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Station 3 cell tower stalled

A T-Mobile telecommunications tower was toppled by public opposition.

The staff-recommended site at Fire Station 3 was successfully opposed by neighbors and parents of children who attend nearby Top of the World Elementary School and pulled from the Feb. 2 agenda.

“Staff recommended the site because in the past, people were happy to move the installations from the right-of-way onto city property,” City Manager Ken Frank said. “This proposal has not received the same support.”

Frank’s announcement that T-Mobile will have to look for another site was applauded.

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“The city’s options are limited when a site in the right-of-way is selected,” Frank said.

If T-Mobile can demonstrate that there is no other reasonable or feasible option to the site in the right-of-way and can demonstrate a coverage gap — which it can at Top of the World, Frank said — the city is obliged by federal law to allow the installation.

The city previously tested the law in court and lost.

Nor can the city oppose the installation on the basis of public health and safety related to radio emissions, City Atty. Philip Kohn said.

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Public hearings are required and the city is able to exercise reasonable opposition to the appearance of the facility, but not to the extent of prohibiting it, Kohn said.

If the company submits 10 designs and all are denied, the courts would not look favorably on the city’s position

T-Mobile does have options.

“They could decide not to go forward with the project or they could find a location on private property,” Frank said.

Several property owners in town have installations on their homes or garages, Frank said.

The fire station site provided the coverage T-Mobile needs to improve cell-phone service for its Laguna Beach customers and was considered by staff to be less obtrusive than alternative locations.

T-Mobile was willing to pay the city $20,400 a year to lease the site for 10 years with a 3% increase in rent annually.

The design of the installation, which drew caustic remarks even from those who did not oppose the site, included the use of a faux eucalyptus tree to disguise a telecommunications pole of up to 36 feet tall. It would have been in the rear yard of the fire station property, with pole, tree and equipment taking up about 800 square feet of the parcel.

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Objections to the site listed by opponents included an adverse impact on home value, a decline in school population and park usage because parents would not send their children to facilities next to a tower and an increase in vehicular traffic because parents would not feel safe allowing the kids to walk past the tower, allegations that it would be a fire hazard and assertions that there is no need for additional cell-phone service.



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