase it, just like the polar ice caps do.

And, Mr. and Mrs. McNealy are doing their bit to reduce childhood obesity by providing kids a great physical activity. Isn't that important?

Mr. Lamb's estimate of $90 million of lost value is absolutely ridiculous, and Mr. Boyce should not print unsubstantiated estimates like that. It sounds like a guy itching to complain about something.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 20, 2009 at 9:43 am

To paraphrase a corporate titan from Silicon Valley during its boom years:

"You have no permit. Get over it."

Like this comment
Posted by Sunshine Girl
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 21, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Ha ha! I am not so dumb as to believe in man-made global warming, and especially not that a hockey rink cover would contribute to global warming!
And anyone else reading these comments and replying to them also has too much time on their hands.

Like this comment
Posted by Ice Skater
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Feb 23, 2009 at 11:59 am

An indoor hockey rink in your own backyard? Having that much money is OBSCENE. Especially in these hard times, and especially when it's spent on something that is an aesthetic disaster to the surrounding community. (Not unlike the unsightly Indian-casino-cancer that is spreading throughout the Sierra foothills!) So how many of his employees' jobs do you think this guy offshored, in order to fund this?

Like this comment
Posted by pc
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Mar 10, 2009 at 7:13 pm

If the ice rink owner got the permit then that's that. The town should be concerned about important issues like that diseased tree hanging over our Little League dugout on Ford Field. That tree is safety issue not a green issue. CUT IT DOWN NOW!

Our town council and mayor need to show some responsible leadership soon.


concerned taxpayer

Like this comment
Posted by Ian
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Aug 3, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Do you think Nealy gives a darn about anyone but himself? Welcome to the world of the nouveau rich. Money but no class. He's not the least bit interested in being a considerate neighbor--"me first" is something that it quite typical behavior among the wealthy in this area. Unfortunately, because of their arrogance, we need to have more and more resrictions in our building codes.

If you want kids to be fit, all it takes is a pair of walking shoes--not an intrusive hockey rink. Nealy's kids are learning more than hockey; they are learning to be rude and inconsiderate of others.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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