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Who’ll speak for the trees?

The California Senate and Assembly and Ahhhhnold, that’s who!

It’s like déjà vu all over again.” My wife told me this morning that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had signed into law the bill, SB 1399, which should resolve a famous Silicon Valley case of a couple who were criminally prosecuted because shade from their redwood trees fell on their neighbor’s solar collectors. Under the previous, obscure 1978 law (California Solar Shade Control Act; PDF), it did not matter that the trees were there first. Under the new law, trees can grow to shade solar panels, so long as the trees were there first. However, under the old law, there were clear “set-back” (from property lines) and height requirements for solar collectors, which became important for me, personally.

All of this reminded me (I told you that blog entries sometimes write themselves) of an earlier blog entry of mine, “The Lorax,” about a great Dr. Seuss (who lived on a hill in San Diego) story that first aired on TV on Valentine’s Day in 1972 and has been viewed on TV rarely if ever again (I won’t say that it was suppressed. :-) ) The story IS available on DVD and makes good viewing for “children” of all ages (and perhaps should be required viewing for SOME adults). The plot is the near-extinction of Truffula Trees, which are used in the manufacture of the garments, Thneeds (“which everyone needs”), and the struggle of the Lorax to prevent the extinction. The famous line of the Lorax is, “Who’ll speak for the trees?” I also mentioned an anonymous Silicon Valley company that cut down six redwood trees (two of them “Heritage Trees” of the city) in order to give the campus a “new look.” (Oh yeah, they cut down a number of other trees as well.)

The new law passed the California Senate and Assembly unanimously before being signed into law by the governor. The originator of the bill SB 1399, State Senator Joe Simitian said, “I really view this as a triumph of common sense.” Admittedly, common sense is not as “common” as it once was. In areas of the country with a lot of “intellectual professions,” people sometimes seem to “live in their own heads” too much (we certainly WORK there a lot! :-) ), without drinking in the rich, full sensory input of the reality outside. The Silicon Valley dispute attracted the attention of CNN, Fox News, National Public Radio, and other media as one of those “only in California” stories about “green vs. green,” “trees vs. solar” disputes.

The case was so well publicized that one of my own neighbors (friends and family, you know the one) threatened legal action in April 2008 over the shading of his solar collectors by my trees. At the time, before the passage of the new law, it did not matter that the trees were there BEFORE he moved his collectors from his roof to their current locations. What DID matter was that the neighbor had constructed two new solar collectors (without obtaining permits, by the way) one of which is right against the property line and lacks the set-back required by law. Although my lawyers were waiting to hear from him, the information about lack of set-back and the lack of permits was apparently enough of a response. The new state law should provide further support.

Thanks for the unanimous passage of SB 1399, California Legislature, and for signing the bill, Governor Schwarzenegger! Any other folks out there with neighbors who may seem unreasonable might enjoy this link. :-)

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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