City Council denies cell tower permits

The Huntington Beach City Council voted Monday night to revoke two of T-Mobile's wireless permits to build cell towers in two city parks, one near an elementary school.

The council voted 6 to 1, with Councilman Don Hansen dissenting, at a special meeting to not allow cell towers at Harbour View Park, on Saybrook Lane, and Bolsa View Park, on Brighton Drive, because a significant coverage gap wasn't proven and there are viable alternatives. The vote caused the attendees to burst into applause.

T-Mobile's original permit application for a 55-foot-high cell tower at Harbour View — which is next to Harbour View Elementary School — and a nearly 52-foot-high tower at Bolsa View stated the towers, disguised as trees, were needed to increase cell coverage in the area, according to city records.

Representatives from T-Mobile said there are coverage gaps that elicit thousands of complaints and once caused 2,000 dropped calls in a single month.

"It is very difficult to get reliable, in-home coverage in these areas," said Daniel Wang, an engineering manager for T-Mobile.

About 150 vocal residents came out to show their support against the towers. They wore highlighter-yellow stickers that read "Revoke Permits."

Harbour View Elementary parent Lori Burnett asked the council to review the wireless permit process because it is "broken" and said the council should place a moratorium on cell towers if they need to.

The towers are a safety concern, creating a possible fire danger right where hundreds of kids play every day, she said.

"This is not well thought out by T-Mobile," she told the council. "The telecommunications [companies] are not going to protect us, and I'm asking you all to do that."

Many residents spoke about the perceived public health danger of putting a cell tower at Harbour View, right next to the elementary school.

"Even though the science may not be clear, it's not a thing to risk, and I'm not going to risk it with my kids," one father told the council.

Although about 20 residents spoke out against the two cell towers, resident Richard Kenyon said he holds the "unfavorable view." A resident near Bolsa View, Kenyon said he gets bad coverage and supports the cell towers' construction.

"I have very lousy cell phone service. I usually cannot use it," he said. "I am not with T-Mobile, but it is still worthwhile."

The city granted T-Mobile wireless permits through administrative approval in 2007, but asked the company to voluntarily stop construction in April 2009 after neighbors spoke against them.

It later came out that the projects, originally slated to cost $60,0000 and $80,000 to build, were actually going to cost about $200,000 each. The cost increase put the project under the purview of Measure C, which dictates that all projects on parks or beaches that cost more than $100,000 must go to a vote of the people.

T-Mobile objected to the vote, stating it was trumped by the federal Telecommunications Act, and filed a lawsuit against the city in May 2009. The judge upheld that the city couldn't use Measure C as a reason for denying the cell towers, but instructed the city to reevaluate the permit in light of the fact that T-Mobile didn't "provide the required information accurately," according to judgment.

John Flynn, a representative for T-Mobile, said his company didn't provide the city with erroneous or misleading information.

"We did everything the city asked us to do. We provided all the information the city asked us to provide," Flynn said.

City Atty. Jennifer McGrath said the lawsuit is going forward. Councilman Hansen said he doesn't think the city will win the case.

"Tonight's not the end," Hansen said. "There will be a further lawsuit and I generally believe we will lose."

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