Crown Castle’s Really Bad Timing

Update (10/6): At the October 5th hearing the Palos Verdes Estates Planning Commission denied the cell tower site in front of the Neighborhood Church, a historical local landmark, on aesthetic grounds.  This was unprecedented as it was the first site to be denied after eleven straight approvals.  The Commission also indicated it would likely not approve the other three sites on aesthetic grounds if Crown Castle demanded a vote on the current configurations.  Crown Castle accepted a continuation until November to consider alternatives and resolve questions regarding site coverage.

Look for Crown Castle to file an appeal with the City Council regarding the Neighborhood Church cell tower location denial.

Update (9/30): The October 5th cell tower Planning Commission hearing is now showing up on Palos Verdes Estates’ website, the agenda can be found here.  Four cell towers are scheduled:

  • 3912 Palos Verdes Drive North (near Via Valmonte)
  • 500 Paseo Del Mar (in front of the Neighborhood Church)
  • An alley between Yarmouth Road and Oakley Road
  • 2457 Via Sonoma (in front of 1220 Granvia Altamira)

This really wasn’t handled well as this hearing has been in the works for at least a month and only showed up on the City’s “meetings” webpage five days before the hearing. 

Peninsula residents concerned about this issue are strongly encouraged to attend the hearing at PVE City Hall (map here) and speak during public comments.  The hearing is Wednesday starting at 6:30 PM.  Please consider speaking even if the site isn’t near your home to support your neighbors. 

These neighborhoods were targeted and selected without community involvement.  Crown Castle was so confident these cell towers would be approved that they already ran fiber optic lines to these locations before any cell tower locations were announced to the public.  Your neighbors are battling a multi-billion dollar corporation which views Palos Verdes as a money-making opportunity, and has no long-term stake in our community.  Your neighbors need your support.

UPDATE (9/27): The October 5th Planning Commission hearing is still not shown in PVE’s “meetings” webpage despite the fact two meetings after it are shown.  As soon as we know more, we’ll post it.

Original Post

Palos Verdes Estates has scheduled a special Planning Commission hearing for October 5th.  The agenda hasn’t been posted yet, but we’ve heard from knowledgeable folks that Crown Castle has requested a yes/no vote on many pending cell tower sites that have previously come before the Commission.  This has been is the works, we first got word of it a few weeks ago.

With September 15th’s devastating court ruling (see here), it’s starting to look like a really bad idea for them.  Crown Castle and their wireless industry partners lost big time, the court ruled decisively that cities have discretionary police powers to deny cell towers in the right of way under California law.  So why did Crown Castle request the special PVE hearing?  We’ve got a theory on that.

The Decision Came Down Earlier Than Expected

Court watchers were surprised at how quickly the appellate court handed down their decision, less than a month after oral arguments.  Most weren’t expecting it until next month.  With that in mind, Crown Castle’s request for a special hearing starts to make sense.  It’s plausible that they were trying to cram a bunch of sites through the Planning Commission before the decision came down.  They probably figured they’d have a good chance of getting some cell towers approved despite the Commission’s misgivings in previous hearings.

They were likely as surprised as everyone else that the decision came down so soon.  But why risk forcing a premature Planning Commission vote before the decision if there was a chance they would win in court?  This is just speculation, but the smart money suggests they knew they were going to lose.

The Court Telegraphed Crown Castle’s Loss

Back on August 16, 2016 the court sent the notice shown below to the involved parties.  The court noted that oral arguments would take place on August 18th (two days later) and that the parties should address two specific topics, take a look at what they are:

t-mobile-vs-sf-questions

Yep, the court wanted both parties to discuss “incommode”, its relevance to aesthetics, and specifically referenced Sprint vs. Palos Verdes Estates (link).

At this point, T-Mobile, Crown Castle, and Extenet probably realized they were in big trouble.  The wireless industry ignored any mention of Sprint vs Palos Verdes Estates in their complaint and tried to pretend that landmark decision didn’t exist. They pointed to a bunch of other decisions in trying to craft an alternate version of existing case law and frankly reality.

With the notice the court made clear it knew all about Sprint vs. PVE, and furthermore it was central to case.  We didn’t hear the oral arguments ourselves.  But based on the decision’s strong emphasis on Sprint vs. PVE, coupled with the decision’s overwhelmingly one-sided nature,  it seems safe to say oral arguments didn’t go well for the wireless industry lawyers.

The Timeline Doesn’t Look Good for Crown Castle

Again, this is speculation, but it is informed speculation.  Crown Castle possibly knew this devastating decision was coming as early as August 18th, maybe sooner.  They likely also knew it would discuss Sprint vs Palos Verdes Estates at length, the city where Crown Castle just so happened to have a bunch of sites pending.  The October 5th date looked like it would work.  The Court surprised them, and us, by releasing it early.

The October 5th Planning Commission hearing should be a good one.