Arcadia Denies Verizon Proposal for Cell Tower in Residential Zone

Perhaps a tip-of-the-hat to Donald Trump’s campaign cap slogan, opponents to Verizon’s appeal want to ‘Keep Arcadia Great’ by not having a cell tower in a residential area. – Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News


By Malak Habbak

Arcadia City Council denied Verizon Wireless’ proposed wireless tower facility in a residential area Tuesday, Feb. 7, after the carrier failed to persuade the council that the facility had an immediate need and was the best alternative. The decision was a relief to concerned residents spearheaded by Arcadians Against Residential Towers in their battle with Verizon, nicknamed “David vs. Goliath,” that lasted over a year.

Over 20 residents spoke against the tower during public comments, citing reasons for denial from health and safety to aesthetics and bad feng shui. The group, young and old, dressed in green shirts for solidarity with yellow signs, flooded the council’s chambers in opposition to the proposal that would open the gates to telecommunications carriers in residential zones, currently prohibited by municipal code.

Under federal preemption, the city would be required to grant Verizon’s request if it could prove a significant gap in coverage and that their plan is the least intrusive, given proper alternatives were analyzed.

“When it comes down to everything, you just have to go with your gut as to what the right thing is,” said Mayor Tom Beck, who along with councilmembers Sho Tay, April Verlatto and Peter Amundson declared that Verizon did not meet its burden of proof.

Beck was open to the alternative of 10 small cells, detailed in Verizon reports, but the idea was quelled by Verizon attorney Paul Albritton and city consultant Douglas Dickinson (paid by Verizon) from CommVergent Technologies, who argued small cells would “sacrifice the ability to serve a large number of people” that would get covered by the 53-foot macro site. Dickinson further stated the small sites would be more intrusive than the tower, disguised as a bell tower at the Church of the Transfiguration, and that about 25-30 small cells were in fact needed as an alternative.

“Quite frankly, I think they made a good argument as much as they possibly could,” said councilmember Roger Chandler, who was outnumbered 4-1 in opposition of the proposition. “We have a law to deal with and we’re running on the edge.”

Verizon’s gap in coverage claims were rooted in Long Term Evolution (LTE), a form of high-speed wireless network primarily used for data streaming.

“We do not have 4G, AWS, LTE coverage in this area right now,” said Albritton, referencing to the highest frequency used by the carrier. With fifth generation wireless services around the corner, Verizon would require more “close-knit facilities” to provide coverage and capacity, he said.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which ultimately supersedes municipal law, was used as leverage by the carrier and supported by city attorney Gail Karish, who said the law protects multiple services in the mobile broadband.

Yet Verlatto found it hard to believe the federal act considers “my son’s gaming” as a public safety concern.

“I don’t think that’s what the overall goal of these ordinances and the federal government was supposed to be— that they get to come in to put in towers wherever they feel like they need to upgrade their services.”

The decades old act also trumps any health-related concerns that were brought before council based on “inconclusive evidence”. The planning commission denied the project twice, with the initial proposal to disguise the tower as a eucalyptus tree.

Reverend Julie D. Bryant, the landlord of the proposed bell tower at the Church of the Transfiguration, amid the public’s concerns, believed the tower would blend with the existing church. The tower would also fit with the organization’s mission and purpose, she said, while income from Verizon’s lease would help support the church’s programs.

“The well-being, health and safety of our members, pre-school students, staff and neighbors is a tremendous concern for us as a community,” she said. After being contacted by Verizon for use of the property, she said the parish and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles that governs them did not proceed “until we had been satisfied first.”

She believed the tower would not be unique in that similar types of wireless facilities dwell close to schools (including Dana Middle School and Camino Grove Elementary) and homes in Arcadia, an argument raised at city council and confirmed by Arcadia Community Development Administrator Jim Kasama.

Bryant even argued she had a “great interest” with its aesthetics of the bell tower, which would have been planned to blend with the existing church, as an aesthetic asset for a “Spanish revival.”

