The telecoms giant usually gets their way
By Daniel Garay
After a five-and-a-half-hour public comment section on Feb. 7, the Arcadia City Council voted to reject Verizon’s petition for the construction of a 53’-tall, faux bell tower on the lot of the Church of the Transfiguration to the relief of residents living in the area. The culmination of a two-year-long fight seemed to be over. However, this was only the beginning for Verizon.
On the Council meeting on Feb. 21, the City Council’s closed session set to address the possible threat of legal action on the part of Verizon. The City soon followed by hiring three law firms for possible defense litigation through approval of a consent calendar item on March 7.
City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto wrote in an email to Beacon Media News, “No litigation has been filed, but Verizon has indicated they are reviewing their options, including considering filing a lawsuit. We hope to be able to help them find an alternate site that may meet their needs and fit better in the community.”
While a lawsuit has not yet been filed, recent history shows that this is next on Verizon’s sequence of actions, including settling with the city. Arcadians Against Residential Towers (AART) believes this would be a betrayal of the public interests if the City of Arcadia works to accommodate Verizon.
“We are aware that Verizon typically will try and litigate to get their way, as is their common practice,” said Dr. Eli Tsou, a member of AART. “A Tolling Agreement will only perpetuate the injustices that have already been caused.”
Verizon in the last few years alone has sued cities which denied their permits to build cellular towers, in violation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In these instances, – towns in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and even California – Verizon claims that this is to fill in a significant gap in coverage. The residents and municipal officials say that this creates an aesthetically unpleasing sight and a negative environmental impact. The end result, the cities either lose in court or settle with Verizon.
On Feb. 21, consultants from Verizon provided maps of the gap in coverage to justify their permit for a tower. Residents at the meeting, however, said that there is no gap in coverage, with residents saying that they have access to LTE coverage in their homes, among the arguments of negative health effects and bad Feng Shui.
Dr. Tsou sees this as a way to exploit the community for profit. “Despite the strong evidence of lack of significant need for this tower, the objections of 1400 – 1500 petition signers and 3 hearings …, Verizon will seek to exploit weaknesses in current outdated legislation to bully the community and try and get their way. It creates a huge financial and emotional burden for all of those involved, and is an unnecessary waste of resources.”
Outdated can be used to describe the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It was the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in more than 60 years at the time. Since then, with the introductions of smartphones and LTE coverage, an update in law seems overdue.
One town was able to stop Verizon in court: Mt. Baldy, back in December, 2016. The small mountain community stopped the telecoms giant, not because of aesthetics, but for the lack of an environmental review, according to a lengthy decision from San Bernardino County Superior Court judge.
The City may be taking the necessary precautions in case of legal action, but the gratitude from the residents is strong, especially from AART, even in the light of the fiery public comment section. “We are grateful for the City in supporting our opposition, despite legal threat. We hope that the City does not agree to a Tolling Agreement with Verizon, as they are not entitled to one.”
According to AART, the deadline for Verizon to file a lawsuit is slated for March 22. Jim Kasama, Community Development Administrator for the City, confirmed that there is a 30-day period for Verizon to respond to the City Council’s resolution.