Palos Verdes Estates Affirms Neighborhood Church Cell Tower Denial

Great news, the PVE City Council unanimously affirmed the Planning Commission’s denial of this highly intrusive site at their Jan 24th meeting.  One Councilman summed it up well when he commented how this site seemed to be a test case of the City’s authority; if the City accepted a cell tower in front of this historic church then seemingly nowhere in the city would be off limits.  (For more on the Neighborhood Church check out this post here.)

neighborhood_church_cell_tower_mock-up

Proposed cell tower mock-up on the grounds in front of Palos Verdes Estates’ historic Neighborhood Church

A resident (who will remain nameless) wryly suggested that in addition to the Neighborhood Church Crown Castle might next propose replacement of Neptune’s trident with one of their cell towers.  This famous fountain in Malaga Cove Center is another local icon so it’s apparently fair game too.  Believe it or not, the fountain is actually located in the Public Right of Way according to the L.A. County Assessor’s Office, so we figured we’d help out with the required photo simulation just in case it’s being considered.

neptune_cell_tower

An omen of things to come?  The 5G future we must all enthusiastically embrace according to those who plan on making a lot of money installing cell towers.

Not bad, huh?  Painting the antennas white to tastefully match King Neptune is a nice touch too.  We think the suggestion was tongue-in-cheek but we’ll be on guard nevertheless.  (Ed note: Just to be clear, we’re just trying to make a point here, no one has seriously suggested the fountain be converted to a cell tower!  At least not yet.)

Community Opposition

There was strong community presence speaking in opposition including a representative of the Neighborhood Church itself.  An offer was extended to consider incorporating a stealth implementation into the Church’s structure.  Crown Castle did not respond.  This point was raised during the Planning Commission hearing and Crown Castle rejected it outright, claiming the network was “designed” for the right of way (ROW).  It’s nonsense of course, there is no technical reason the site must be in the ROW.

The real reason is that Crown Castle has no legal obligation to consider any site outside the ROW.  It would seem to be the ideal solution that would satisfy the community, the Neighborhood Church, and the claimed AT&T coverage objectives Crown Castle has made on their behalf.  However, doing so would undermine Crown Castle’s self-proclaimed entitlement to place these in the ROW wherever they please. And we can’t have that.

Fortunately, the City Council understands the stakes and the law, and is taking a very skeptical stance towards Crown Castle’s claims of entitlement and technical justification.  The Mayor asked a series of very tough questions probing how Crown Castle could claim a “significant gap” when other maps submitted over the last fifteen months appeared to show far better coverage and contradicted their claims.  Crown Castle’s answer was non-responsive at best.

The City’s wireless consultant made an interesting and astute observation; the City has repeatedly requested direct AT&T involvement to help clarify these technical inconsistencies.  He further noted that Crown Castle failed to directly engage AT&T in the City process despite numerous requests to do so.  We’re not sure if Crown Castle didn’t invite them or if AT&T declined to participate.  Our suspicion is that Crown Castle is hired to do the dirty work; the carrier’s don’t want to be involved with this mess.  This could make things interesting as courts have ruled a wireless carrier may not have legal standing if they fail to take an active role in the application process (see Verizon vs. Fairfax County here).

att_pv11_coverage_map

ATT coverage map submitted directly to the City without Crown Castle involvement.  Note coverage from site PV11 extends well into Malaga Cove.  As this site is fully active and serving the area it appears to contradict Crown Castle’s claims on AT&T’s behalf.  This is one of many contradictory coverage maps submitted over the last fifteen months.

Going Forward

We were encouraged by a few things we heard.  Crown Castle’s attorney for the appeal (who is well known in the industry) made the comment that he was impressed with the substance of the public comments.  Hopefully, this was in recognition that Crown Castle’s critics on the Peninsula aren’t tin-foil hat wearing NIMBYs, but knowledgeable residents with genuine concerns regarding Crown Castle’s tactics and apparent disregard for neighborhood character and city aesthetics.  Residents are willing to work with Crown Castle but will not do so under their predetermined “rules”.

In addition, the City Council asked insightful, thoughtful questions that clearly demonstrated they understand the importance of not allowing uninformed precedents that could come back to harm the city.

All in all, it was a very good night.

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