The Cell Tower – Nearing the Finish Line

Thursday, October 3, 2013

View the City Council meeting here
The Pinole citizens group that has banded together to fight the City and Verizon’s plans to erect an 80 foot cell tower in Pinole Valley Park is nearing the finish line.

All that remains is for the Pinole City Council to rescind the lease signed by the City Manager and City Attorney in December 2012 and later ratified by a split council on July 16, 2013.

That action (to rescind the lease agreement) may be agendized for the October 15, 2013 Council meeting.

The National Park Service had indicated to the group, when contacted about the proposed cell tower in Pinole Valley Park, several months ago, that the cell tower was “just the tip of the iceberg”. Indeed.
Pinole Valley Park was purchased with Federal Grants and therefore is subject to very specific deed restrictions. The land can only be used for outdoor recreation purposes, in perpetuity.
The State has notified the City that the cell tower can not be built in Pinole Valley Park because the land can not be used for commercial purposes.
This was a significant victory for the group which took the initiative to research the grants and to contact the National Park Service. The little engine that could!
This group of ordinary citizens has spent countless hours and spent their time away from their families to do whatever was necessary to stop their beautiful park from being scarred with an ugly cell tower.

But, the biggest surprise has been (the tip of the iceberg the State referred to) the State’s contention that Pinole Valley Fire Station 74 did not meet the deed restrictions terms of use, and therefore the City was out of compliance. Bringing the Fire Station into compliance would require a lengthy and costly conversion process.
We (the cell opposition group) will be following this situation closely as it proceeds. It has been a surprising and unexpected by-product of the fight to keep the cell tower out of Pinole Valley Park.  This is, of course, of great concern to the group and the City.

On Tuesday the City Manager presented a report which sought to explain what the City had learned, what it was trying to do and what more needed to be researched.
Staff, the City Attorney and several Council members’  position is that more research is necessary. City Manager Espinosa stated “We are still researching. The more we research, the more legal questions we have.” City Attorney Ben Reyes stated, “We really need to review what our options are. The project (cell tower) is on hold and no building permits will be issued.”

Council has been quick to defend staff and its due diligence, citing the lack of information or records, no evidence of grant deed restrictions and records that were lost in the explosion of 1998. However, the two projects in question post date the 1998 explosion.

The Council seems ready to tackle the cell tower issue first and separate the two issues. There appears to be some hesitancy on the part of several council members who admit that mistakes have been made and do not want to make more mistakes.

Council member Murray, “Instead of throwing our hands up do a little research to see what path will be travelled.” “We are on a fact finding mission.” “So that we don’t trip and fall and make another mistake.” “So that we do not make quantum leaps anymore.”

Council member Swearingen, “We spent over two years talking and working on this project.” “We just didn’t do this overnight.” “Opposition didn’t show up until six months ago.” We obviously didn’t do our job, we didn’t alert people.” “We took a lot of time to get where we’re at and did our due diligence.” “It may have been a mistake. “It may have been wrong to do it.” “Now we have a lot more diligence to do.”

Members of what we call the Cell Tower Topplers were unwilling to let the Council and Staff off the hook.
A member of the group summed it up succinctly.
Soon-Young, “I hope we learned a lesson.” “Going forward, if you plan these kinds of things for the future, notify us citizens.”

The most emphatic argument to stop the cell tower and to stop it now was made by former Pinole Mayor Jack Meehan.
“I have to say very frankly that right now you’re groping for a duct taped repair job on a flubbed process.” “When you authorized or directed the signing of the lease you as a council were not competent to authorize and sign the lease.” That means there is no lease, it means it is void or voidable.” “The City should resolve to rescind and extinguish all matters regarding dealing with Verizon.”

“If you get a bill from a plumber for flushing out the facts that should have been brought out by diligent search by staff, by the applicant and by others involved in this matter, including attorneys, Sal the plumber, I suggest you send the bill to Myers Nave, the legal firm.”
“You are not obligated to build a cell tower there.” “Why not put it to rest now?”

According to an article in today’s Contra Costa Times, Verizon has stated, “Verizon Wireless anticipates working with the city to resolve any issues necessary for the parties to amicably fulfill their mutual obligations.”
Will Verizon walk away without a fight? That remains to be seen.

The cell tower topplers are ready to take a  victory lap, they are about to cross the finish line. It is a fine example of citizens doing the right thing for all the right reasons.

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