It began yesterday and increased last night and into the early hours of today, a sense of living in a parallel universe, right next door to the universe where people live and think very differently, into which I keep trying to move, and keep trying, and keep trying – Key West for example.
For a very long time now, I have felt this way, wherever I lived, wherever I visited. I was here, everyone else was there, just a little ways over there. Well, just about everyone else. I’ve known a few women who seemed to be stuck over here in the universe where I’m stuck, but not for as long, and not as deep.
Well, let’s dive into the Key West universe with an excerpt from a Key West Citizen (keysnews.com) article on the primary elections today:
Even if one of the three Key West mayoral candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote today, he would still have to face write-in candidate Sloan Bashinsky in November.
Four other times I ran for mayor, after paying the filing fee, and didn’t come anywhere close to getting into a runoff. This year, I filed as a write-in candidate, for free, half hour before the filing deadline, and then was told by Joyce Griffin, our Supervisor of Elections, that I was automatically in the runoff. I had thought the day before, when I had asked Joyce about filing as a write-in, she had told me, if one of the other candidates won the primary without a runoff, that would be the end of it; that candidate would be the new mayor. A couple of nights before, in my sleep, I had heard, “There will be a runoff.” I woke up thinking that was absurd, if it meant I would be in a runoff.
Just before dawn today, Carol Schreck, County Commissioner Heather Carruthers’ executive assistant, lobbied me in dreams to look at something she felt was really important. Heathers’ voting district lies entirely in Key West.
Carol is running for a seat on the Utility Board, which is, essentially, the elected board of Keys Energy Services. All of which vectored me toward a letter to the editor in Key West the Newspaper (thebluepaper.com) under which some intense discussion has been occurring about the solar arrays at new city hall.
Solar arrays generate electricity and compete directly against Keys Energy. Maybe that’s why Keys Energy keeps dragging its feet about pushing for Key West and the lower Florida Keys to go solar. Maybe that’s why Keys Energy keeps dragging its feet to go solar itself, Which is ironic, since Keys Energy’s slogan is:
That slogan I pulled out at a Hometown PAC candidate forum in Key West about a month ago and wore out incumbent Utility Board member Tim Root, below, with it, after he wandered over toward where I was sitting and started trying to impress me with his “credentials” for him being reelected this year. Carol Schreck is one of Tim’s 2 opponents.
I ended up voting for Tim in early voting, not because I thought Tim was the best candidate, Carol might be a better candidate, but because the 3rd candidate, Vidal, seemed to have dropped out of the race. And because, the way I see it, everything Keys Energy does impacts Monroe County below Seven Mile Bridge, up to which Keys Energy’s service goes, and Carol Schreck has a built-in conflict of interest therefore. Not a conflict of interest recognized by the law regulating elected officials, but a conflict of interest regulated by my conscience.
One of the panelists at Hometown’s candidate forum asked Carol if she might have a conflict of interest being Heather Carruthers’ executive assistant, on the one hand, and being on the Utility Board on the other hand? Carol assured there would be no problem, the two jobs would mesh, blend, and she was ideally situated to enhance the synergies, so to speak. I was not persuaded. And, I had observed in the past that Carol’s boss, Heather Carruthers, seemed to have had difficulty realizing she had a conflict of interest when it came to dealing with developers who were trying to run a development through the County Commission.
For example …
When Roger Bernstein and the Walsh family were lobbying the County Commission to approve a Bernstein-Walsh development application to turn Wisteria Island, foreground, into another Sunset Key, background, Heather had her birthday party that year on Sunset Key, which was owned by the Walsh family. When Naja Girard, co-publisher of the blue paper, a friend of Heather’s, told Heather that wasn’t a cool thing to do, Heather took offense. If Heather had her thinking straight, she would not have had her birthday party on the Walsh island. If Heather had her thinking half-straight, she would have told Naja, “Ooops! I what was I thinking?!?”
Conflict of interest law for lawyers and judges is different from conflict of interest law for elected and career government officials. For lawyers and judges, there is a conflict of interest if there is the mere appearance of impropriety. Even if there is no actual impropriety, just the mere appearance requires a lawyer or judge to recuse. I think in Florida, there is only a conflict of interest for elected or career government officials if they stand to make significant money, or its equivalent, from something which is before them to engage and/or decide in their official capacity.
