Westchester committee hears plans to line a half-mile portion of the 405 freeway with 14-foot photovoltaic cells

By Gary Walker

A solar energy farm proposed for Westchester would utilize photovoltaic cells —  the example pictured above is not a project rendering — to generate electricity

A solar energy farm proposed for Westchester would utilize photovoltaic cells —
the example pictured above is not a project rendering — to generate electricity

Like other Westside communities, Westchester is experiencing a sharp rise in residential and commercial development spurred by the Silicon Beach tech boom transforming Playa Vista and Venice.

Surging demand has pushed home prices in the neighborhood’s 90045 zip code to pre-recession levels.

An Arizona-based development company, however, has a very different vision for what could be built on a narrow 2.5-acre parcel alongside the 405 freeway in East Westchester: a solar energy farm.

Mirasol Development LLC is expected to detail its plan to install solar panels between the freeway and Thornburn Street, from La Tijera Boulevard to La Cienega Boulevard, on Tuesday during a meeting of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester – Playa’s Planning and Land Use Committee.

Last month the committee heard a brief presentation, characterized as an information session, in which no vote of support or opposition was taken, committee chair Patricia Lyon said.

According to sources familiar with the proposal, the solar farm would amount to a 14-foot tall structure consisting of approximately 50 solar poles with 16 solar panel segments on each pole. The poles would rotate about 120 degrees from east to west to follow the path of the sun.

The panels would contain photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight directly into electricity that can be stored or fed into a power grid.

Because the parcel is privately owned, Mirasol Development could not build the solar farm unless the current owners sell or lease the property.

Lyon said that documents related to the solar farm proposal would not become available on the council’s website, ncwpdr.org, until Sunday, even though electronic copies were distributed to committee members during the Dec. 16 meeting.

David Klein, a co-owner of the slender freeway-adjacent parcel at issue, said Mirasol Development has yet to make an official offer to purchase or lease the property.

“When the proposal comes to us, we’ll consider whether it’s a valuable use of the property. It also has to be an economically feasible proposal,” said Klein, who owns D.J. Klein Construction on Hindry Avenue in Westchester, less than a mile from the Thornburn property.

According to solar industry materials, federal energy tax credits combined with state and local incentives have made solar energy technology an increasingly favorable investment.

Mirasol Development could face an economic headwind with the resurgence in Westchester real estate prices, however.

Klein said he and his business partner have been working with city planners on possible residential uses for the land.

“We have the opportunity to have it subdivided into six or seven parcels [for residential development]. That’s something that we’re also going to consider,” he said.

While Klein considers alternative energy a generally sound idea, he believes that solar farms can often take a long time to turn a significant profit — “sometimes as long 10 or 20 years,” he said.

Planning and Land Use Committee member Garrett Smith said many aspects of the proposed project appeal to him.

“I think any solar project as they presented at the [December meeting] would be a slam dunk. No traffic, out of sight, no noise, no negative impact on the neighbors — and green. You can’t beat that,” said Smith.

East Westchester homeowner Denny Schneider thinks the idea has merit.

“At least it’s a use that has minimal impact on the community,” Schneider said.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes Westchester, declined to comment on the project pending an opportunity to review it in greater detail, said Chad Molnar, Bonin’s chief of staff.

The committee meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Westchester Municipal Building Community Room, 7166 Manchester Ave., Westchester. Email PLUC@ncwpdr.org to contact the committee.