Pinole Council Reverses Cell Tower Decision

celltowerThursday, July 18, 2013

The Pinole City Council on Tuesday July 16, reversed its decision of June 18 and voted 3-2 to ratify the lease agreement with Verizon to erect a 78 foot monopole, camouflaged as a faux tree on Adobe Road in Pinole Valley Park.

The council chambers were jam packed with approximately 50 residents, some carrying “NO to the Pole” signs, some with their toddlers and children in tow.
The majority of those present were there to express their opposition to the erection of a cell tower at Pinole Valley Park. Of the 21 speakers, 2 were in favor of the tower, citing increased coverage and the need to have cell phone coverage in the case of emergencies and power outages.
The 19 who spoke against the tower voiced various concerns among them health concerns, the location of a commercial entity in a public park and the relatively small $26,000 fee being paid by a giant corporation.
They urged the council to stand firm on its June 18th decision and to listen to the voice of their constituents and not be intimidated by Verizon.

The cell tower saga and the timeline of decision-making makes one wonder how this all came to be. There are questions regarding when the lease was signed, when the city council authorized staff to proceed, and when residents received notification.

Last week Verizon sent residents who publicly opposed the tower detailed information and copies of the agreement signed by the City Manager.
The signed agreement is dated December 12, 2012 and is signed by City Manager, Belinda Espinosa.
But the council seems to have either been unaware that the lease agreement had been signed by the City Manager or had expected that they would have the last word on the agreement by ratifying it, they officially ratified it on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, seven months after the City Manager signed the agreement.

Records show that the City Manager stated on a February 5 staff report that, “staff reviewed the deal points with the city council in closed session on Feb. 21, 2012. The City Council authorized the city manager to proceed and sign the lease”. However, on February 21, 2012, the council did not report any action had been taken in closed session.

On February 5, Espinosa stated that the lease was operational only upon the approval of the Conditional Use Permit by the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission approved the CUP by a vote of 4-3 on March 25, 2013.

As recently as April 16, 2013 the staff report included a copy of the agreement with Verizon’s signature, dated December 3, 2012 and Espinosa’s signature, dated December 12, 2012.

The cell tower had been discussed since 2010. Initially the Pinole Historical Society was sent a letter asking if they had any objections to a tower on Adobe Road, a historical location. They did not object, the location presented at that time was not the current chosen location.

As Mayor Long noted, this cell tower came up at a meeting of the Save the Swim Center Committee. It was presented, by staff, to the committee as a possible sustainable source of revenue to operate the swim center. The committee was buoyed by the possibility of receiving a dedicated source of revenue for the maintenance and operation of the pool.
At that time, I wondered if the council had agreed to utilize this source of revenue for the swim center and why it had not been mentioned by the city council at any of their meetings.
I asked Debbie Long about it and she quickly communicated that this was not a done deal and should not have been brought to the committee.

The timeline that Verizon presented in its documents begs to question, was the council unaware that this project was moving ahead without council ratification?

If, as Pete Murray stated on Tuesday, the council had given “implied direction” to staff, why was the council so surprised that the contract had been signed on December 12, 2012?

Why then did the council vote on June 18th, in light of this, to not ratify the agreement? Did the city believe it could reject the agreement based on the fact that the council had not officially ratified the lease?
That vote on June 18, was 4-1 with Roy Swearingen dissenting, members, Long, Murray, Banuelos and Green all voted NO.
Why did the council, a month later reverse its decision by a vote of 3-2? Banuelos and Murray reversed their position.

The answer is clear, Verizon was swinging the legal hammer directly in the direction of the city and the council knew it was caught between a park and cell tower.

On Tuesday two council members reversed their decision of June 18 citing the strong possibility of a lawsuit by Verizon, a lawsuit the city did not want to fight and would likely lose. The city, as Murray stated, has a balanced budget but any shift in another direction could have Pinole facing Stockton’s plight.

The Pinole Fire Fighter’s Union Local 1230 has a lawsuit pending against the City of Pinole. Should they prevail the city will feel that impact. Rising attorney fees have been mentioned at council meetings in reference to the Fire Fighter’s litigation and the brouhaha last election over the election code. A legal battle to defend the city and the agreement bearing the City Manager’s signature was certainly not a welcome prospect.

The fear of a lawsuit caused two council members to reverse direction. Long and Green who voted NO, maintain that the council never ratified the agreement.

As I left the meeting at almost midnight there were some very angry citizens. A few of them called for the ouster of the City Manager, stating that she should be accountable, that she signed the agreement before the council had ratified it and had overstepped her authority.

The group opposing the cell tower at the park, has not given up. They will fight on.


The Pinole Valley Cell Tower – To be or not to be

Friday, July 12, 2013
What started out in April as a review for and the approval of a  Conditional Use Permit for a Verizon Cell Tower at Pinole Valley Park, has evolved into a dramatic grass roots campaign by residents vs. a media campaign by behemoth Verizon.

Verizon customers, I am a Verizon subscriber, received this text message on their cell phones on Wednesday:
“Free message from Verizon: Reply YES to support improved Verizon Wireless service along Pinole Valley Road from a camouflaged treepole at the east end of Pinole Valley Park.
Email Support to convey your support to the Pinole City Council at their July 16 meeting or for more info.”

