SAN LEANDRO | The city’s zeal to attract green technology firms to San Leandro may be alienated a growing group of residents at the shoreline’s Heron Bay development upset over a proposed wind turbine rising in their backyards and the lack of notice given to them by city staff.
Halus Power Systems, a firm specializing in refurbishing wind turbines and outdated replacement parts, is seeking a height variance for the single 100-foot monopole at the industrial area of 2539 Grant Avenue. City zoning allows for installation of the wind turbine, but limits the height of buildings to 60 feet. The wind turbine would produce over 50 kilowatts of power for the fledgling San Leandro company, according to the application.
Louis Rigaud, the owner of Halus, said he first broached the idea to city planners in January and applied for the variance in March. In the meantime, city staff determined the project to be of a negative mitigating impact. The designation found no significant environmental dangers and in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act guidelines. A 30-day public comment began May 23 and was slated to expire on Thursday, but homeowners in Heron Bay say they only learned of the project a day earlier.
In fact, many of the over 80 homeowners in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting appeared deeply unaware of specifics of Rigaud’s plan. One homeowner understood the plan entailed a sprawling wind farm, while another misinterpreted the proposal as discussion of wind energy versus solar. Rigaud said he merely intends to use the singe wind turbines to lower growing energy costs for his decade-old business which currently employs 10 workers. “I hate sending a big check to PG&E every month,” he said. However, in city documents, the issue of using the turbine for energy costs is never mentioned. Instead, there are numerous references to employing the wind turbine for research and development purposes, even though the company does not currently design turbines, but merely creates makeshift and discontinued parts.
Many angry homeowners at Wednesday meeting repeatedly lauded Rigaud’s overall ambitions for creating clean energy solutions, but laid into city staff for the impression they were rushing through plans for the wind turbine without noticing homeowners, some of which would sit about 500 feet from the proposed turbine. City planner Elmer Penaranda said staff sent just four notices to adjacent houses within the legal 300-foot radius of the property on May 23, along with six neighboring industrial businesses. In comparison, the relatively new San Leandro housing development on the shoreline encompasses over 650 households.
Nonetheless, even the small number of homeowners say they did not receive the city notices detailing the project and the 30-day public comment period. “If you are green, why do you have to hide? Show us your research and let us decide,” said an irate homeowner on Riverside Street, who refused to give her name for fear of reprisals.
Heron Bay Homeowners Association President Benny Lee said it is the group’s intention to work with the city and Halus to get project off the ground, but voiced concerns over the city’s lack of an environmental review. A limited 18-page environmental report paid for by Rigaud made some of the same assumptions as the city’s equally flimsy report. One board member asked for a review of the wind turbine’s effect on humans, the potential failure of the turbine and the effects of shadow flicker on neighboring homes along with the wind turbines visual aesthetics on the shoreline's landscape. Several homeowner asked Rigaud if he would reimburse residents if their property value were lowered by the presence of the wind turbine. "Sure," Rigaud said. Give me a fair deal. Pay me if the price goes up."
Rigaud said turbine malfunction can occur, but turbines breaking off and traveling much farther than 50 feet from the monopole is nearly impossible, including the entire device tipping over in the case of a earthquake and striking homes in Heron Bay. The project is slated to be constructed at the center of his five-acre property to mitigate any potential damage to his neighbor’s property. “We were reluctant at first,” said Liao. “We had initial reservations, too.” But, through further examinations and research, he said, city staff felt more comfortable with the project going forward down the regulatory process.
The appearance of the city, its chamber of commerce and one of its brightest green tech small businesses being in cahoots was clearly evident Wednesday night. The San Leandro Patch reported this week the three groups involved in pursuing the wind turbines met before Wednesday’s homeowner’s meeting to celebrate the impending success in gaining approval of the project. The city, on the heels of loads of positive press over OSISoft’s downtown fiber-optics loop, is widely known to be repositioning the city as a hub for green tech. Halus is seen as another opportunity to raise a positive banner for San Leandro. “Halus is one of the greenest of the green technologies that the city is trying to attract,” said Gayle Quinn, president of the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce.
Members of the Heron Bay Homeowners Association on Monday asked the city council to extend the public comment period from this Thursday for an undetermined length to give the vast majority of its residents an opportunity to learn more about the proposal. On Wednesday, one Heron Bay board member pointedly asked Rigaud if he would join the board in backing an extension. “I’m sure you understand our angst. Some of us just received this information yesterday,” said Stephanie L’Archuleta. Rigaud, though, was initially non-committal.
When again pressed by another homeowner, Rigaud asked, “How much time do you need? A few days?” but he did not agree to an extension. On three occasions, Liao and Penaranda, along with Quinn, also a consultant to Halus, interrupted the group’s desire to pin an extension of the public comment period on Rigaud. However, city staff were seen discussing the matter and later Liao informed homeowners he would consult with the city attorney to extend the period to an undetermined date in the future. A postponement of the agenda item regarding the variance scheduled for June 27 Board of Zoning and Adjustments is also likely.
Although the situation appears to ultimately become an issue of NIMBYism, at this point, most homeowners are more upset with the city's lack of noticing the community and the repercussions of a whirring wind turbine potentially becoming an eye-shore for not only them, but large numbers of dog-walkers and cyclists who use the adjacent trails surrounding San Lorenzo Creek. “I’m not here as a temporary person. I’m in your neighborhood here every day,” said Rigaud. “We started this business to help the environment, not to hurt it.”
However, when asked what he would do if the variance fails, he said, “We would probably move the business.”