HB Council Rejects Cell Phone Tower Near Wetlands

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The Huntington Beach City Council on Monday rejected a proposal from T-Mobile for a cell phone tower that would have been placed next to homes and the protected Bolsa Chica coastal wetlands.

The 6-1 vote to reject the project’s permits and lease agreement came during a packed meeting in which nearly a dozen residents voiced concerns over the proposed tower at the city’s Springdale pump station. Councilman Matthew Harper cast the dissenting vote.

The station is bordered by homes along the northeastern edge of Bolsa Chica.

“This tower would be entirely incompatible with our residential neighborhood and the adjacent wetlands due to its height and design,” said neighborhood resident Gay Infanti. “It would overshadow homes and exceed the height of adjacent trees and obstruct public views of the wetlands.”

Residents also said they were concerned about the loss of up to 20 percent of their home values, the impact on the sensitive wildlife at Bolsa Chica and the project’s conformance with zoning ordinances and environmental requirements.

T-Mobile representatives said the company had compromised “a great deal” in its proposal. The project would bring rent revenue to the city, end the company’s lawsuit over an earlier denial and improve voice and data service in the area, they said.

“This site is needed in this area and will help improve coverage for Huntington Beach residents,” said Amiee Weeks, a T-Mobile representative.

Other than T-Mobile’s representatives, no audience member spoke in support of the tower. City staff also recommended denying the permits.

Monday’s permit consideration was the product of a settlement in a lawsuit filed by T-Mobile over the city’s rejection of two previous tower sites.

T-Mobile had planned to build a cell tower at Bolsa View Park and another at Harbour View Park. But the City Council rescinded the permits for both towers in August 2010 amid an outcry from residents over the Bolsa View site’s location near an elementary school.

T-Mobile then filed a lawsuit against the city alleging breach of contract, leading to a settlement agreement in November in which the city would process the Springdale permit application.

Given Monday’s council decision, however, it appears the suit may continue. The trial is scheduled to begin on Jan. 31.

In addition to property value and environmental concerns, Councilman Joe Shaw accused T-Mobile of being deceitful about gaps in its coverage around the site.

In its wireless permit application, the company included a map showing gaps in indoor coverage. But during the meeting Shaw looked up T-Mobile’s online coverage map, which he said showed “excellent” and “very good” coverage in the area.

“Good neighbors also don’t deceive their neighbors about their coverage. Do you have good coverage, very good coverage, and excellent coverage there, or do you not?” asked Shaw.

“What you’re looking at is a marketing map,” responded Danny Bazerman, T-Mobile’s director of engineering for Southern California.

“Marketing says one thing and engineering says another?” Shaw remarked.

In the end, council members seemed swayed by the public opposition.

“I’m not ultimately sure we can win this litigation, but I do feel like I’m here for you,” said Councilman Devin Dwyer. “So whether we’re right or wrong, I have to support what my citizens would like to do.”

— NICK GERDA

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