SAN LEANDRO -- Nearly a year after businessman Louis Rigaud applied for approval to build a 100-foot tall wind turbine on his industrial property, the San Leandro City Council has cleared the way for the project.
The City Council voted 5-1 Monday night after a nearly three-hour discussion to deny an appeal of the approval granted in February by the city's Board of Zoning Adjustments for the turbine, which required a variance because it exceeds the city's 60-foot height limit. Councilman Benny Lee, a Heron Bay resident who fought the project before and after he was elected to the council in November, recused himself from the vote.
Attorney A. Alan Berger filed the appeal on behalf of the 629-home Heron Bay Homeowners Association, alleging the city had illegally approved the project without proper environmental review in a decision not supported by findings. The appeal also claimed that one zoning board member was prejudiced against the homeowners. The community and the turbine site on Grant Avenue are 500 feet apart, located on opposite sides of the San Lorenzo Creek stormwater drainage channel in the southwest corner of the city.
City staff cited the findings from the initial project review and lack of objection from a long list of public oversight agencies, including those that regulate wildlife and aviation, as rationale for not requiring a full environmental impact report.
Berger was not surprised by the council vote and said he anticipates the homeowners board will vote soon to take the matter to court.
Rigaud intends to use the turbine to power his wind turbine manufacturing and refurbishing business, Halus Power Systems, and to test new components built for commercial businesses, schools and farm-owner clients.
"I am hopeful it's resolved at this point," said Rigaud, who has spent $50,000 on his bid for approval so far. "I do think it would be a waste of both their time and money to pursue it further."
Before the vote, council members added a provision in the approval that only one turbine will be permitted on the property. Councilwoman Ursula Reed said she opposed the turbine, in part, because the city reached out to Heron Bay residents in English only.
A dozen residents came out to oppose the turbine Monday, saying it would set a dangerous precedent as the first of its kind near the bay shoreline, while posing a threat to wildlife and the region's aesthetics.
George Draper, a resident of Heron Bay since 1998, said his bedroom window faces the wind turbine site. While he knew about the overhead power lines when he moved in, he said, "I wasn't prepared to talk about some wind turbines going up in eyeshot view of where we live."
"I travel a lot for a living. ... When you come into Oakland airport, I look out the window and I see our subdivision, and I say, 'I live right near that golf course.' Now I am going to say, 'I live right near that wind turbine,'" Draper said.
David Johnson, CEO of the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the turbine, and several council members and the mayor said their approval stems from their backing of green technology.
"I don't believe I can say I am in favor of green energy and then vote against a wind turbine that's for research processes, that's going to save us from these fossil fuels, save our children from asthma," Councilman Jim Prola said.
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/ashlyreports.