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.