The San Leandro City Council voted 5-1 in favor of a proposal to build a 100-foot-tall wind turbine on the city’s shoreline that would benefit one business. Residents at the nearby Heron Bay housing development are weighing their next moves, which could include a lawsuit.
“The [Heron Bay Homeowners Association] board has to make formal vote on it, but I think we were committed before and we’re committed now that we will be filing in Superior Court,” said Alan Berger, the attorney for the homeowners association. “We absolutely do not feel the board of zoning and the city council followed all of the voluminous case law in California ….”
The city’s Board of Zoning and Adjustments approved the plan on February 7 by San Leandro wind turbine manufacturer Halus Power Systems to erect the monopole for both research and development and for defraying energy costs at the ten-employee company. Homeowners at the shoreline residential community, however, raised doubts over the findings of a study by the city that found the wind turbine posed no significant impact on the environment. The same group has repeatedly urged the owner and the city to perform a more rigorous and costly environmental impact report to further study the issue.
But city staffers said opponents of the wind turbine continually failed to present scientifically verifiable evidence for their assertions that the turbine would greatly harm birds, including some nearby endangered clapper species, or prove that it posed potential health concerns for residents – some as close as 300 feet from the proposed turbine.
Whether the city’s approval of a wind turbine sets a precedent for others to sprout in San Leandro is up for debate. San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy argued the council’s decision would not set a precedent for other wind turbines since the conditional permit for the wind turbine to be erected by Halus is uniquely connected to the company’s purpose as a turbine manufacturer. When the owner of Halus Louis Rigaud was asked whether he planned only one wind turbine on his property in the future, he said,
“That’s all we want to put up.” Nevertheless, Cassidy added an amendment to the motion that would bar additional wind turbines on the Halus property.
“Clearly it is a precedent,” said Berger after the council’s decision late Monday night. “The condition the mayor imposed is ridiculous. He didn’t get the fact he’s saying we’re not going to let more than one wind turbine on this property, but he doesn’t get it that it’s a precedent for every other property in San Leandro.”
Berger also faulted Councilmembers Michael Gregory and Jim Prola for linking their support of the wind turbine to helping alleviate the city’s noted high rate of asthma. “If you’re saying, that this wind power is so important for single turbines and it’s going to cure diseases and make us green then how do you tell any other business owner in San Leandro you can’t have a 100-foot turbine on the same exact theory.”
Prola, the most liberal member of the San Leandro City Council, described himself as an environmentalist Monday night and said he could not oppose what he called a green-tech proposal. “I’m probably involved with more environmental groups that you can shake a stick at,” he said, also noting that none had communicated to him any opposition to the wind turbine proposal. “How can I say I’m for green technology and vote against a wind turbine?”
The wind turbine controversy has become an unlikely nexus for two competing visions for San Leandro – one that strives to maintain a reputation as a quiet, relatively safe bedroom community, versus a vision of the former factory town growing into a 21st century hub of green-tech innovation. The city’s initial exuberance to add Halus and its wind turbine company to the list of green tech firms may have put the proposal on an early turbulent path. Last June, Heron Bay residents said they were blindsided by a relatively unpublicized announcement asking for public input over the wind turbine proposal. However, the city, citing the bare minimum, notified homeowners within a 300-foot radius of the proposed monopole, which encompassed less than a dozen homes on the southwestern edge of the Heron Bay community. In addition, news of the proposal only became widespread among Heron Bay residents just days before the end of the 30-day public comment period. The public relations snafu alienated many residents who believe the city was intent on pushing through the proposal without consulting with the public.
Councilmember Ursula Reed, who registered the only no vote Monday night, faulted city staff for not offering information about the proposal to the development’s large number of Asian Americans, estimated to make up 75 percent of the community’s 1,500 residents, and some of whom possess limited proficiency in English. “A majority of residents in Heron Bay speak Mandarin or Cantonese,” said Reed. “I think not having information in those languages could have aided in that confusion in that community.” Councilmember Benny Lee, who represents Heron Bay in District 4, recused himself from the discussion. Lee is a former Heron Bay HOA president who had led the early opposition to the Halus wind turbine proposal before being elected to the council last November.