By Ted AYALA
When the Glendale Unified School District made its final approval back in spring to implement its proposal to install large, freestanding solar panels at seven school campuses in the Crescenta Valley, a success story for the district seemed to be glimmering. Saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the panels’ lifetime, the district was poised to earn plaudits for its commitment to green energy and fiscal control.
But the manner in which the plan was rolled out, which had been kept as an internal matter that was not directly announced to residents neighboring schools with the solar panels, turned potential success into controversy. Local residents, who felt left out of the process of vetting and constructing the project, jumped to anger when word got out of the district’s plan.
On the defensive, the GUSD is now in the process of damage control, attempting to mitigate any fallout from what is growing into a major public relations problem for the district.
A series of meetings – the latest held at Mountain Avenue Elementary School on Tuesday – saw the district continuing its attempt to mend fences with angry area residents. But patience from these residents, as exhibited at the last meeting, is growing thin.
“We are taking down your questions and the answers will be up on the district website soon,” said Eva Rae Lueck, GUSD Chief Business and Financial Officer.
Though the slowness with which the district has answered residents’ worries have further added to their ire.
“What I want to know is this: When is the district going to answer the questions we’ve asked of them again and again?” said Melody McCormick, a resident whose house borders Monte Vista Elementary.
GUSD officials Steven Frasher, John Garcia and Lueck presided over Tuesday’s meeting where they calmly explained their position to residents, offering to address any aesthetic problems the panels pose.
But, as McCormick explained, residents’ concerns go beyond mere concerns about the panels’ appearance.
“Our primary concern is of safety,” she said. “There’s been no environmental assessment done and we are worried about how these panels are affecting us.”
Some concerns raised by residents over the panels include the amount of heat and glare the panels would reflect onto surrounding homes.
“They’ve installed these panels at a five degree angle,” said McCormick. “But the manufacturer says that these panels are meant to be placed at a 10 degree angle. What that creates is heat and glare. When you look out over our fence, these panels cover the horizon in a shining sea of silver. For us living around them, it’s a problem.”
The district has apologized for not making the process more open. But they have stopped short of canceling the project, citing concerns over budget.
Residents have been demanding that the project be at least halted for a period while further studies are pending. Others have said that no apology short of terminating the project altogether would suffice.
But Frasher explained to residents that stopping the project and tearing out already installed structures would not be possible given the district’s budget.
“It wouldn’t be cost effective,” he explained.
But Sharon Raghavachary, whose children attend Mountain Avenue, felt that it was less about budgetary constraints, and more about obstinacy, determining the district’s position.
“They have a 5% contingency for these projects in case there’s a problem,” she said. “That could cover tearing these solar panels down. But sometimes these bureaucracies can get tunnel vision, seeing only what they want to see.”
The GUSD plans to have all the panels installed and operational by the first day of the 2012-13 school year. But the solar panel controversy looks to be increasing the heat on the district over the summer.
“Residents aren’t going to forget this,” said Raghavachary.