Oceanside Residents Argue Against Cell Tower Plan

The North County Times – Californian
By: Ray Huard
August 23, 2010

OCEANSIDE: Residents argue against cell phone tower plan
Planning board says new rules are improvement

A plan to update Oceanside’s rules regulating the placement and appearance of cell phone towers came under fire Monday from people who said it did too little to protect residential neighborhoods.

“This is what the community has been fighting from day one,” Sharon Newbery told the Planning Commission.

Newbery and others said the city should declare a moratorium on issuing permits for new cell towers until the proposed new rules can be strengthened.

“We really need a moratorium, not push it through. We need to do it right,” Newbery said.

But planning commissioners said the new rules would be an improvement. The matter is tentatively set to go to the City Council for approval in October.

“I think this is an excellent document, it’s a first step,” said Commission Chairman Bob Neal. “It’s a living document that’s going to grow and grow and grow.”

The new rules would allow cell phone towers in residential neighborhoods only as a last resort.

“They have to prove going into a residential zone why that is the only place they can go and how they will protect the safety of residents,” said City Planner Jerry Hittleman.

South Oceanside resident Holly Hargett said that cell phone antennas should be banned from schools, churches and day care centers.

Commissioners recommended that the council modify the proposed rules to discourage placement of cell antennas near those locations.

Hargett and others also said the proposal has a huge loophole in it by allowing cell antennas to be located along public rights of way —- primarily streets and sidewalks —- in residential neighborhoods.

City officials have said federal law and court rulings prohibit an outright ban on the towers and limit restrictions cities can place on antennas along streets and sidewalks. But they said existing rules discourage placing antennas along streets and sidewalks in residential neighborhoods.

Former Deputy City Attorney Leslie Gallagher, who helped draft the proposed ordinance, said other cities have adopted bans but they haven’t held up.

If wireless companies can show they have a gap in service and a residential neighborhood is the only place they can put antennas to close the gap, “they can force the city to let them go in anyway,” Gallagher said.

The new rules would replace an ordinance last updated in 1992 that made no distinction between residential neighborhoods and other areas of the city. At the time, “big, clunky” cell phones were just starting to come on the market, Hittleman said.

Planning Commissioner Louise Balma said the proposed new rules were “way better than what you have.”

The new rules list a series of antenna locations, with residential neighborhoods cited as the least desirable. The proposed rules also would require new cell towers to blend in with the surrounding environment.

In order of preference, the sites are city-owned property; industrial districts; commercial districts; public and semi-public districts such as churches and open space; agricultural property and residential neighborhoods.

The new measures also would encourage new antennas to be “collocated” on the same location as existing antennas, rather than erecting new towers.

Before a site is approved, “we’re going to require a lot of justification studies,” Hittleman said. He said those studies must prove a new antenna is needed to clear up gaps in coverage and explain why the proposed site was selected.

Wireless companies also must show that the equipment they use has Federal Communications Commission approval, Hittleman said.

Several amateur radio operators said the proposed new rules would unfairly lump them in with wireless companies. They said their operations are far different and should be regulated in a separate ordinance

Amateur radio operators provide “an honest service to this community,” said Brad Kruger. “I am deeply offended that this legislation has any ties to amateur radio.”