Crown Castle Appeals Neighborhood Church Cell Tower Denial

You would think that a corporation demanding to place nearly two dozen cell towers in a community might do some research regarding local sensitivities.  Apparently, that’s not considered “value added” activity by Crown Castle.

As we’ve discussed at length, this arrogant, out-of-state corporation decided they were going to place highly intrusive cell towers within our neighborhoods whether we liked it or not.  No one asked them to come here.  They’ve trotted out every trick in the book to bully our community into accepting these cell towers, including false legal claims, misleading site documentation, and highly deceptive engineering analysis. We’ve meticulously documented this garbage and posted on some of it here.

Based on the hard work of many Peninsula residents in exposing these tactics, the Palos Verdes Estates Planning Commission has started to say “no” to Crown Castle’s highly intrusive cell towers.  The first cell tower denial occurred in October after eleven straight cell towers had been approved by the Commission. .It’s not like the City hasn’t given Crown Castle a fair shake.

Denial and Appeal of the Neighborhood Church Cell Tower

This proposed cell tower was just too much.  Crown Castle insisted the cell tower and its large equipment cabinet must be placed directly in front of an iconic local landmark, the Neighborhood Church in Malaga Cove.  Supposedly, no alternate locations preferred by the City were acceptable; Crown Castle simply dismissed them all as “infeasible” without providing a shred of objective evidence.

The Commissioners rightly told Crown Castle they needed to look elsewhere, particularly in light of the flimsy and contradictory evidence Crown Castle submitted to justify the site.  The Commission voted unanimously to deny the cell tower at the October 2016 Planning Commission hearing.

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The Neighborhood Church located on the scenic bluffs of Malaga Cove.  Note beautifully maintained landscaping and absence of power lines or above ground utilities.  Proposed cell tower location is directly in front of the church grounds, plainly visible, and completely unscreened.

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Mock-up of the proposed cell tower and associated equipment cabinet in front of the Neighborhood Church.  Note that the cabinet is missing the required electric meter so the actual installation will be even larger than shown.  Also note the total absence of screening and prominent placement in the scenic landscaping.

Crown Castle’s sense of entitlement apparently knows no bounds.  Rather than accept the will of the community and seek an alternative, Crown Castle is appealing the cell tower denial to the City Council.  The hearing is scheduled for January 24th, and we will provide more details once available.

In a likely attempt to intimidate our community, the appeal was filed by outside legal counsel rather than the familiar Crown Castle employees involved in the deployment to date.  It seems that resistance will not be tolerated.

The Neighborhood Church’s History

Since Crown Castle didn’t bother to spend time learning about our community, we’ll provide them some background (we understand they are readers of our blog).  The Neighborhood Church started as a summer residence for wealthy merchant J.J Haggarty.  It was built in 1927 atop a scenic bluff overlooking the Santa Monica Bay.

The mansion incorporated Italian design, well matched to the Mediterranean theme of Frank Vanderlip and Frederik Olmsteds’s Palos Verdes Project.  Every aspect was styled to complement the scenic beauty of the location, including a building layout following the bluff’s irregular contour.  According to the church’s website, the mansion cost $750,000 to build ($13 million in 2106 dollars) as artisans included “murals, ceiling decorations, cast balustrades, carved baronial fireplaces, decorated beams and pillars”

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JJ Haggarty’s mansion before it became the Neighborhood Church (circa 1940).

Haggarty’s business fell on hard times and the mansion was eventually acquired by a Midwest financier.  After he passed away, the beautiful mansion was acquired in the 1950’s by a local congregation that had been holding worship services at nearby Malaga Cove Elementary School.  It was an inspired choice as the church’s website puts it, “this building and its lovely grounds seem to have spirituality and are well suited for the purpose.”

An Iconic Landmark

Due to its incredible beauty and scenic location, the Neighborhood Church has been host to countless weddings and other ceremonies in addition to its primary role as a house of worship.  Its spectacular sanctuary and grounds are world famous, and attract visitors from all across California.

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Thousands from the Peninsula and throughout California have tied the knot at the Neighborhood Church, the location’s beauty and historic ties to our community are indisputable.

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The scenic front grounds of the Church along the bluff at Malaga Cove.

In 2008, Director Ron Howard used the church for numerous scenes in his critically-acclaimed film Frost/Nixon.  The movie recreated the riveting interviews granted by the former president to David Frost in 1977.  Howard required a beautiful coastal location as a stand-in for Nixon’s scenic estate in San Clemente.  After a long search Howard requested access to the Neighborhood Church to recreate the former “Western White House”.  While reluctant at first, the Neighborhood Church did eventually allow filming at the historic site.  The film was a critical and commercial success, receiving five Academy Award nominations.

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David Frost (Michael Sheen) interviews Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) in Ron Howard’s 2008 film “Frost/Nixon.”  Numerous scenes were filmed at the Neighborhood Church as a stand-in for President Nixon’s San Clemente residence.

Why Do They Think They Are Entitled to Put a Cell Tower Here of all Places?

As we mentioned earlier, Palos Verdes Estates has previously approved eleven cell towers as part of this Crown Castle deployment.  While they were all ugly, most were not ridiculously intrusive as they were away from homes, placed outside of neighborhoods, and not in highly sensitive locations.  Palos Verdes residents have made it very clear that the aesthetics and scenic beauty of our community must come first.

It seems crystal clear that Crown Castle doesn’t care about this.  They have no attachment to our community and see it as nothing more than a business opportunity.  To be blunt, we are their meal ticket.

Their arrogant sense of entitlement led them to think they could place these cell towers wherever they liked with impunity.  In a telling act of hubris, Crown Castle ran new underground fiber optic lines right up to most of these locations before a single cell tower had been announced to the public.

These locations were likely chosen by some engineer with no connection to our community thumbing through Google Earth photos in a distant office.  There was zero effort to engage the community regarding appropriate cell tower locations, no concern whatsoever for local sensitivities and traditions.  In fact, the opposite happened with misleading documentation, fishy engineering analysis, and poor public notification all seemingly intended to keep folks in the dark.  There is a pattern here.

Crown Castle wants communities to think they have no say in a cell tower’s location.  Crown Castle’s entire business model rests on the false and manipulative illusion that they are entitled to place these eyesores wherever they like.  It’s blatantly untrue as shown by Sprint vs Palos Verdes Estates (2009), Crown Castle vs. Calabasas (2014), and T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco (2016), all landmark decisions regarding cell towers in the Right of Way that the wireless industry lost.  Crown Castle knows it too, as their lawyer for the upcoming Neighborhood Church appeal was also the losing legal counsel in two of these decisions.  Small world, isn’t it?

It’s critically important The Palos Verdes Estates City Council uphold the Planning Commission’s justifiable denial of this cell tower.  The Planning Commission consists of honorable and diligent individuals who denied this highly intrusive cell tower after a fair, extensive, and thorough evaluation.  Second guessing their decision would do great harm our community.

The outcome of this appeal will determine who controls the aesthetics of our community, our local city officials or a multi-billion dollar, out-of-state corporation.  It seems like a no brainer to us.

(Editor’s note: We have no affiliation with the Neighborhood Church but greatly respect its historic status and appreciate its unwavering commitment to our community.)

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