I wish all of the reader comments under the blue paper solar arrays letter to the editor had occurred before I voted for Tim Root, because I just might not have voted in that Utility Board race. That’s the problem with early voting. After you vote, something can happen that would have changed your vote if you had voted on election day.
Many of you have voiced interest about how HARC approved the carport solar arrays at Glynn Archer. The video of the meeting is “not available” on the City’s website.
I have been given a copy of the HARC meeting on April 24, 2014 when the project was presented and approved, and have uploaded the latter portion of the video where the solar panel carports are mentioned.
The cascade of mistakes made by staff and commission that resulted from the architects misunderstanding of the Florida Building Code in relation to solar panels, as well as the HARC guidelines, is stunning.
When directly asked, the HARC planner believed the carports were “svelte” and therefore would be fine. Note: “svelte” is not in the guidelines. The HARC planner failed to mention numerous guidelines that were being violated.
Further, HARC commissioners openly criticized the guidelines (one took umbrage with the word “detriment” in relation to undesirable solar panel placement), others were so enamored with the idea of solar they completely ignored the guidelines which are very specific and detailed about solar collectors. The chairman at the time, Michael Miller, did criticize the enormous carport solar arrays, and stated there needed to be 18-foot trees to buffer it or “the neighbors will wonder how this passed HARC”. He also called the official landscape plan around the carports an “undernourished hammock”.
I hope you will take 9 minutes to watch the video: https://youtu.be/4bfKXNSmmHE
12 Responses to “Open Letter to City Commisioners: Second Solar Carport is Now Being Constructed?!”
Sloan Bashinsky says:
Thanks, Dave –
I attended the city commission meeting during which the solar carport was on the printed agenda and Commissioner Margaret Romero told Bert Bender that he was liable for the cost of tearing down the carport and putting the solar arrays on top of the new city hall. I think I heard said during that meeting that there were 3 architects on HARC, which approved the solar arrays carport. That’s not counting architect Bert Bender.
Bert Bender is not on HARC, does not work for the city, and did not approve the solar carport for the city. HARC approved the solar carports for the city, along with the then City Planner, and then the City Commission approved it. So this former practicing lawyer does not think the city should give any thought to suing Bert Bender, who is hearing impaired, reads lips, which was known to HARC, the City Planner, and to the City Commission when it hired Bender to design and oversee the building of the new city hall.
Looks to me the solar carport went too long being addressed by the city commission. I wonder when neighbor complaints were filed with the city, and how long after that it got onto a commission agenda?
It really is a solar carport. You can see that plain as day anytime during construction hours. Every space in the carport is taken to get the vehicles in the shade and out of the sun.
I agree with HARC member and architect Michael Miller. Plant a screen of tall trees, and even lower bushes, so the neighbor residents across United Street cannot see the two solar carports so well. That might not make the neighbors entirely happy, but tearing down the solar carport and rewiring part of the interior of the new city hall for the solar arrays,and putting the arrays on the roof seems to me like the most unhappy outcome at this juncture.
Dave Dlugitch says:
Bert Bender is now a HARC Commission member, appointed by Mayor Cates, until 12/15/2017. The irony is not lost on me.
Here is what I originally wrote to the Commissioners. I’m providing it here because it details which HARC guidelines were violated by the solar carports:
Solar Arrays & Carport at Glynn Archer Violate HARC’s Guidelines
I am a member of the community which lives adjacent to the Glynn Archer City Hall project. We are dismayed by the solar panel array, not only because for its obvious esthetic disruption to the historic streetscape, but because it is in patent violation to the specific rules and regulations of HARC regarding both solar panels and carports.
The Architect never presented the rooftop solar option to HARC. HARC regulations require that this be done.
The solar arrays must be moved to the roof of Glynn Archer and the carports must be removed, as the 2012 HARC regulations require.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: HARC clearly violated its own guidelines when it:
1) approved the placement of the solar panels in the most visible location, which violates HARC’s regulation that states:“Any proposal to install solar energy collectors shall be based on a hierarchy of preferred locations starting with roofing not visible from public streets…”
2) approved a new carport, which the HARC guidelines state are“not appropriate in the historic district”.