Some neighbors of the church, including Marian Bachmeier, protested the aesthetics and cited the 9th circuit court case Sprint vs. Palos Verdes Estates for legitimate reasons to base the denial. Ken Obst called the tower a “monstrosity” and demanded the city preserve Arcadia’s single-story, post-war bedroom community identity.

“It’s a very sensitive issue for my wife and I,” said Obst, who lives across the street from the church. “It’s an ugly intrusion into our neighborhood and I have a question for each of you: If Verizon were to build a tower across the street from where you live, would you have a problem?”

Beck also had a problem with the location and aesthetics. “It’s going to stick out,” he said. “This is a close call but I am coming down on the side that there’s a viable alternative to this bell tower and that Verizon should pursue that.”

City council will complete a resolution on Feb. 21 with findings based on fact to deny the Verizon application and appeal, yet Verizon could sue the city on federal preemption.

February 8, 2017

About Author

Malak Habbak Malak Habbak is a journalist and photographer covering local news across Southern California. She has a degree in Journalism from Cal Poly Pomona, where she was awarded Outstanding Graduating Student by her department. In the past four years, she covered domestic and foreign affairs with Al Jazeera English, Capital Public Radio and The Poly Post.

6 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Arcadia Denies Verizon Proposal for Cell Tower in Residential Zone”

  1. Frederic says:

    Sho Tay once again showed how he’s confused on every subject. Can he PLEASE resign ?

    • MSN says:

      Sho Tay was GREAT! He knew exactly what was happening and communicated his thoughts in a clever way with a simple analogy. There is subtly in what he communicated during the final City Council deliberation but his message was clear. He will definitely get my vote when he is up for re-election…all 4 City Council members who voted to deny Verizon will get my vote the next time they run for office. The Council stopped MACRO-SITES = CELL TOWERS in all the R-1 zones not just this one neighborhood. The Verizon cell tower would have caused a proliferation in every R-1 neighborhood and would be impossible to stop because of a federal preemption.

  2. MSN says:

    The City Council made the right decision by denying the Verizon application for a 53′ cell tower in a residential zone that is uniquely single story ranch homes. We have few McMansions in our neighborhood. The cell tower would stuck out like a sore thumb and set a precedent for cell towers to be allowed in ALL the R-1 zones. We are so grateful that the City Council protected our beautiful and pristine neighborhood.

  3. Eli Tsou says:

    Council absolutely made the right decision. This siting was unneeded and unwanted by those in the affected area. Parents of the preschool and elementary school who had their kids within the 53′ of this tower can now feel better about leaving their kids there all day. Residents in the neighborhood can continue to enjoy their neighborhood.

    Verizon coverage is already the best in Arcadia. With the hundreds of towers already in Arcadia, they have ample opportunity to continue expansion of wireless coverage by upgrading the technology on current towers. They also already have the authority to expand on existing utility poles in our public right-of-way facilities.

    With this specific application, they ignored a preferable collocation siting that is better located for any technology upgrades, as it was less profitable for them. However, it would’ve been easier for the city, and better for the residents, so Council correctly rejected their repeated appeals for this more undesirable tower.

  4. Edward Mui says:

    Thumbs up to the 4 Council members that strike down this tower. (When they are up for re-election they for sure will get my vote.) I am so glad they were able to see through all the smoke and screen and made a right decision. There is absolutely NO coverage gap in the contested area. The data submitted by Verizon was “engineered” to favor an approval. Also, how can Verizon and the church say with a straight face that a 53-foot tall tower is the least intrusive option? Really? That tower would destroy the aesthetic of the neighborhood. If Verizon wants to improve its capacity to deliver data it should look into using “small cells” instead.

    I am so happy the City Council was able to protect its citizens from a corporate bully. The council heard its citizens loud and clear: NO TOWER. The council also stopped a potential proliferation of towers by saying no to this 53-foot tower in a R-1 zone. The residents of the entire city of Arcadia should give the 4 Council members a big round of applause!

  5. MSN says:

    Verizon has sent the City of Arcadia their intention that they are going to sue the City. Please tell the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, the real property owner of the Church of the Transfiguration, to STOP THE LAWSUIT.

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