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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                    

July 22, 2008

For More Information, Contact:

Sarah Mason at (916) 651-4011


SACRAMENTO – The contentious issue of “trees versus solar power” –– that produced a criminal conviction and drew international attention –– has been put to rest.  State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) announced today that Governor Schwarzenegger has signed his Senate Bill 1399. 

To summarize, the new law will:

Protect trees and shrubs planted prior to the installation of a solar collector;
Eliminate criminal prosecution as a penalty for violation of the law;
Provide a mechanism for written notice between neighbors;
Make it easier for local communities to adopt and enforce their own local ordinances on the subject; and
Clarify various provisions of the law which were vague or confusing.

The bill strikes a balance between trees and solar, and provides a clear exemption from the California Solar Shade Control Act for pre-existing trees.  “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.”  Simitian called the existing law, “well intended, but overreaching.  Trees grow. That’s what they do.”
SB 1399 will also “decriminalize” violations of the California Solar Shade Control Act (a violation will no longer be considered a crime, and enforcement will be a matter for the civil court system).  “It just seems a little heavy handed to call in the District Attorney over a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute –– not to mention the expense to the public,” said Simitian. 

“I’m hopeful that a little courtesy, common sense and a clarification of the law will help folks sort these things out,” said Simitian.  He noted that the new law will clarify existing provisions of the law which are vague or confusing. “The first rule of fairness,” said Simitian, “is that you shouldn’t be punished for violating a law that’s not clear about what you can and cannot do.”

Simitian’s efforts initially were met with strong opposition from the solar industry, and generated vigorous debate at a pair of hearings before the Senate Energy Committee.  Ultimately, however, Simitian was able to craft a bill that won unanimous support from the Senate and the Assembly.  “I really do think we found a way to balance legitimate competing interests,” said Simitian.  That view was shared by Sue Kateley, Executive Director, California Solar Energy Industries Association who noted, “We were initially concerned,” said Kateley “but the end result allows us to grow the solar industry in California and let trees grow too.”

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 currently 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,” said Treanor.  “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. “I’m glad the Legislature found a way to protect solar installations without making criminals out of neighbors with trees.”

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 renewable 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