Manzanar National Historic Site's Visitor Center (NPS)
Manzanar National Historic Site’s Visitor Center (NPS)

In a Jan. 2 editorial, The Los Angeles Times said that the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s proposed solar array near the Manzanar National Historic Site would not distract visually from or damage the sense of desolation at the site.

The project is opposed by numerous organizations, including the Manzanar Committee, the Tule Lake Committee, the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, and the National Parks Conservation Association.

The editorial acknowledged that Manzanar, where thousands of Japanese Americans were interned, “has been preserved as a National Historic Site as a testament to what its residents endured and a reminder of the fragility of civil rights in wartime,” but continued, “it also is imperative for California to develop sources of sustainable energy that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Countering arguments that “any visible development in the area would damage the sense of desolation, of being in the middle of nowhere, that was part of the internment camp experience,” The Times said, “If that was what the federal government intended for Manzanar … it should have purchased more than the 800-plus acres that were declared a historic site. This area is also a solar hot spot where it makes particularly good sense to locate a facility to soak up some of the sun’s energy.”

The newspaper added that the project “would be neither garish nor immediately adjacent. The site would be 3½ miles from the former internment camp — a considerable distance, even in a valley floor this flat. Though it would be visible, it would not be visually intrusive. The solar panels would be more of a dark glimmer in the distance than a mood-destroying force. And they would be silent.”

Among those rebutting the editorial was Art Hansen, professor emeritus of history and Asian American studies at CSU Fullerton, where he directed the Japanese American Oral History Project. His letter, published Jan. 4, reads as follows:

“Your editorial … is flawed by sins of omission and commission.

“On the one hand, the editorial omits consideration of any alternative sites that the DWP could utilize within its vast Owens Valley acreage to fulfill its mission to develop sources of sustainable energy.

“On the other hand, the editorial profanely arrogates the authority to determine that the proposed visible solar panels would be neither ‘visually intrusive’ nor ‘mood-destroying’ for a sacred site of commemoration.

“In the same Times issue containing this editorial, there is an obituary for Ian Barbour (who reportedly bridged the gulf between science and religion) that registers a sentiment strikingly germane to the Owens Valley situation: Whereas science has the ability to tell society what is possible, religion has the capacity to reflect on what is desirable.”

Jacqueline Slutske of Thousand Oaks wrote, “It is essential not to let the DWP desecrate the area near what Congress set aside — albeit 52 years late — to remind us of the ‘fragility of civil rights in wartime.’

“Solar power is indeed important, but if we lose our humanity in our efforts at sustainability, then what have we traded away, and what have we gained, and where will that lead?

“The memorial at Manzanar should remain a sharp reminder of what we are capable of if we lose that humanity.”

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