S.F. relaxes rules on solar power installation 

A Los Gatos businessman has successfully used state law to streamline The City’s permitting process so that history and height limits do not hold up installation of solar power systems.

Barry Cinnamon of Akeena Solar complained in December that San Francisco’s permit process for installing solar systems on homes and businesses was out of compliance with a 2004 state law, which said the only legitimate bars to granting the permits are health and safety issues. The San Francisco rules required more extensive review if the project went over legal height limits, or the building in question was historic, costing solar customers and contractors time and money.

Acting on a recommendation from the City Attorney’s Office, Zoning Administrator Lawrence Badiner ruled last week that these concerns are no longer part of the permitting process.

"[The] Planning [Department] will be cut out of the review of these altogether," San Francisco Chief Building Inspector Laurence Kornfield said.

Contractors applauded the move. Chief among them was Cinnamon, who lobbied for the state law that overturned The City’s procedure. His firm recently opened another office in Laguna Hills, and he said he hopes Los Angeles and other California cities take notice.

"I think the change … is great for homeowners and building owners in San Francisco. It’s also great in that it will make it easier for The City to meet its admirable goals for clean and renewable power," Cinnamon said.

NextEnergy Corp. CEO Randy Kauffman, whose firm plans to install solar panels on a historic property, said previously he would have had to spend $1,100 and wait two months for The City’s Landmark Preservation Advisory Board to approve the project.

Under the new rules, he completed his paperwork in one day Tuesday. He plans to refund his client the $1,100.

"This is a huge breakthrough in The City," Kauffman said.

City staff members were less effusive, with senior planner Craig Nikitas saying that "any one of you could put a photovoltaic array on the south face of the Shell Building," at a recent meeting, and asking for voluntary cooperation with The City’s guidelines.

But historic preservationists aren’t screaming.

"For the most part, it’s been a non-issue. The installations are usually not intrusive to historic resources, and they can be removed without too much damage," said Charles Chase, executive director of the nonprofit San Francisco Architectural Heritage. He predicted that neighbors who now have to look at the panels will be more upset than preservationists.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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