Palo Alto's Board of Education this week unanimously approved a plan to install solar panels at local schools, though it backed away from a controversial proposal to place two of them in the front parking lot of Palo Alto High School.
The board acceded to public concern over two solar arrays that were previously considered for the Paly lot, but panels will still be placed in the vicinity of the high school's football field.
The overall districtwide solar plan includes six projects; each will cost about $19,000 annually, with a total cost of $486,000 over 25 years.
During the board meeting Tuesday night, Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza made a motion directing the district staff to look at new sites to which the two carports could be relocated.
"While I appreciate that staff has moved them away from a location that was very upsetting to a lot of the community, I don't want to lose those panels," DiBrienza said.
Manager of Maintenance Operations and Transportation Ron Ellis told the board that there may be a possibility to shift panels to Hoover Elementary School.
While supporting DiBrienza's proposal, board member Melissa Baten Caswell expressed some concerns about what she called a "process breakdown." She recalled all the work that had been done by staff and school committees to make sure the solar-panel plan would supportable. She called the situation "not optimal."
"I feel we bypassed the process here," Baten Caswell said. "Someone had a good idea, and we just ran it through. I want to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Since announcing the solar plan, the school board has received pushback from residents who argued that the carports will obstruct views of historic Paly buildings. The feedback prompted staff to reconsider the two locations, according to Cathy Mak, the district's chief budget official.
"Given the fact that financial benefit is not the sole reason for going solar and the strong opinions in the community to preserve the views of the historical buildings, staff recommends revising the current plan at Paly to remove the two arrays in the front parking lot of the school," Mak wrote in a report.
On Tuesday, the board heard from two residents representing distinctly different views on the subject. Rachel Kellerman, a Paly librarian, urged the board to approve a plan that removes carports from Paly's historic front landscapes. She called the Paly buildings a priceless district asset that should not be impeded by carports with solar panels.
"We owe it to the city and our wider community to take care of it by not impeding views of these priceless buildings with large metal carports," Kellerman said.
Deb Goldeen, an Evergreen Park resident, disagreed and said she has no problem with the carports.
"If you want a pretty legacy that you're going to leave, do you want a pretty building or environmental consciousness? I want a community that says, 'We care about the future of our students.'"
Other schools that will get solar panels as part of the plan are: Terman and JLS middle schools; and Escondido, Nixon and Ohlone elementary schools.