Here are the exact texts of the HARC regulations that were violated:
Section – Solar Collectors
1. HARC supports the introduction of new and emerging technology for renewable energy but will seek to achieve this by ensuring equipment is installed without permanent detriment to the historic fabric already established in the district and the least visual impact to buildings and streetscapes HARC’s goal is high performance conservation with low public visibility. HARC recommends applicants exhaust all other ways of reducing the carbon footprint before putting forward applications for the installation of solar devices.
2. Any proposal to install solar energy collectors shall be based on a hierarchy of preferred locations starting with roofing not visible from public streets, then locations within rear gardens or on pergolas and only if none of these are viable because of orientation or overshadowing will HARC consider schemes which involve collectors on roofing areas or other locations visible from public streets.
3. Any proposals that include collectors and/or related equipment and cabling visible from public streets will be required to show (by way of calculation of energy outputs) that it is not possible to achieve similar performance from equipment located away from public view.
Section – Outbuildings: Carports, Gazebos, Garages, Sheds, Shelters & Accessory Structures
4. The design of new outbuildings must be complementary to the existing streetscape if they are visible from the public right-of-way.
5. The construction of new accessory buildings such as garages or carports which are highly visible from the public right way are not appropriate in the historic district
HARC clearly violated their 2012 regulations regarding the placement of solar collectors; the regulations establish a location hierarchy which states the solar panels must be in the least visible location, with roof being the preferred location. HARC’s approval also violated the new carport section – which the guidelines do not permit.”
I brought this to the city leadership attention with an email (included below) back in February, but it was entirely ignored.
As I mentioned in my February email, not only is the appearance of the solar panels an issue, but also the structure housing the equipment converting the solar power to grid power is an equal mystery. Why did it have to be placed in that location? (see a photo of the grid-tie structure here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6CIxVRXBk88MlRBMXJZVUxtVkk/view?usp=sharing )
In addition, the angle of the solar panel structure doesn’t make sense. It is facing more than 30 degrees to the Southeast. That is far from the optimal angle for the most effective operation. If anything, placing the panels on the roof of the city hall would result in facing to the Southwest. That would produce much more power. Isn’t that supposed to be the reason for them in the first place?
We all know that the real reason for the solar panels is to provide covered parking for city leadership and department heads. Anything else is just smoke and mirrors.
——– Forwarded Message ——–
Subject: The New United Street Bleachers
Date: Wed, 3 Feb 2016 10:38:32 -0500
To: Craig Cates , Margaret Romero , Samuel Kaufman , Shawn D. Smith , James K. Scholl , Richard Payne , Clayton Lopez , Richard Boettger , Jimmy Weekley , Enid Torregrosa
Dear Mayor Cates, Commissioners, Mr. Scholl, Mr. Smith and Ms. Torregrosa,
I am writing today about the new solar panel and grid tie structures
that have been installed behind the new city hall. They are both
absolute eyesores. How were they ever permitted? When I looked back at
all of the city hall complex drawings, I could not find a single one
that showed these current structures.
As you can see in the accompanying photos (with captions), the solar
panel array structure has all the appeal of the underside of stadium
bleachers. The grid tie building appears to have just been dropped in
the middle of the soon to be parking lot where no amount of landscaping
will mitigate its hideous, out of place, boxlike appearance.
Furthermore, I must question the competence of the engineers who placed
the solar array in the parking lot. It was installed so that it is
facing in a Southeast direction. That is one of the worst angles that
could have been used for generating solar power. We also need to
remember that this entire parking area will be landscaped with trees.
They will only further diminish the solar efficiency once they grow to
height and project shade on the panels.
Why wasn’t the solar facility installed on the city hall roof like every
other urban solar farm? On the roof, it would be facing to the Southwest
and maximizing the power output. As everything currently sits, only a
fraction of the power will be produced. Even a facility a third a size
of the current one would create more total daily output if it were
installed on the city hall roof.
The irony to all of this is that I’m a huge proponent of solar power. I
lived aboard a sailboat for years, and solar panels were my primary
source of power. When I read that the city was spending a huge amount of
money on a solar array, I knew that it was strictly a “feel good”
gesture. The money spent will never be recovered in the cost of energy
savings, but it was something that looked good, city leaders could talk
about with pride and made people think Key West is a green city. The
current solar facilities, however, are just expensive eyesores that will
not perform as expected and detract from the historic beauty of the new
Sloan Bashinsky says:
Colby, thanks for this history. Utility Board member Tim Root told me the solar arrays at new city hall will provide all of its electricity needs when the sun is out, there will be batteries to store sun energy not used, and new city hall might operate totally independent of Keys Energy.
