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LA Making It Easier to Put Solar on Rooftops and Parking Lots

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Last week the Los Angeles City Council approved a solar zoning ordinance that will make it easier to build structures "solely to support solar energy systems" (like solar above parking lots or open spaces) around the city. The ordinance is the result of an effort launched by Councilmembers Ed Reyes and Eric Garcetti in October 2010 to streamline permitting for solar structures. Before the ordinance was created, Building and Safety, City Planning, Water and Power, and Los Angeles Fire, along with reps from the offices of Garcetti and Reyes, worked together to locate each of the inter- and intra-departmental processes in play for solar facilities. City Planner Deborah Kahen explained today "We're trying to make the zoning code more helpful by making it less of an obstacle." Before this ordinance, even handicap parking requirements got caught up in the zoning regulations, amounting to what Kahen describes as "a domino effect of regulations."

Here are a few examples of what will be made possible under the new ordinance, including the installation of panels above heights limits determined by the zoning code:

-- Passageways and open spaces required in subdivisions "shall be open and unobstructed from ground to sky, except...Solar Structures that provide shade over the habitable area may cover up to 25% of the required open space."
-- Reconfigured parking spaces: "The required width and length of a parking stall may be reduced to accommodate a structure solely supporting a solar energy system."
-- Projecting Roof Structures: "In all zones, Solar Structures may exceed the roof surface by 3 feet even if the roof surface is at or above the allowable building height limit."
-- Projecting Roof Structures (again): "Other than the R1 and more restrictive zones, solar structures built on a flat roof may exceed the roof surface by up to 15 feet even if the roof surface is at or above the allowable building height limit."
-- Structures solely supporting solar energy systems not otherwise permitted: "A Zoning Administrator may, upon application, permit structures that solely support solar energy systems that deviate from any regulation in the zoning code, such as height, lot coverage, and location."

As part of a citywide push to add solar power to the grid, the new ordinance follows closely on the heals of the feed-in tariff enacted in a pilot program passed by the City Council earlier this month (the timing of the two ordinances is not a coincidence). If you want to learn more about the new ordinance, the staff presentation made to the City Planning Commission in October 2011 is available online.

· Structures Solar Energy Systems / Ordinance Amendment [LA City Clerk File: 11-1786]
· LA Wants Your Extra Solar Power [Curbed LA]