FOSTER CITY — Say goodbye to the “space junk.”
The city’s lagoons soon will be free of the solar-powered water circulators that have incensed many residents. After receiving dozens of angry e-mails and phone calls, the City Council voted 3-2 Monday night to terminate its trial of the cumbersome contraptions just two months in.
The city could still be stuck with the $70,000 bill for the six- month rental of the circulators, called SolarBees, which were intended to replace chemicals as a means of combating harmful algae. A report from the North Dakota-based manufacturer suggested that the devices were working — but that wasn’t the issue.
Like many others, Mayor Ron Cox was turned off by the aesthetics. “Once I saw them in the water, I truly don’t think they belong in the lagoons,” Cox said before casting the deciding vote to remove them immediately.
The decision was a victory for the waterfront property owners who have opposed the cumbersome contraptions from the moment they laid eyes on them in March. Several argued that the SolarBees were “a solution worse than the problem” of stagnant water.
Foster City has historically used chemicals to control algae blooms, which stifle animal life in the lagoons. The SolarBees were presented as an environmentally friendly alternative, but residents argued they hurt property values and posed a hazard to boaters.
“They’re a blight and an eyesore,” said resident Dennis Stanwoood, drawing cheers from a large audience.
Former Foster City Mayor Marland Townsend said his beef was with the process by which the city decided to install the circulators. He said the city had failed to search for alternatives to the devices or explain their purpose in a way that residents could understand.
“I have not seen this community this aroused over something in a long time,” Townsend said.
Councilwoman Linda Koelling took an unpopular stand in favor of leaving the SolarBees in for the duration of the six-month trial. She said the city will eventually be forced to stop dumping chemicals into the water, and it needs to be prepared with alternatives when that happens.
Part of the purpose of the test period was to gather data about the water quality in the lagoons.
Fellow Councilwoman Pam Frisella proposed a compromise of removing the SolarBees by July 1, so that they’d be gone before the Fourth of July. Several residents had said they were worried someone could get hurt by running into one of the circulators during the festivities, when the lagoon is crowded with boats.
But council members John Kiramis and Rick Wykoff were adamant that the devices be removed as soon as possible, and Cox cast his vote with them.
SolarBee representative Sandy Walker said she had never seen such a vehement reaction to the circulators. She said they’ve been a big success in Mountain View’s Shoreline Sailing Lake.
To view the companies response select
The response provided from SolarBee, Inc.
This was to be a test in a stormwater and urban runoff lagoon system located in a densely urbanized development in the south bay of San Francisco. Four units were installed on March 21, 2007. There was an immediate outcry among some homeowners about having floating devices in view from their homes. With the active encouragement from a notable California chemical applicator, the outcry became more vicious, derisive, and personal. Homeowners were told that chemicals are better because they are “safe” and out of sight. On May 7, 2007, the Foster City Council met, and after mean-spirited public comments and heated debate, the council voted 3-2 to end the test. The lagoon had good water quality at the time of removal, but the time was too short to conclusively attribute any improvements to the SolarBees. Nevertheless, the decision to end the test was not based on SolarBee performance, so its inclusion on the website is intentionally misleading.