[UPDATED with Reports from the Two Towers] Have the T-Mobile Cell Phone Towers in Surf City Found New Homes?
UPDATE, Nov. 18, 4:21 P.M.: The two meetings about controversial T-Mobile cell-phone towers that took place in Huntington Beach this week--Wednesday's at the city's Central Library, about a tower that was originally supposed to go in Bolsa View Park, and Thursday's at Harbour View Elementary, about the tower that was to have been installed in the park right next to the school--could not have been more different. HB resident Mark Infanti, who attended both, summed things up.
"This was a group hug," he said as the Harbour View meeting was breaking up. The other meeting? "That was a bloodbath."
The Harbour View meeting in the school's assembly hall was certainly replete with warm fuzzies--a far cry from the hastily arranged meeting in the same room two and a half years ago, at which more than 200 residents blasted then-HB Mayor Keith Bohr for the city basically trying to sneak a 55-foot cell phone tower on to park land immediately adjacent to school property.
Now-Councilman Bohr was there on Thursday night, along with Deputy City Manager Bob Hall, other city staff, Ocean View School District Superintendent William Loose, T-Mobile Director of Operations and Engineering Danny Bazerman, and roughly 50 other parents and community members.
They were all there to take a gander at drawings of what amounted to a kind of "grand bargain" on the cell tower: Placing it at the south end of the Huntington Harbour Mall, and turning it into a flagpole. Those in attendance (including some of the key activists who battled the towers, including the campaign against the Measure Q ballot measure last year) praised all the parties involved, and the spirit of community and cooperation that led to the deal.
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"We're all thrilled," says Harbour View Principal Cindy Osterhout, who emceed the meeting. "From where this process started out, with us getting completely blindsided... to reach this kind of resolution is so satisfying. It's nice to see that small-town politics can work."
A central figure in the compromise was Cozette Dunlap of mall owner D.D. Dunlap Companies, who agreed to the location. Placing the tower on private land avoids the provisions of the city's pesky Measure C, which requires any project of $100,000 value or greater being built on city park land to be put to a referendum.
It was on the basis of both the Harbor View and Bolsa View towers being in violation of Measure C that the city suspended the permits for the towers in the first place. T-Mobile sued, and in 2010, a judge ruled in favor of T-Mobile's argument that the city had violated the Telecommunications Act. The city appealed. But, since the judge didn't order the city to allow the installations, T-Mobile also appealed, seeking such an order. Since then, the behind-the-scenes negotiations have been ongoing.
The Harbour proposal will go before the city council for a vote on Jan. 17; the lack of outrage suggests that it should pass easily. (It's also close enough to the ocean to also need Coastal Commission approval.)
The new location for the tower once intended for Bolsa View Park is another story. That location, at the city's Springdale Pump Station (near where Springdale Street dead-ends at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands), is also scheduled for a city council vote on Jan. 17, but after the Thursday meeting, Bohr said he thought that the two towers would need to be separated.
Which brings us back to the bloodbath. Though the station isn't on park land, which means no Measure C problems, it is adjacent not only to sensitive wetlands, but to several private homes. Councilman Joe Shaw, who attended the Wednesday meeting, summarized those residents' reaction: "They don't want it!"
Infanti and a couple other residents from near the Springdale site attended the Harbour View meeting, mostly to appeal to the activist spirit that the Harbour residents showed in successfully shunting their tower to a less-offensive spot, and ask for their help in fighting the pump station proposal.
That Jan. 17 meeting should be an interesting one. Councilman Shaw tells the Weekly that he'd vote against the Springdale site. If the Harbour Mall site goes through, but the Springdale one doesn't, what does that mean for T-Mobile's lawsuit?
At the Harbour View meeting, T-Mobile's Danny Bazerman referred all comment to T-Mobile's media relations department--and a spokesman from that department tells the Weekly that the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.
ORIGINAL POST, Nov. 16, 4:59 P.M.: Perhaps you were wondering, "Whatever happened with those T-Mobile cell phone towers that were supposed to go up in Huntington Beach? And wasn't one of them supposed to go in Harbour View Park, which had parents at nearby Harbour View Elementary freaking out because the radiation from the tower would start popping their kids like bags of Orville Redenbacher or something?"
Well, wonder no more: After numerous community meetings, city council votes, a lawsuit against the city by T-Mobile, and a citywide referendum vote (albeit an advisory one) condemning the towers, it looks like the things might get relocated.
A flier distributed at Harbour View Elementary today declares that a community meeting will be held Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the school "to discuss a proposed telecommunications tower/flag pole at the Huntington Harbour Mall." (The Huntington Beach Independent reports that T-Mobile has called a community meeting for tonight at 7 p.m. at HB's Central Library; the new location of that proposed tower would be at Springdale Street and Littlefield; from the brief item, it's not clear if this is a new location for a previously planned tower that was on hold.)
The controversy at Harbour View kicked off in dramatic fashion, with a frankly stunning display of suburban direct action: On April 23, 2009, enormous trucks and cranes were in the process of installing the massive, fake-tree-shaped tower, when a couple of Harbour View parents, one with a baby in her arms, literally stood between the heavy machinery and the hole where the tower was supposed to be sunk, and wouldn't move.
Word got to higher-ups at the Ocean View School District and the city of Huntington Beach, and T-Mobile called off installation crew. (Though the tower was to have gone on city property in the Harbour View Park, it was right on the edge of school property, and would have loomed over the blacktop where the younger kids are dropped off and line up every day.) The battle has continued, from the council chambers to the ballot box, since then.
Now, for the obligatory disclosure: One of my kids is a student at Harbour View. My own feelings about the project? Mixed. On the one hand, the health concerns seem unfounded, and cell phone reception in that part of HB is really terrible. On the other, it would have been an eyesore and an obstacle in that park.
The mall seems like a much more appropriate locale--but the flier has an artist's rendering of the "tower/flag pole," which apparently would go in the middle of the pedestrian part of the open-air mall. That's weird. It couldn't go in the corner of the parking lot?
Anyway, we're waiting to hear back from city officials for more details. City of Huntington Beach spokeswoman Laurie Frymire says the meetings are an informal community outreach effort by T-Mobile; the proposed new tower locations have not yet gone before the City Council for approval.
So, can we all look forward to irradiated bacon-wrapped dates at Red Table? Stay tuned!
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