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Taking ‘SCV Off the Grid’

Local group formed in Santa Clarita Valley to help promote awareness of ‘greening’ your home

Posted: March 28, 2009 1:15 a.m.
Updated: March 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Solar panels were installed on a local home by Mark Figaero’s company, Green Convergence of Valencia Solar panels were installed on a local home by Mark Figaero’s company, Green Convergence of Valencia
Solar panels were installed on a local home by Mark Figaero’s company, Green Convergence of Valencia

Homeowners associations, or HOAs, act as the rule-setters for neighborhoods across the Santa Clarita Valley. If SCV Off The Grid has its way, HOAs will also become the trendsetters in the environmental movement by using their considerable clout and finances to help homeowners go green.

The SCV Off The Grid effort, which began in January, promotes awareness and implementation of large-scale retrofits for solar, wind and watershed technologies in the Santa Clarita Valley to support future marketability of property in the area. The group holds meetings every month, open to residents, to encourage ideas and create potential grass-roots coalitions.

"It reminds me of what happened with telegraph and phone communications, when communities formed co-ops in rural places.

People had to come together and I think that's what HOAs need to do to evolve and support keeping their property values up," said SCV Off The Grid co-founder Steve Kassel. "Homeowners need to be able to compete with future new homes that will be built with green technologies if they are to have a fighting chance in the market."

Kassel, a psychotherapist who practices in Newhall, formed SCV Off The Grid with Elite Professionals Realtor Leah Pollack, after Pollack contacted Kassel about a letter to the editor he wrote proposing the concepts that would eventually become their mission.

Pollack had been entertaining similar projects, such as getting HOAs to convert their pools to solar power and wanted to spread the word so the community could get involved.

"The more people we tell about this, the more possible it becomes. Let's start here and now, before it becomes a government mandate," Pollack said.

Six Santa Clarita Valley residents attended the March 10 SCV Off The Grid meeting at the Valencia Saturn dealership, ranging from 11-year-old Malcom Edmiston, who was gathering information for a science project, to teacher William Lambert, who is leading a three-year class sequence on alternative energy at Sylmar High School.

Mark Figaero, CEO of Green Convergence, was also in attendance. The general contractor formed the alternative-energy construction company after converting his own home to solar power, and pointed out that solar aesthetics had come a long way.

"People ask me all the time, ‘Did you ever put your solar panels on?' I say, ‘Yeah!'" Figaero told the group. "Our energy use has been cut way down. With four people in the house running computers, air conditioning and television, we use anywhere from five to 46 kilowatts a day, depending on how sunny it is outside."

Like Figaero, Myron Sofen of Newhall took his house "off the grid" four years ago by adding solar panels, and has seen his electric bills decrease significantly, from $2,000 to $400 a year.

Studies concur with Sofen and Figaero's experience. According to the Sustainable Building Industry Council (SBIC), housing alone consumes 20 percent of America's energy, but homeowners who choose to remodel green can lower their energy consumption by 30-50 percent. The U.S. Department of Energy estimated if current buildings were green-improved, they would use $20 billion less energy per year.

Commercial landscape developer Pam Edmiston came to the meeting because she was intrigued by the idea of working with HOAs to create more sustainable landscape solutions in their communities.

"It seems logical to me to invent programs that make landscapes not only green and beautiful, but efficient, as well. We're looking at packaging our landscape systems to incorporate solar and wind," Edmonston said. "There are cost-effective ways to retrofit existing HOA homes, such as leasing programs, so as not to absorb costs up front. There are easy, quick solutions."

Demands to "go green" in the residential sector could also help provide a solution to California's soaring unemployment rate, according to Pollack.

She is lobbying for Los Angeles County "Green Enterprise Zone" funds that would go towards training and vocational models in the Santa Clarita Valley.

"This idea of updating or retrofitting existing homes with new environmental technologies could provide local jobs in the next two to five years. We could produce homegrown workers," Pollack said.

Towards the end of the meeting, Kassel and Pollack reviewed a PowerPoint presentation they were making to a Stevenson Ranch
HOA the following week with the group. The duo are working on a script to produce a "movie-style" pitch to replace the presentation and make a project "trailer" portable and uploadable to YouTube, as well as

Another future step will be to involve homeowners directly through an e-mail blast survey exploring the interest of turning their community green, along with information on the many benefits of doing so.

"Getting off the grid will ultimately help offset HOA fees, not increase them," Kassel said. "The bottom line for a lot of people is saving money, not the environment."

SCV Off The Grid will meet on Tuesday, April 21, at 7 p.m. at the Saturn of Santa Clarita dealership upstairs meeting room located at 23645 Creekside Drive. For more information, visit


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