Back in April, we brought you a heartwarming tale of civic involvement, governmental responsiveness and corporate accountability that's just the kind of thing we all thought we'd see more of in Barack Obama's America 2.0.
We're talking about the case of Huntington Beach's Harbour View Elementary School, where T-Mobile sought to build a cell-phone tower disguised as a tree.
The city council had given T-Mobile the OK without alerting most of the school's parents -- including, full disclosure, Weekly editor Ted Kissell -- and so the parents flipped out when they saw tractors and cranes moving onto the park right next to the place their children played every day. A few moms stood in the parking lot and blocked construction before HB mayor Keith Bohr held a town hall pow-wow, called an emergency city council meeting, and listened to dozens of residents express fears about the potential carcinogenic effects of cell tower radiation. The council ending up announcing it had struck a deal with T-Mobile: The cell tower wouldn't be built in the park, and the city would reimburse the company for $50,000 to make up for reneging on the contract it had approved months before. Parents had their fears assuaged. The council avoided the further wrath of angry parents. T-Mobile... got some free money.
It seemed like things were copacetic. But you didn't think that would be the end of it, did you?
The Register's Annie Burris (who, full disclosure, is cool) followed the unraveling of the deal last spring. Over the course of negotiations with the city, T-Mobile revealed the true cost of building the antenna tower to be more than $120,000, even though the building permit originally approved by the city said it'd only cost $80,000 to build. The problem with the discrepancy: A Huntington Beach law, passed in 1990, stipulates than all construction in parks and beaches that costs more than $100,000 must be approved by a vote of nearby residents.
Faced with the realization that this tower that the council had approved then unapproved couldn't legally have been approved in the first place (yeah... got that?), the city put the kibosh on the entire deal and rescinded its offer to reimburse T-Mobile $50,000.
And then, of course, T-Mobile sued the city.
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Just a few days ago, Harbour View parent Gracey Vandermark, one of the moms who initially stood in the way of construction, painted some signs with a friend and posted them on Harbour View's fence. Last April, the signs warned of radiation. This time, they warned parents that the T-Mobile saga "isn't over." She says most parents assumed that the city council meeting in April was the end of it, but that they should be paying attention to the lawsuit.
"It's just not worth putting the kids at risk," she said on the phone. "I'm not saying we don't want cell phones, we just don't need a tower here."
The suit, filed in federal court (Central District of California Western Division), seeks to prevent the city from applying "Measure C" -- the law mandating that residents vote on park construction over $100,000 -- to the T-Mobile site. In a ruling filed on Oct. 8, judge R. Gary Klausner denied the city's motion to dismiss the suit and denied T-Mobile's request for an injunction exempting the cell tower from Measure C. (We've got the minutes from the latest hearing, along with the ruling, here) A scheduling conference is set for Nov. 9.
In related news, T-Mobile has set off another ugly fight by trying to install attenas at a Huntington Beach church with a preschool. We wrote an article the phenomenon of cell-tower wars in May; we're thinking it might now be time to pen a book about it.