Shades of David and and Goliath.

The City Council voted 4-1 against the Cell Tower on June 18th. But Verizon has raised the stakes by threatening litigation, citing the fact that Belinda Espinosa, City Manager, signed the lease agreement in December of 2012.
But, the Council, led by Mayor Debbie Long, believes that the contract is unenforceable without Council approval.
The West County Times, reported today “Pinole Council to reconsider cell phone tower in park after Verizon threatens lawsuit” reports that Verizon believes it has met the terms of the contract and will take the case to court.

Mayor Long voted to reconsider the June 18 vote expressing safety concerns. There was talk that the Police department might be impeded due to “dead zones” in that part of Pinole Valley. However, at the most recent Financial Sub-Committee meeting the chief of Police assured Mayor Long that safety was not an issue.

The threat of litigation by Verizon in the face of the pending litigation by Fire Fighters Local 1230 is about as welcome news as another Great Recession.

In speaking to the residents who have fought the cell tower, successfully, in what now appears to be have been round one; they expressed their support of those council members who will not allow Verizon and its team of lawyers to intimidate them.

Matt Beilby, part of the group that has been fighting this tower stated, “We stand by the City Council and want them to stay strong on this issue. They voted this tower down once before and the will of the people on this issue has not changed. We feel this is a blatent attempt by Verizon to “bully” their way into our park and we hope the city council doesn’t give into their threats”.

Julie Maier sent this email to her contacts throughout the city.
“If you are a Verizon customer and received a text message today asking you to support a cell phone tower at Pinole Valley Park to improve your cell phone service, please be VERY WARY.

Verizon is trying to force and bully our City Council members into building a cell phone tower directly across the street from the residences on PV Rd. and Wright Ave. after they voted not to ratify building the tower in that location! They want to build it on park property even though dozens of local residents have worked hard for months to stop the construction due to unknown health risks, potential fire hazard ( a huge diesel fuel tank is attached to tower), and aesthetic concerns about a fake cell phone tree in the midst of our beautiful parkland. This cell phone tower should be built away from residences and certainly not in our pristine parkland. Please don’t cave in to this corporate bully and give them your support and if you really don’t want to see this cell tower built, then join Tony Guitterrez, me and many other Pinole Valley residents at the City Council meeting next Tuesday, July 16th and tell the City Council to stand by their June 18th vote and not let Verizon bully them. 
On June 18th after a very long City Council meeting, the Mayor and the rest of City Council listened to the very real concerns and wishes of about 18-20 residents who spoke against ratifying a lease to this site to Verizon. After listening to us for close to an hour, they voted 4-1 to NOT ratify the lease. A victory!!

Then on July 2nd after hearing that Verizon may force litigation, they decided to look at the decision again at the  July 16th meeting (next Tuesday).
I believe they feel threatened and bullied by Verizon’s litigation team. We need the Council to stay strong and show resolve and stick with their initial decision.
They need to hear from a lot more of us that we don’t want a cell tower built in a residential just 50 yds. off the road in a historic (site of an old Adobe in the valley) beautiful and vulnerable wooded area in PV Park. There are much more suitable locations up on ridgeline of the hills away from the park, ball fields, local school and residences.
It would be great to have a big turn out at this meeting. If you can’t make it, then please call or email the Council members before Tuesday to share your concerns. You can reach them at:”

Phil Green              cell      676-6172
Tim Banuelos         cell      872-9646
Pete Murray            home 222-1910
Roy Swearingen     home   758-4720
Debbie Long                     684-3080
If you want to find out more about the plans and why so many of us are opposing it, please call me or email me and I’d be happy to tell you my concerns. Thanks for listening and for any support you can offer–it is really appreciated! I’ll now step off my soap box.
Julie Maier


Let’s fill the Council Chambers on Tuesday to put Verizon on notice. We do not want an 80 foot faux tree cell tower in our beautiful park land.


Life as I know it

we_areThursday July 11, 2013

Life. It has taken me on many interesting journeys.
But this year, it is the year of the family. I often reflect on those that I have loved and lost. Some of them have been taken much too soon. Others have lived long and happy lives. From each of them I have taken away some knowledge, gained some wisdom and enhanced my perspective.
I have been caring for my 92 year old mom for a large part of this year, first in Puerto Rico, and more recently in Orlando Florida, where I took her to be with my sisters. Three weeks ago she suffered a stroke, and I flew there to be with her and my sisters.

But the political wheel does keep on turning.
Jeff Rubin has taken exception to my posts and made that very clear at a recent Council meeting.
In my world and life the cheap shots taken by Jeff Rubin relative to this blog are a mere irritation and pesky nuisance. Frankly they are not unexpected. Jeff Rubin and I have been sparing for about five years.

It is my first amendment right to express my opinions. And it is also the right of others in the community to speak their mind. I offer no apologies.
In my posts I have used excerpts from statements and comments made by others in this community. They see things in a different light and have differing opinions. Posting them on my blog shouldn’t get anybody’s britches in a bunch.

But, it’s fine. His comments have in fact, gained me some unexpected popularity and new followers.
Thanks Jeff.

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