Council OKs communications facility

The City Council approved at the Dec. 7 meeting the location of another communications facility, a decision over which they have little control.

A 26-inch-tall by 2-inch-diameter antenna and an equipment cabinet will be mounted on an existing utility pole in the Ramona Avenue right-of-way behind the Chevron Station at 604 S. Coast Hwy. The location was approved by the Planning Commission after three hearings and appealed by Mayor Toni Iseman.

"I appealed this because we [the council] have not exercised all the power we have," Iseman said. "We have just said 'uncle.' "

Iseman objects to the capitulation to federal law prohibiting an outright ban on the facilities or a city making it so difficult for the communications industry to locate there that it amounts to a ban.

Locations may not be denied based on radio frequency emissions, if they comply with the Federal Communications Commission standards. However, federal law does not categorically prohibit local regulation. Installations in Laguna must be submitted for design review.

"We need to tighten up our regulations," Iseman said.

"Some communities have been establishing setback restrictions," Community Development Director John Montgomery said.

"As long they comply with federal rules, local entities have discretion over aesthetics — which might include setbacks," Montgomery said.

Iseman grilled representatives of NextG Networks on their operation and plans for about a half hour of the 45-minute hearing.

NextG's Joe Malone explained that his company is a regulated public utility, which gives it the right to install their equipment in rights-of-way.

The company is not a wireless service. It operates a fiber optic system for clients that include ATT, Sprint, Verizon and Nextel, among others.

"We fill in the gaps where existing coverage fails," Malone said.

Montgomery said NextG only makes installations in rights-of-way, rather than on private property, like the one recently proposed in Arch Beach Heights that put the local neighborhood and parents of children who frequent Moulton Meadows Park in an uproar.

"If the city doesn't favor locations on private property, its ability to deny another location is diminished," City Atty. Philip Kohn said.

The Planning Commission rejected the first site proposed by NextG, but approved the Ramona Avenue site, already a jungle of wires so another installation blends in, Montgomery said.

"I agree with [Toni] that we should keep our regulations as tight as possible," Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said. "I don't like this any better than you, but the decision has been taken out of our hands."

The council voted 4 to 1 to approve the installation, with Iseman opposed.

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