If solar panels come down, city must pay $5M

Solar panels have been installed on the hills of Canyon View Estates. Courtesy of Geri Brown.

In a ruling of “power versus space … two great pillars of environmental sustainability,” open space won this week, a win for city officials — at a $5 million price. 

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Canyon View Estates violated its conditional use permit that demands a certain portion of the mobile home park’s land be open space. 

So the city has the right to have Canyon View’s panels “demolished, removed and the open space restored,” the ruling stated. “At the same time, if the city decided to exercise this right, the court is imposing the condition of repayment to the defendants on the granting of the injunction.” 

The court found the reimbursable costs to be $5 million for the removal of the system, placing “the ball in the city’s proverbial court,” the ruling said. 

City Councilman Cameron Smyth said, ahead of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the city could find a degree of validation in the ruling with respect to its efforts to assert local oversight over the hillside and the installation of panels, which most consider a nuisance due to a number of factors, including their proximity to homes and their seemingly haphazard alignment. 

“From the very beginning, the placement of the panels were done utilizing a loophole in law, and we did reach out initially to some of our local legislators to look at closing the loophole,” Smyth said.  

The court looked at two issues: whether the city had standing to demand a conditional use permit for the installation of the solar panels in 2017, and whether the solar panels violated the terms of the conditional use permit the park was authorized under by Los Angeles County in 1984, before the city had come into existence. 

“Because a conditional use permit is a zoning regulation, it falls upon the local zoning authority to enforce it,” according to the judgment, which also noted that the city “holds standing as an enforcement entity that assumed jurisdiction over the conditional use permit for the park,” which was issued from the county in 1984, prior to the city’s incorporation in 1987. 

Further, the court noted the city “acted within its authority in demanding a permit and is not preempted.” 

The court also noted that even if the lawns were manicured at the mobile home park, the space was neither “natural nor open,” ruling the panels constituted a violation of the park’s open space requirements. 

The installation of the solar panels covered about 2.689 acres of the Canyon Country hillside, and the judge also determined that the acreage violated what the owners — managing partners Kerry and Mark Seidenglanz — claimed the project would have in the initial permit application for the project. 

However, in considering a remedy for the city, the court noted the case was a complicated one. While the city has a right for local jurisdiction, Canyon View legally owned the land and modified it with legal oversight from the state. As a result, the judge found an “all or nothing approach is neither fair nor equitable. Both sides bear some responsibility for the current predicament.”  

Things are less complicated for former Canyon View resident Ben Turner, who was ecstatic when he received news of the ruling.   

From his current home in Michigan, he noted the panels weren’t as big a problem for him now, but it made selling his mobile home in the park “a nightmare.”  

“Well, the first reaction was, ‘Hurray, it sounds like justice is being done after all,” Turner said. “I’d given up hope.”  

The city is expected to have a discussion regarding the lawsuit and ruling in closed session, and Smyth is hopeful that, with a ruling in hand, they’ll now be able to have an easier time seeking a legislative fix for the future. 

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