San Leandro Zoning Commission Approves 100-Foot Commercial Wind Turbine Near Heron Bay

SAN LEANDRO | Despite calls by nearby homeowners for a costly environmental impact report on the effects of a 100-foot wind turbine on the San Leandro shoreline, the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustments unanimously approved a height variance sought by local green tech company, Halus Power Systems.

Members of the Heron Bay Homeowners Association say they will appeal the board’s decision to the City Council before the 15-day deadline.

The seven-member board, of which three were absent Thursday night, said they were not persuaded by over a dozen residents from the nearby Heron Bay housing development, who contend the city and Halus did not take into account the health and well-being of the wind turbine remanufacturer’s neighbors. Numerous residents also feared diminished home prices due to the 100-foot monopole, at least, for the estimated 25 homes that abut the Halus property near the San Lorenzo Creek.

John Dalisay, a member of the Heron Bay Homeowners Association and realtor, told the board potential buyers looking for a home at the development will have little information about the impacts of the proposed wind turbine in the distance. “We’re kind of clueless about the effects,” he said. Commissioner Rene Mendieta, also a realtor, said he understands some landmarks, like wind turbines, can be a negative to prospective home buyers. However, he said the potential health-related concerns such as migraines and noted illnesses believed to come from shadow flickering of turbine blades, are not persuasive in this case.

San Leandro Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Faught, however, said such issues, also including lowered housing values, are not under the purview of the application to satisfy requirements in the California Environmental Quality Act.

Fred Simon, a 15-year resident of Heron Bay, disagreed with the contents of the city’s staff report asserting the monopole will not disrupt the area frequented by two species of endangered birds. “I walk that trail everyday and you’re going to tell me it doesn’t impact the environment?” Simon later added more affluent East Bay city’s do not have wind turbines. “Why should we in San Leandro be the guinea pigs?”

Alan Berger, Heron Bay’s attorney, had serious concerns about the objectivity of the city’s staff report. “I have rarely seen a staff report that is quite as adversarial as this one,” he said, while claiming it contained little independent research. Berger said information in the reports “was feed to the staff and the staff fed it to this board.” A quick read of the staff report prepared for Thursday’s hearing, in fact, contains numerous passages stating effusive support for the Halus wind turbine project and curious uses of grammatical modifiers to bolster efficacy of the plan.

Tom Liao, the acting director of community development, denied Berger’s accusation. “These are documents prepared by staff and vetted by staff—not Halus documentation,” Liao said. A list of responses to resident’s letters prepared by city staff was also dismissive of nearly every complaint. “Lots of comments were not based on facts,” Richard Pio Roda, assistant city attorney, said Thursday. “Some statements were absolutely false.”

At least, two commissioners, voiced wariness for the project setting precedent leading to more wind turbines in the future. Following a question by Commissioner Philip Daly about whether Halus could build more structures, City Senior Planner Elmer Penaranda said yes, but denied it would set precedent on the grounds Halus would need to apply for each in the same fashion as the request on Thursday’s agenda.

“Do you only want one?” Daly asked Louis Rigaud, the owner of Halus, “Oh, yeah, this application allows only one on the property and that’s all we want.” Rigaud says he wants the 100-foot wind turbine for research and development to augment his 10-year-old company at 2539 Grant Avenue, which primarily refurbishes older model turbine parts.

Although saying wind turbines are safe, he specifically chose the center of his five-acre property for the site of the structure for safety reasons. “These are extremely safe, but, if something happens, that’s why I want it in the center of the property.” Daly later said of the wind turbine, “One is acceptable. More than one is not. Any more of these would be an eyesore.”

Rigaud, however, has not been clear about what type of research will facilitate the need for the wind turbine. Critics say it’s merely for saving on energy costs and a vehicle for advertising not rooted in any specific plan for expanding his business through innovation. “This has nothing to do with being green,” said Berger. “This is a 100-foot billboard you’re allowing and not a research and development project.”

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