Dave Dlugitch says:
According to the architect that presented at the project’s HARC meeting, in the video I uploaded he states that the solar panels will power the parking lot lights. That is all. Just the parking lot lights. (he does mention that if there is excess power, it will be dumped in to the grid)
There is no way those solar carports can power that building. Hundreds of computers, printers, office machines, massive air-conditioning and mechanical equipment, and hundreds of lights.
Sloan, I think you should speak with Tim Root again. Someone is mistaken. It would make no sense whatsoever to store solar power energy in batteries when a grid is available. That would require a huge expenditure on very expensive storage batteries. In any case, the power that the building would consume during sunlight hours would far exceed the amount that an entire parking lot full of panels would provide. On those rare occasions during non-working hours when air conditioners, air handlers, lights and computers aren’t running, there may be some excess capacity, but it would be far more efficient to put that power back into the grid than to store it in batteries.
Sloan Bashinsky says:
Hi, Colby –
If I speak to Tim again, either he will say, yes, that’s what he told me, or he will say, no, he told me something else. Then, it will be me who didn’t remember correctly, or it will be Tim who changed his story.
I remember asking Tim if the new city hall arrays would extra electricity not currently needed be sold back to Keys Energy?, which is how some solar systems work, and Tim said no, extra solar energy would be stored in batteries. I recalled thinking that odd, there is a lot of flack about solar systems which use batteries, which are hard to cleanly dispose of when they wear out. Why not just sell the extra electricity produced back to Keys Energy?
I also asked Tim why come Keys Energy did not install solar arrays on its renovated headquarters building in Key West?, and he said it would not have been economically feasible. It’s economically feasible at new city hall because BP money subsidized it. Or some of it.
I told Tim Mt. Trashmore could be covered with solar arrays and produce a heap of electricity going straight to Keys Energy, for it to spread around through its grid. Tim said that would not be economical, either.
He said Keys Energy and other electric companies are together building solar arrays near their power producing plant near Tampa, I think, to supplement electricity production there, which will be spread around that entire electric grid and some of will reach Keys Energy. I said the only thing growing greener ever day at Key Energy is its bank account.
This was at a Hometown PAC candidate forum this year, before the forum started. Tim walked over to where I was sitting and initiated the discussion.
During the Utility Board part of the forum, as I recall, Tim described the solar arrays being built on the mainland, and he also spoke to the solar arrays at new city hall, BP money, and why they did not put arrays on Keys renovated headquarters, not economically viable. He did not say new city hall would get all of its electricity from the solar arrays being put in there, when he was being grilled by Hometown’s inquisitors.
Todd German told me today, he had seen this with his own two eyes, there are lot of solar arrays at the San Diego airport.
I google imaged “solar arrays at San Diego airport and photos of those arrays came up.
I told Todd I was standing at the city bus stop today on United Street, right beside new city hall, and there were a workers there. Then two men walked toward me from the Cuban take out restaurant attached to the pay laundry across United. One the men said Hi, I said Hi back. I asked if them were working on the new city hall? Yes. On Sunday? Yes. Being paid double time? Triple time, one of the men said, happy as could be, he seemed. I didn’t ask them about the solar arrays. The work I saw being done was inside new city hall.
Dave Dlugitch says:
To me, the issue is whether the City must abide by the same regulations that it insists its residents follow. The City has erected a massive eyesore that is clearly in violation of HARC guidelines, and no citizen would be allowed to build anything similar.
