September 16, 2000-- Foothill Leader
Tower might be a tough sell at local school
By Anita Brenner
Like bees to honey, the wireless industry lusts after our foothills.
Topography is to blame. Thanks to our elevation, La Canada Flintridge, La
Crescenta, Sunland and Tujunga are chock full of potential cell tower
Rule of thumb: if you have a view to the ocean, so does the antenna.
If you can see it, the antenna can transmit it.
Second rule of thumb: if a telecom company can save money, it will.
The latest: Nextel wants to build a cell tower on the roof of the St.
Francis High School gymnasium in La Canada Flintridge. To do this, Nextel
needs a zoning variance for the structure's height and a conditional use
permit for the structure's use.
On June 13, the planning commission denied Nextel's application in a
On Monday, the city council will decide the appeal, which was set
forth in a June 22 letter signed by Edward Gala, Nextel zoning manager.
Naturally, I got out my Samsung dual-mode Sprint PCS cell phone. I
called Mr. Gala, the man who filed the appeal, but he declined comment.
Next, I called local resident David Smythe. The reception was swell.
Smythe is no stranger to Nextel. In 1996, Smythe's kids were students
at Holy Redeemer Elementary School in Montrose when Nextel decided to
install a cell tower on the playground. Some of the parents were a bit
upset. Smythe just happened to be an attorney.
Final score: Parents 1, Nextel 0.
Afterward, Smythe moved his family up to La Canada. Little did he know
that another wireless company was trying to install a large,
multi-cell-towered transmission facility ("the antenna farm") on the roof
of the local YMCA. Smythe joined forces with his new neighbors.
The project got the kibosh.
Bear in mind, this newest Nextel proposal is not an antenna farm. It's
just a simple roof-mounted tower at a parochial school. (Thus far, the La
Canada Unified School District has rebuffed the advances of the wireless
industry, a sensible position that deserves unequivocal praise.)
"David," I asked, "Why does the wireless industry favor parochial
"It's simple," said David. "They like to be affiliated with spiritual
organizations in order to benefit from the goodwill these organizations
have within the community. It's harder to say no to the church."
I posed the same question to another lawyer, Mitchell K. Wyatt, a
former Navy JAG who advises local governments on cable television and
wireless communications issues. Wyatt said, "These nonprofits are often
cash-starved and can use a stream of income. They usually are not in
residential neighborhoods. The industry now tries to stay away from
residential neighborhoods. Homeowners are adamant that no tower will be
built in their residential zone because they fear that the tower will
cause a decrease in their property values and they are afraid of the
health effects of having a transmission tower so close to their homes."
The big buzz word in tower placement is "co-location." The idea is to
make the wireless companies share equipment. If PacBell lets other
companies transmit from the roof of the Lund building, perhaps we could
avoid a string of cell towers along Foothill Boulevard.
Co-location. The wireless companies don't like this idea, but the
Federal Communications Commission favors co-location of towers.
Nextel asserts in its appeal that the St. Francis location is
essential to its system, but several planning commissioners questioned
whether Nextel had taken a good enough look into co-location at one of
the other local cell tower sites.
Mitchell Wyatt suggests that cities demand the following information
before considering tower placement applications:
* Require the provider to disclose all of the co-location and
alternative sites that were considered, including justification as to why
the other sites were not selected.
* Technical performance goals (i.e. desired signal strength) for the
provider. This relates directly to anticipated antenna density within
* Require actual blueprints when approving a tower permit. Refer to
and approve a site and tower configuration only as depicted on the
submitted blueprints. This avoids problems later when the site starts
sprouting new antennas without the benefit of a modification permit.
* Require current RF coverage prediction maps showing the area to be
served before the addition of the new cell and a RF coverage prediction
map that shows coverage after the new site is operational. Technical
detail should be sufficient for an engineer to determine signal levels
from the maps.
* Require a drive-out test to confirm or refute the projected coverage
maps. Computer projections and actual data often times differ.
It's all very technical. And not an engineer in sight.
David Smythe is unhappy with the city's failure to take the telecom
bull by the horns. "The city never learned a lesson from the YMCA fight.
Every application is decided on an ad hoc or case-by-case basis. They
have to reinvent the wheel with each case. There was supposed to be an
advisory committee formed, but it never happened."
Smythe believes that the city should enact a telecommunications
ordinance. All over the country, large and small cities have enacted
these ordinances in order to protect real estate values.
The ordinance could address co-location, upgrades and removal. "In a
few years, when new technology allows the antennas to be miniaturized --
small enough to be placed on stop signs -- who will require the removal
of obsolete cell towers?" Smythe asked.
If Glendale can do it, we can do it., so can we. Our council could
review Glendale's telecommunications ordinance. It's online at www.ci.glendale.ca.us/gmc/30.122.htm .
In the absence of a telecom ordinance, the city council should play it
safe. If the council says yes to Nextel, how can they say no to the next
20 applications? We have a lot at stake in our community.
Unless St. Francis is prepared to allow the next 20 towers to
co-locate on their roof, our council should not reverse the denial of
For starters, the city of La Canada Flintridge could put the towers on public property. Self-ownership would encourage co-location, prevent proliferation of antennas and
put more money into the public coffers. Here's one article:
Using the Revenues For the City
- Self Ownership
When it comes time for the city to write it up, the Internet has more resources than you can shake a stick at.
Here are some examples of codes and ordinances.
City of Sonoma Ordinance
City of Petaluma Ordinance
City of Oakland Ordinance
Napa County Ordinance
City of Sunnyvale Policies
City and County of San Francisco Policies
More Telecom Ordinances and General Plans
Attorneys have posted their articles and opinions online:
Mitchell K. Wyatt, Esq.
San Carlos City Attorney Brian Moura, Esq.
And there are other resources:
Cellular Tower Association
Cell Tower Static
Memorandum of Opposition -- Adironack Mt. Club
Stacy City Council
H&R news: Residents fighting against tower