Sustainable Rossmoor Sponsored AB 634 Solar Energy Legislation Is Signed Into Law!
FINAL UPDATE — OCTOBER 16, 2017
AB 634 WAS SIGNED INTO LAW BY THE GOVERNOR ON OCTOBER 15, 2017! It will become effective Jan. 1, 2018.
Our thanks, and the thanks of all California condo owners seeking to install solar panels, must go out to Brent Barnhart and Jennifer Mu, the Rossmoor residents who wrote the initial legislation and then carefully and tirelessly shepherded it through the pitfalls and vicissitudes of the California State Legislature; pushing back or amending the bill when they had to, always aware of and quickly countering the opponents’ sometimes artful, sometimes untruthful counterattacks behind the scene. After learning of AB 634’s final approval, they sent this message to our membership and readers:
Dear SR members,
The Governor has signed AB 634, the solar legislation sponsored by Sustainable Rossmoor.
We’d like to thank everyone for your support, especially those who wrote support letters, participated in SR legislative day, and testified at committee hearings. Without all your support, the bill would not have succeeded.
Thank you very much.
Brent and Jennifer
EARLY SEPTEMBER UPDATE
Despite the lobbying efforts against AB 634, it passed its final California Senate floor vote on September 5th by a vote of 34 to 6, then the bill, as amended, was reconsidered on September 7th by the full Assembly and passed by a final vote of 73 to 4. From there, it was sent to the Governor’s desk for his approval.
LATE AUGUST UPDATE
The lobbying efforts against AB 634 have greatly increased in anticipation of the upcoming California Senate floor vote on its passage.
The Center for California Homeowner Association Law (CCHAL or simply “the Center“) has been disseminating misinformation and misinterpretations of key AB 634 provisions to its members and to California State Senators and Assemblymembers. Sustainable Rossmoor (SR) members have written a point-by-point rebuttal to CCHAL’s misrepresentations (see below).
Also, the President of Sustainable Rossmoor has written a letter in support of AB 634 for distribution to the State Senators (e.g., see letter addressed to Senator Bill Dodd below). This is our effort to briefly explain who we are, the intent of AB 634, and our purpose in helping to sponsor this law. A copy of this letter were addressed to each Senator who will be voting on AB 634 passage on the Senate floor.
LATE JULY UPDATE
The solar legislation sponsored by Sustainable Rossmoor, AB 634, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18th by a vote of 6-0-1. Sustainable Rossmoor’s president Marcia McLean was invited by the bill’s Assemblymember sponsor, Ms. Eggman, to testify at the Committee hearing. Rossmoor residents Anne Foreman, Marie Kahn, Karen Perkins, Gregg Thrall, Carol Weed, David Epley, Brent Barnhart, Jennifer Mu, and two representatives from The Villages in San Jose, were at the hearing and spoke in support of the bill. This was the last policy committee hearing for this bill.
Having met the July 21st deadline for being reported out by both Senate Committees, AB 634 will go the California Senate for a floor vote sometime after the legislators return on August 21 from their summer recess. The last day for passing any legislation is September 15th.
Earlier in July, our solar bill AB 634, as amended, was unanimously approved by the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee (despite last-minute opposition statements) and was passed on for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In an effort to ensure that Rossmoor’s condominium owners have easier access to electricity from their own rooftop solar energy systems, Sustainable Rossmoor (SR) is sponsoring legislation to resolve conflicts in existing law (by clarifying the California’s Solar Rights Act) and thereby strengthen the rights of all of California’s condo owners to install rooftop solar panels.
THE PROPOSED BILL
If passed by the State Legislature, AB 634 would do the following: (1) prohibit California’s home owner associations (HOAs) from imposing an outright ban on rooftop solar energy systems; (2) exempt rooftop solar installation from the 67% HOA membership approval requirement; and (3) provide protection to homeowners who share the same roof space with the homeowner(s) who are applying to install a new rooftop solar system. Two Sustainable Rossmoor members, Jennifer Mu and Brent Barnhart, initially wrote this legislation and got Assemblymember Susan Eggman to agree to sponsor it. (More details about this law can be found in “The Conflicting Laws” section below.)
The State Senate has taken up AB 634. It has now passed both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearings and has been sent on to the Senate floor where it must receive full Senate approval sometime before Sept 15th.
AB 634 supporters should be aware that there is still some opposition by several HOA organizations and other concerned parties; thus negotiations, lobbying efforts, and possibly more amendments, will be needed on behalf of our bill. Our continuing active support of these efforts could be needed later on during the final floor voting process.
PROGRESS OF AB 634 THUS FAR
Thanks to the continuing support of constituent letters and phone calls (and the unceasing on-site lobbying efforts of dedicated supporters — see below), the solar legislation sponsored by Sustainable Rossmoor, AB 634, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18th by a vote of 6-0-1. (Senator Moorlach did not vote.) AB 634, by Assemblymember Susan Eggman, would exempt residential rooftop solar installation in condominium communities from Davis-Stirling Act’s 67% membership approval requirement, while providing protection to other homeowners in the community. This bill has now received unanimous votes from the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Assembly floor, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee (with one non-voting).
