Tower Talk Sparks Fireworks

Tuesday October 22, 2013

An amazing display of kicking the can down the road took place at the Tuesday, October 15, City Council meeting amidst anger, heated council exchanges and a speaker’s mic being cut off.

Among the highlights (low-lights), took place about an hour into the meeting when Valley resident and citizen Julie Maier was cut off during her speech and her mic was turned off. The Mayor then asked that Julie be removed from Chambers.
Mayor Long told Julie, “Put it in writing and have it posted somewhere.”
It is in writing and it is posted right here.

The Mayor had instructed all speakers to limit their time to 2 -2 1/2 minutes.
As Mayor she has the authority to “set the rules” for conducting the meeting.

Mayor Long took exception to the length of Julie’s Maier’s speech stating that at a previous meeting Ms. Maier had spoken for six minutes.
The record will show that Mr. Jack Meehan’s comments began at 9:18 pm and were completed at 9:23 pm. Mayor Long allowed Mr. Meehan approximately 5 minutes to speak.

Mayor Long on accountability and the process:
“People were accountable.
“We all make mistakes in our lives and we don’t cut our hands off because we did something wrong.”
“We could all have done a better job of bringing this to the public.”
“The thing is we jumped into this.”
“I still support your cause.”

Resident, Jack Meehan on competency:
“Extricate yourselves from a bad and costly situation. When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
“There’s no need to be a lawyer to know and follow the law.”
“Not having competent authority, because you did not have and still don’t have the authority to abrogate, circumvent or ignore the Grant’s prohibition on commercial use of the parkland, that is the meaning of having competent authority.”

Resident,Soon-Young, on the process:
“As a community we want to be involved in the process. We were left out.”

Resident, Sal Spataro on the city government:
“I have to say that I have lost faith in the City government, we have a very weak city manager.” “She couldn’t be hired anywhere else and we hired her twice.” “The City Attorney, “he’s doing a good job for Meyers Nave, but for Pinole, not so much.”

Councilman Swearingen on the lease agreement:
“I don’t think we have the ability to rescind the agreement.”
“You just can’t say no.”
“We will try to please you people.”

Councilman Banuelos on the tower:
“Right now I’m still kind of torn, but the more time that goes on, the less I am in favor of this tower.”

The most heated exchange took place between Councilman Green and Councilman Murray:
Councilman Green demanded the Council take action immediately and rescind the contract. A contract he stated was signed by the City Manager without proper authorization. The City Manager was not present at this meeting.

Councilman Green on the lease:
“I think it’s ridiculous that we don’t rescind the agreement. “Let us show some courage and defend the citizens of this community.”

Councilman Murray:
“I’m not going to bother going into re-arranging the facts, because I’ve done it several times.”

Councilman Murray defended the council’s actions as well as staff’s and stated.
“Look it Phil, we know you don’t like the City Manager.”

Councilman Green:
“That’s not true Pete. That’s not true at all. Don’t be saying that if it’s not true.”

Councilman Murray:
“She signed a conditioned lease. The lease was not ratified until we ratified it.”
“But the point being is we re-negotiated.
“Blame us because we wanted to re-negotiate the contract.
“We asked for the moon and Verizon gave us the moon.”

Councilman Green:
“No. They did not. They did not give us what we asked for.”

Councilman Murray:
“God. Where do you come from? Where were you?”

Mayor Long steps in:
“Ok, stop. I have to agree with Phil. (Speaks to Murray) “You viewed it as negotiation. I viewed it as looking at deal points.” “That itself does not constitute the signing of a lease.”

Councilman Green:
“The City Manager did not have the authority to sign the lease. You did not (to Murray) come out and announce that decision in public. “Did you as Mayor announce that she had the authority to sign that lease?”
“Something wrong here.”

Councilman Murray:
“You’re re-writing history again.”

Councilman Green:
“These are the facts. “Let’s talk about the facts.”

Councilman Murray:
“These are not the facts. “You don’t know the facts.”
“When I listen to what you say sometimes I say, whoa, where is he at?”

Councilman Green:
“The council didn’t have the courage to say no to Verizon  is why we’re in the mess we’re in.”

Members of the opposition group wondered why the presentation, when published with the agenda, had not indicated that these were Verizon’s suggestions. Further, why was there no mention that a meeting had taken place with Verizon on October 7?
The lack of background information for the power-point offered the opposition no time to properly prepare for the meeting or to address the various options and in fact raised alarm throughout the community.

The most troubling options appeared to have been the possibility of placing the cell tower at Fire Station 74, directly across from Ellerhorst Elementary School and the possibility of Verizon invoking eminent domain on existing park property.

What seems abundantly clear is that Verizon is not going to walk away from their goal, to place a cell tower in Pinole Valley. What is also clear is that the City is spending large sums of money on legal fees due to this series of miscalculations and missteps. To date the legal fees charged by Meyers Nave for the Cell Tower since August 2013 exceed $17,000.

What is also clear is that the City is caught between a rock and a hard place.
If they rescind the lease Verizon may be poised to sue.
If they attempt to place the tower in the Park the State and Feds, who have deemed both the cell tower and the Fire Station as non-compliant, will face the likely prospect of all future grant funds being “frozen.”

What is the exit strategy? How will this besieged council handle this dilemma? They have opted to take a “time out’, giving everyone sixty days to look at the alternatives. But decisions must be made soon.

If the city and/or Verizon can locate a residential property owner in the valley whose location meets Verizon’s criteria then they may be able to extricate themselves from the Park Grant issue as it regards the tower.

I have been told that Verizon has approached at least one property owner on Pinole Valley Road about this possibility. My source tells me that Verizon has offered to take this individual on a casino junket and basically wine and dine him. Thus far he is resisting their overtures, but other adjoining locations could be considered.

Finding a comparable location that meets Verizon’s criteria could offer a way out of this major debacle. Verizon would get its tower, Pinole Valley Park would be left untouched and the City could avoid a legal battle with Verizon.

However, that $26,000 projected revenue source? Kiss that baby goodbye.
In its stead the City is incurring attorney fees daily and will likely have to reimburse Verizon for some of its fees.

On the heels of the Tower Horror the City will need to decide how to move forward with the non-compliant status of Fire Station 74. More expenses, more work, more time, more legal fees and bottom line, more costs to us, the taxpayers.
Conspicuously absent from these machinations, the Concerned Citizens of Pinole.

The City Council on Tuesday, October 15, decided to take the path of least resistance. They have signed a tolling agreement with Verizon which allows the city 60 days to continue to research city files and records, communicate with the State and attempt to mitigate the cell tower location.

There are many lessons to be learned from this frustrating exercise in futility.
Clearly, transparency, accountability and due diligence have proved to be kryptonite for this council on this issue.

But, perhaps, the most troubling and unfortunate reality is that this is not a new lesson we are learning.  Rather, this is a repetition of previous contractual errors made by the City when dealing with corporations and signing contracts.

It is a lesson the city should have learned from past flawed development contracts, contracts that were one-sided and did not favor the city (us) contracts that were only reviewed by legal council as to “form.”

The need for better oversight and greater due diligence, was an issue discovered by Interim City Manager Charlie Long during his tenure. We were promised better government and better standards.
These standards should have been in place long before Verizon entered the picture.

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