Crown Castle’s End Game

The Palos Verdes Estates Planning Commission denied another residential neighborhood cell tower at the November 15th Planning Commission hearing.  This is the second residential neighborhood site the PC has denied, both on unanimous votes.  We could not be prouder of the Commission.

Unlike the city’s advisors, the Commissioners live in our community and will be stuck with these highly intrusive cell towers.  Critically, they no longer believe claims that they must accept these sites.

crown-castle-residential-cell-tower

A tranquil residential neighborhood in Palos Verdes Estates (Chelsea and Yarmouth).  The perfect place to put an intrusive cell tower and equipment cabinet according to Crown Castle.  Fortunately, the Planning Commission said no.  Note there is an existing AT&T macro site only 1400 feet away at Lunada Bay Plaza.

It was a long time in coming, some context is warranted.

What Crown Castle is up to

Crown Castle is attempting to place intrusive cell towers in the heart of every neighborhood in Palos Verdes, nearly 80 sites in all.  Despite all their lofty claims of serving the public, their motivation is economic profit.  As we documented here, their sponsoring wireless carrier (AT&T Mobility) wants to sell very expensive wireless data plans in our community.  To do that, they need more extensive infrastructure.  Crown Castle’s role is to browbeat our community into accepting the cheapest possible deployment that gives AT&T a competitive advantage.

palos-verdes-crown-castle-80-cell-towers

Crown Castle’s plan to put 80 cell towers across the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  Most are located within residential neighborhoods.  Note the close proximity, some sites are only 500 feet apart.

Why Palos Verdes?  To quote Willie Sutton when asked why he robbed banks, “because that’s where the money is”.  Crown Castle isn’t placing these in every neighborhood in Carson, Wilmington, Gardena, or other less affluent communities.  Make no mistake, we’ve been targeted and selected.  AT&T Mobility has staked out Palos Verdes as their turf, Crown Castle is the hired muscle, and we are supposed to roll over and welcome these highly intrusive installations into our neighborhoods. This is the 5G future they insist, there is no stopping it, and we have no choice but to accept it.

No one bothered to ask residents what they thought about all this.  They sorely misjudged our understanding of the law, our technical knowledge, and our resolve.  Not to mention we don’t give a damn about Crown Castle’s profitability, promises they’ve made to AT&T, or their highly questionable business model.  We care about our community.

Crown Castle has trotted out every trick in the book to convince Palos Verdes cities that they had no choice but to approve these sites.  Fortunately Crown Castle’s playbook is superficial, once you understand the game plan it’s much easier to fight them.  It’s doesn’t help their cause that virtually every one of their experts and subcontractors looks to be the lowest bidder who seem to have a really hard time keeping their stories straight.  Their book of tricks is a mile wide but only an inch deep.  Once the spell is broken, the illusion of inevitability falls apart.

Palos Verdes Estates now gets this.  Crown Castle’s plan was to carve the Peninsula up into a big grid and plop highly intrusive cell towers into the middle of each square without regard for neighborhood aesthetics or adjacent home values.  They had City staff buffaloed into believing they couldn’t be stopped. The City’s advisor had a long list of things the city supposedly wasn’t allowed to do but was conspicuously quiet regarding Crown Castle’s behavior.  It was strongly implied the city couldn’t deny sites but could only require adjustments to their appearance.

The entire premise of “significant gap” was to be preemptively surrendered despite the fact it protects the city and its residents  (i.e. “significant gap” means a city can deny a cell tower if it is not required to close a significant gap in service.)  If Crown Castle claimed they didn’t have good enough coverage then that was it, they were entitled to a new cell tower.  There would be no challenge of significant gap, end of story.  Or so we were told.  As we’ve now made plainly clear, that isn’t what the law says.

Thank God the Commissioners live in our community and were willing to listen to us rather than following the word of outside advisors.

Nice city you have here, it would be a shame if anything happened to it…

Now we get to the next phase.

Like most of the wireless industry, Crown Castle plays hardball.  They (or their former entities) have sued numerous California cities including Calabasas, San Francisco, Irvine, Davis, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach among others.  They’ve lost most of these lawsuits but this doesn’t seem to hinder them.  The latest loss was particularly devastating however, as they were co-plaintiffs in the terribly damaging T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco.  It was a huge overreach, as it strengthened municipal rights in California case law and it threatens Crown Castle’s very business model in our state.

Despite this, they soldier on as they understand the punishment is the process, lawsuits are just part of the modus operandi.  Yes a municipality may win in the long-run, but does a city really want to deal with a lawsuit potentially stretching over years?  Isn’t it easier for cities just to give them what they want?  It’s not an issue for Crown Castle as litigation appears to be baked into their business plan.  Don’t believe us?  The “applicant” for the twenty-six proposed Rancho Palos Verdes cell towers is a contract attorney, who isn’t even a Crown Castle employee.  Most of the applications were also accompanied by a vaguely threatening letter from another contract attorney, well-known in the industry.

So we have a supposedly cutting-edge wireless infrastructure technology company that for some strange reason is dominated by lawyers.  Are Google or Apple run by lawyers?  No? Funny that.  In a really strange twist, Crown Castle’s lawyers don’t seem to know the law very well if their string of lost lawsuits is any indicator.   It starts to make sense once one realizes that winning the lawsuit is nice, but it’s not necessarily required.  For cities that don’t play ball, the punishment is the process.  It’s a threat to hang over their heads.

We don’t need no stinking First Amendment

As if going after municipalities wasn’t enough, Crown Castle lately took it up a notch.  The city of Westfield, Indiana recently denied a Crown Castle macro cell tower site.  Unsurprisingly, Crown Castle filed a lawsuit, the “cost of doing business” as they say.  In a brazen move, Crown Castle named private citizens who spoke out against the cell tower in public hearings as defendants in the lawsuit. There’s a good post on it here.

In media reports Crown Castle stated they had “no choice” but to do so.  No choice, LOL.  Yes, they were compelled to sue regular folks exercising their First Amendment right in order to protect their sacred honor.  It’s a matter of principle you see, Crown Castle can’t let uppity “citizens” trample all over their protected entitlement to make as much money as humanly possible.  The residents need to be taught a lesson, and if it results in a “chilling effect” well what’s that saying about breaking a few eggs to make an omelet?

This news weighed heavily on the minds of just about every speaker at the recent Palos Verdes Estates Planning Commission hearings.  Most of the speakers had heard of it, yet they still spoke passionately against the proposed sites.

Palos Verdes residents don’t like bullies and we really don’t like bullshit.  More importantly, we understand our speech is protected under the First Amendment and that California’s tough Anti-SLAPP laws are on our side.  Plus, there are lots of outstanding attorneys on the Peninsula who are watching our backs.  We’re not looking for a fight but we won’t be intimidated.

Next Steps

What happens next is entirely up to Crown Castle.  Palos Verdes residents would like better cell phone coverage but we won’t allow cell towers in the heart of residential neighborhoods right next to our homes. We won’t be intimidated by false claims and legal threats.  We would welcome the opportunity to work in good faith with Crown Castle.  We will not accept false claims of entitlement, rigged rules, half-assed and misleading engineering analysis, or tactics aimed at pitting neighbor against neighbor.

We understand their end game and fully grasp how they’ve tried to manipulate our city governments into rubber-stamping their grand plans.  We are open to fresh start but will not play their game.

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