Cell tower again raises neighbors’ ire | SanDiegoUnionTribune.com

Cell tower again raises neighbors’ ire More trees will go up around tower in San Elijo Hills By Teri Figueroa

 A cellular tower in the San Elijo neighborhood that has run afoul of city rules landed briefly in the spotlight again this week when the San Marcos City Council renewed its permit — but not before adding conditions and blasting the operator for past missteps.With the permit in hand, Crown Castle International Corp. can fix up a fading faux tree near the tower and continue operating there for another decade.But in strong language at Tuesday’s meeting, the council demanded some extras from the company, including an annual report regarding the amount of radio frequency emissions from the tower. The company also must add more real trees to help shield the fake tree from view, and city staffers must inspect the site each year.The finger-wagging highlighted tensions between cell tower providers and the people who live nearby.The San Elijo tower is on the same agriculturally zoned property where neighbors revolted in 2013 after learning a second tower was planned at the edge of the land that abutted their subdivision. That months-long battle made headlines and led the city to rewrite the rules for how many towers it would allow on a single property, eventually limiting the total to three. The City Council approved the second tower at the property in 2014, though the structure has yet to be built. Residents had unsuccessfully argued that cell towers be kept at least 100 feet from a property line. Many cited fears that the devices could emit harmful radiation, but — with little evidence to support those claims — federal law prohibits cities from considering such concerns. Cities can consider aesthetics, however, when deciding where the towers should be allowed.Fast forward to last fall, when a couple of neighbors who spearheaded that earlier battle asked San Marcos to refuse to renew the permit for the first tower, arguing the company had failed to meet previous conditions.They said a faux tree designed to mask the structure had deteriorated, and there were no other trees around to block their view of the tower.That cell tower was first approved in 2008 under five-year permit granted to T-Mobile. In fall 2012, Crown Castle spent $2.4 billion to acquire the rights to some 7,200 T-Mobile cell towers, including the San Elijo site.A few months later, in spring 2013, the San Elijo permit expired and Crown Castle failed to renew it — leading the city to eventually file civil litigation to get the company to comply. During that same time, the city also noticed that the fake tree hiding the cell tower had deteriorated, and demanded that it be fixed. After filing five incomplete applications for renewal, the company eventually provided the right information to the city, and the Planning Commission OK’d the new permit last fall. The city dismissed the suit, and Crown Castle paid the city $6,500 for its trouble. But neighboring homeowners appealed to the City Council, asking the panel to review the permit decision. The council heard that appeal on Tuesday. Councilman Chris Orlando made note of the legal clash before casting the sole vote against renewing the permit.“From my view, you haven’t been a good participant, and you haven’t followed your (permit provisions) that existed before,” Orlando said before his vote. He later added, “I am suspect that you will comply with them … or that we will be able to make you comply with them.”Councilwoman Kristal Jabara told the company representative that she understood that the company had acquired a large number of towers, but “this is what you do for a living, day in and day out.”“We do have a level of discomfort here,” she said, “and we are hearing a lot of excuses as to why it (permit renewal) wasn’t done properly.” John Dohm, a zoning manager for Crown Castle, told the council the company wasn’t making excuses, and had not shirked responsibility. He told the panel that no one was “sitting on their hands,” but rather the renewal process “just took a really long time.” teri.figueroa@sduniontribune.com

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