Sustainable Rossmoor’s president Marcia McLean was invited by Ms. Eggman to testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. On July 18th Ms McLean and the following Rossmoor residents: Anne Foreman, Marie Kahn, Karen Perkins, Gregg Thrall, Carol Weed, David Epley, Brent Barnhart, Jennifer Mu, as well as two representatives from The Villages in San Jose, appeared at the hearing and spoke in support of the bill. The bill continued to be subject to last-minute, strong opposition from the president of the Center for California Homeowner Association Laws, who claimed that by eliminating the membership vote requirement, the bill would shift the costs of maintenance and repair of solar panels and common roofs from the homeowner installing solar equipment to all homeowners in the community. Our argument was that her claim as stated, is baseless, and no senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee appeared to be convinced of the opposition’s arguments.
Having passed both Senate committees, AB 634 will now go the full Senate for a floor vote after the legislators return on August 21 from their summer recess.
On June 27th, nine members of Sustainable Rossmoor traveled to Sacramento to voice our support of AB 634 during its hearing before the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. In addition to the two leaders of this effort, Brent Barnhart and Jennifer Mu, the following SR members participated: Marcia McLean, Herb Solomon, David Epley, Anne Foreman, Gerry Manata, Bob Hanson, and Carol Weed. Marcia, representing Sustainable Rossmoor, presented formal testimony in support and the rest of us voiced our individual support. Afterwards we all posed in front of the California Bear outside the Governor’s Office.
Despite last-minute opposition testimony, AB 634, as amended, was unanimously approved by the Committee members and passed on to the Senate Judiciary Committee where was heard on July 18th.
Previously, in advance of a key vote on AB 634 by the California Assembly Judiciary Committee on May 2, 2017, Sustainable Rossmoor members and other interested condo owners mounted a large and very successful email and phone campaign in support of AB 634. Our efforts were augmented by concerned condo owners from The Villages in San Jose and from other developments throughout California.
At that time, Sustainable Rossmoor assembled a group of eight members to visit the Sacramento Assembly offices of the eleven Judiciary Committee members on Wednesday, April 19, and lobby on behalf of AB 634. In addition to the two leaders of this effort, Brent Barnhart and Jennifer Mu, the following SR members participated: Marcia McLean, Alan Wong, Herb Solomon, David Epley, Anne Foreman, and Carol Weed. They visited all eleven assemblymembers’ offices and were successful in speaking directly to many of the legislative assistants assigned to evaluate AB 634.
Mainly because this is a well-crafted bill being artfully guided through the State Assembly by Barnhart, Mu, and Eggman (but also in part due to SR’s successful multifaceted lobbying efforts); the staffers of the Assembly Judiciary Committee members were convinced that AB 634 was a worthy bill. At the hearing, there was a motion to move the bill, which was seconded by a Republican member, even before Assemblymember Eggman presented the bill. The Judiciary Committee members voted unanimously in favor of the Bill. The Chair thanked her for fixing a real problem and helping the State to expand solar energy options. The consultant to the Assembly Republican Caucus recommended “support” in his analysis, thus we were hopeful for widespread, bipartisan support of this bill when it came up for approval by the entire Assembly. Nonetheless, we urged our club members and other local supporters of AB 634 to contact our Assemblymember, Catharine Baker, to show our commitment and ask for her support. After some amendment discussions, AB 634 was passed by a rare unanimous vote of the California Assembly on May 15, 2017.
So far, so good! Sustainable Rossmoor wishes to thank its members, and the Democrats of Rossmoor, for their help in writing support letters and soliciting support from friends and family members and environmental groups outside Rossmoor.
TRACK FUTURE PROGRESS
To follow this bill’s progress, go to the California Legislative Information site, which will take you to the latest AB 634 bill information (if necessary, under Quick Bill Search, type-in AB 634). Then click on Status in the menu bar and you will see where the bill currently is situated. There are still negotiations underway regarding possible amendments.
Having successfully passed the Assembly and having been favorably voted out of both the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, AB 634 must now be voted on by the full Senate and is subject to the following legislative deadlines:
July 21 — Last day for policy committee to meet and report bills.
Sep 15 — Last day for either assembly house to pass bills.
Oct 15 — Last day for the Governor to sign or veto bills.
If AB 634 is signed into law, it will become effective Jan. 1, 2018.
THE CONFLICTING LAWS
The countervailing effects of the two conflicting laws regarding the installation of residential solar energy systems recently reached a critical point in Rossmoor when some mutuals began to require a 67% mutual-wide, or project-wide, membership approval as a permit condition. This requirement is particularly burdensome because non-votes are counted as “No” votes. As a result, installations of rooftop solar systems have been effectively blocked in those mutuals. Mutual directors have said that their options are limited due to their legal counsel’s interpretation of what is required by state law.
AB 634, a proposed new law authored by Assemblymember Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) on behalf of Sustainable Rossmoor, attempts to resolve conflicts created in California’s Civil Code relating to the installation of rooftop solar systems in common interest developments (CID). On the one hand, the California Solar Rights Act provides that any provision in a condominium governing documents that effectively prohibits or restricts the installation or use of a solar energy system is “void and unenforceable.” On the other hand, the Solar Rights Act also allows HOAs to impose “reasonable restrictions,” which some HOAs’ attorneys interpret as empowering a HOA to impose very onerous costs and other restrictions that significantly raise the bar for approval to individuals seeking solar installation permits.
Another conflict arises out of a Civil Code provision in the current Davis-Stirling Act, which requires approval of 67% of a CID’s membership before a HOA can grant an individual member exclusive use of a common area. Attorneys of certain mutuals in Rossmoor have argued that such a requirement, however onerous it may be, is allowed under the “reasonable restrictions” provision of the Solar Rights Act.