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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                               
April 22, 2008
For More Information, Contact:
Sarah Mason at (916) 651-4011


SACRAMENTO – State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) announced today that his Senate Bill 1399, which strikes a balance between trees and solar, and provides a clear exemption from the California Solar Shade Control Act law for pre-existing trees, passed the California State Senate on a unanimous 38-0 vote.  The bill now moves to the State Assembly for a hearing in June or July. 

“Right now,” said Simitian, “a new neighbor can move in next to your home, install a solar energy system, and then –– under threat of criminal prosecution –– force you to take an ax to your trees if and when they grow,” said Simitian.  Simitian called the existing law, “well intended, but overreaching.” SB 1399 will also clarify existing provisions of the law which are vague or confusing. “The first rule of fairness,” said Simitian, “is that you shouldn’t be prosecuted for violating a law that’s not clear about what you can and cannot do.”

SB 1399 is one of the winning entries in Simitian’s annual “There Oughta Be A Law” contest.  Sunnyvale residents Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett, who consider themselves environmentalists, tree lovers and good neighbors, ran afoul of the 1978 law which provides criminal penalties for homeowners whose trees cast shade on their neighbors’ solar panels.  The couple became disillusioned after they were criminally prosecuted, forced to chop off the tops of the redwood trees in their back yard and paid more than $35,000 in legal fees. 

“We’re grateful that the Legislature is addressing the inequities of the California Solar Shade Control Act.  I understand that people who invest tens of thousands of dollars in home solar systems need to be protected.  However, when solar systems are installed causing obvious conflict with existing trees, it defies logic to then subject people to criminal prosecution who legally and innocently planted those trees.  This legislation will help the solar power industry in the long run by respecting everyone’s interests, and getting people to interact constructively and arrive at solutions as good neighbors”, Treanor said. 

Both Simitian and his contest winners say that they too want to protect the rights of homeowners with solar panels, but they want to do it in a way that’s fair to everyone. “That’s why we entered the contest,” said Treanor. “There has to be a way to protect solar installations without making criminals out of neighbors with trees.” As Simitian notes, “Trees grow. That’s what they do.”
SB 1399 makes it clear that after installation of a solar collector, a person owning or in control of another property cannot allow a tree or shrub to be placed or, if placed, to grow and cast the limited shadow on that collector.  The measure also specifically exempts a tree or shrub from the Act if it is planted prior to the installation of a solar collector.  Finally, SB 1399 requires an owner of a building where a solar collector is proposed to provide written notice to affected neighbors. 
Simitian is Chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and author of the California law which requires the state to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2010.  “I continue to support renwable energy,” said Simitian, “including California’s ambitious effort to encourage the construction of a million solar roofs.  I’m just trying to avoid a million neighborhood arguments,” he said.

To learn more about SB 1399, please visit