Below is a letter from the current Chair of HARC, Bryan Green, to the Mayor, all City Commissioners and the City Manager on August 13, 2016:
I was approached two weeks ago by several residents of United Street and Knowles Lane. They contacted me as Chair of HARC to seek advice on the siting of the existing and further planned solar arrays in the car park area of New City Hall
I was not on the HARC Commission when this was approved in 2014 but I have reviewed the video recordings of both the HARC and Planning meetings
I am very familiar with this aspect of HARC guidelines because with Ron Ramsingh, I wrote the revised Solar Collector Guidelines which were approved by Ordinance in May 2012. This revision became necessary after Florida State adopted legislation (163.04) [*1] in relation to energy saving devices that in effect trumped then existing HARC guidelines (refer Cushman case)
The 2012 guidelines are clear in that they support solar panels but require the applicant to locate these in the least visible location based on a hierarchy of preferred locations starting with roofing not visible from public streets, then locations within rear gardens or on pergolas and only if none of these are viable because of orientation or shadowing will HARC consider ..in other locations visible from public streets. Mr Bouquet was wholly incorrect when he told you that HARC had not allowed these panels to be located on the roof.
My understanding is that the Architect misunderstood the Florida Building Code and determined that the only “viable” location was on purpose built structures within the parking area which could double up as shading for vehicles. HARC relied on the assertions from the applicant.
It transpires that the FBC does not preclude location on the roof and therefore the basic premise on which HARC granted consent was flawed.
In my opinion if this application was being presented today the applicant would be required to locate the panels on the roof and if more space is needed then in any other location that will not have an adverse visual impact on the contributing building or surrounding streets.
It is misleading to argue that these are car ports or pergolas. These are clearly way too large to be considered as either (nor do they perform those functions) and in any case they are clearly contrary to the Solar Collectors guidelines in addition to P37(3) because they are not compatible with the characteristics of the original structure, neighbouring buildings and streetscapes.
Given the error made in assessing the Florida Building Code I believe any other applicant would be encouraged to relocate the installed panels on the roof – and certainly this is where any panels not yet installed should be located
It is a pity that this project which in all other ways is such an exemplar scheme should be marred by something that can be easily remedied. It really is important that the City be seen to hold itself to no lesser standard than it requires from all the rest of us.
I therefore urge you to require further panels to be installed in compliance with our guidelines and to find a way to relocate the array already installed
Sloan Bashinsky says:
The problem is, the city itself did not follow its own rules, and is trying to blame the architect. If you don’t like what the city did, then fire the city employees who gave the architect the green light – pun not optional. Let’s see. The HARC commissioners need to be fired. The city planner already moved on. The mayor and then city commissioners, who gave the final approval, need to be fired.
Maybe I misunderstood Tim Root, but I recall being surprise he had said the solar arrays would power city hall.
Why is no one (other than myself) complaining about the butt ugly grid-tie structure that is sitting in the middle of the parking lot? Here is a photo of it:
We can argue about how bad the solar panels look, but there is absolutely no excuse at all to just sit this big square concrete and metal box in the middle of that open space. The engineers and architect could have easily moved it a hundred feet or so off to the side or somewhere else that is not in direct view to everyone. Where it now sits is just lazy on too many levels.
Dave Dlugitch says:
I understand that that big ugly box in the middle of the parking lot is a back-up generator. I, too, have wondered why it was placed where it is. It is an eyesore.
Sloan Bashinsky says:
I was told yesterday that Bert Bender became a HARC commissioner when MIchael Miller resigned, about 8 1/2 months ago, some time after HARC approved the solar arrays at new city hall.
Next today, a Facebook thread launched yesterday by Father Stephen Braddock, who “liked” my long parallel universe comment. Steve, on the one hand, and former City Commissioner Harry Bethel, on the other hand, spearheaded the grassroots rebellion against how the local hospital was being managed.
One of our local MD’s (in this case, Medical Deity) has admonished me to “stick to your field with issues around the hospital.” I suppose that means I should be a nice priest and not draw upon my “fields” as head of St. Camillus Health Systems for North America, a system operating over 500 health and social service organizations in 55 countries. And, not tap into my skills as a well trained and licensed private investigator. My advice to the doc, “Stay far away from College Road and Kennedy Drive!” I’m paying very close attention!
Since Steve Braddock is CEO of Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, which offers a residency turn around program in Key West to down and out people who can produce clean urine, I will end today’s parallel universe star gazing with the comments generated by my Facebook post yesterday. Lisa Harlan babysat my daughters when they were tots.
It is unconscionable to put people in prison simply because they are homeless and have no place inside to lay down their head at night, plus Key West Historical Architectural Review Commission questions to mayor candidates and this write-in mayor candidate’s answers