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 sites.
     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 2-2 split.
     Nextel appealed.
     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 schools?"
     "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 your locale.
     * 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 .
     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 Nextel's appeal.

Other Resources

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
  • Dillsboro Moratorium
  • Stacy City Council
  • H&R news: Residents fighting against tower
  • Hamilton
  • Seattle

  •      * ANITA BRENNER is a La Canada Flintridge resident and an attorney practicing in Pasadena. Reach her at (626) 792-3175, or by e-mail at Back to

    Copyright September 16, 2000 Anita Susan Brenner