Lisa Brown: Ball Park Cell Tower Violates Land Use Code – August 3, 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

Last Wednesday, July 25, the Arcata City Council voted 4–1 to direct staff to further discuss a proposal with Verizon Wireless to install a cellular tower at the site of most interest to the council, atop of the Arcata Ball Park light fixture closest to the Arcata Library. The council also directed staff to contact other cellular providers to explore the possibilities for co-location on the site and to then return to the council for further discussion.

I was one of about three people who showed up that night for the hearing, and the only one to speak out against the proposal. I was there because a friend who noticed that the proposal was on the agenda alerted me. I decided to attend to remind the council and staff that the site was prohibited under our Land Use Code due to its proximity to residences in the neighborhood. You see, the Telecommunications section of the Land Use Code prohibits the installation of cellular towers within 1,000 feet of residences.

I was unprepared for what happened that night and sat in the audience following public comment stunned to watch the majority of the council enthusiastically embrace the proposal and move it forward with staff’s assistance.

Several years back I was involved with a community-working group responsible for augmenting the Telecommunications code for the City of Arcata. I became involved in the cellular tower issue years prior when a cell tower was proposed for the Arcata Bottom just west of the city limits of Arcata.

My interest in agricultural resources pulled me in to work with this group of citizens on the Arcata Bottom’s western edge. We were successful in preventing the tower from being constructed on prime dairy land, adjacent to a residential neighborhood and within a geese migratory path through an appeal process that required lawyers and lots of research.

In that process, this group worked hard to learn all about appropriate cell tower placement and electromagnetic emissions from the towers and their affect on biological resources. Many of us regrouped years later to work on the code for the City with the assistance of then-Community Development Director Tom Conlon.

Key components of the code include appropriate zoning; encouragement of co-location; residential, school and historic district setbacks; and monitoring plan requirements for emissions of electromagnetic frequencies.

I was asked by the council following my public comment how the working group came upon the 1,000-foot setback and I did my best to explain that the setback was a compromised position intended to help the City find appropriate sites.

The code was designed to guide placement of telecommunications facilities to logical settings while facilitating a public process without controversy by maintaining appropriate setbacks and monitoring plans.

The 1,000-foot setback was the result of an investigation into numerous defensible codes and policies in progressive communities across the nation and world.

To reiterate, the code was intended to help the City find suitable sites for the co-location of telecommunications towers. This is contrary to the comment made by Larry Oetker, current director of Community Development, who suggested the code was designed to be prohibitive for cellular tower placement within the City of Arcata. This simply is not the case and is a highly irresponsible statement.

At the meeting on Wednesday, I learned that while the City’s Community Development Department was aware of the 1,000-foot setback requirement, they were willing to suggest to the council that this non-negotiable setback could be circumvented under the Planned Development Permit process instead of using the Conditional Use Permit process intended for telecommunication facilities.

I was quite dismayed to see the council move towards further exploration of this idea with the intention of including multiple cell tower servers at the proposed site.

The Arcata Ball Park is an area that draws thousands of people of all ages to participate in all sorts of programs developed and supported by the City of Arcata and it’s citizens.

Last year, the World Health Organization listed radio frequency microwave radiation as a possible carcinogen, now alongside lead and DDT. What would occur to this community hub, the Arcata Ball Park if, say, several years down the road cellular towers are determined to be proven areas of cancer clusters rather than just suspected?

What impact currently will a looming tower, concealed or not, have on participation in the City’s recreational programs and sporting events? What about users of the library, or those who participate in city government at City Hall?

While many have personally discounted concerns of living or working under electromagnetic frequencies from cellular towers, the science is still out on this one. And for those who already have electromagnetic sensitivities, they don’t have a choice.

Even the perception of possible health consequences related to exposure to electromagnetic frequencies from cellular towers is enough to deflate property values and alter human activity by avoidance of areas with cellular towers to help minimize exposures.

Placing a cellular tower in the central downtown business district close to residences, recreational, educational and governmental facilities is not sensible and was meant to be avoided by this responsibly designed code.

The 1,000-foot setback was meant to help and protect the city and its citizens. The Land Use Code was developed over years of diligent work on the part of consultants, staff, citizens and City committees, commissions and council. Several of the councilmembers were involved in this process including the approval of these policies and codes. The code went through a lengthy public hearing community process prior to being approved as a city directive. To suggest that the Planned Development process be utilized to circumvent all of this hard work and dedication is frustrating and should be challenged.

Lisa Brown is very interested in appropriate planning especially when it comes to agricultural land, historic resources and telecommunications towers.

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