Cell tower debate moves forward in Calabasas – Homes in Calabasas

Cell tower debate moves forward in Calabasas

2011-04-21 / Community
By Sylvie Belmond

A group of citizens who want more regulations on cell towers in Calabasas met with city representatives again last week to work out the details of a wireless ordinance.

The planning commission examined 22 ideas for updating policies for wireless equipment that were proposed by the Calabasas Communications and Technology Commission, city staff and residents. The City Council will consider these recommendations at its April 27 meeting.

The commission and residents agreed on many issues but were still split concerning setbacks and where new cell towers should go.

“This is still a work in progress, and the community is looking forward to working with our City Council,” said Liat Samouhi in an interview. She leads the group of residents who hope to strengthen wireless policies.

Cell towers became an issue in the city last summer when wireless service provider T-Mobile sought to install a new facility on a water tank near homes on Adamsville Road.

Calabasas has 54 cell tower sites. On average the city receives eight applications per year for new towers, said Maureen Tamuri, community development director for Calabasas.

Under the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, the city can consider only the location and appearance of proposed cell towers and not any potential health risks.

Among other things, residents and officials agreed to have the Communications and Technology Commission conduct technical reviews of all wireless applications. They will also allow the commission to hire an outside specialist to help write the new ordinance and ensure that it offers maximum protections for citizens.

They also agreed that applications for new towers can’t be deemed complete until all submissions are verified and that no incentives should be given to applicants.

“The burden of proof should always rest on the applicant,” Samouhi said.

She added that before the city approves any applications it should require technical proof and scientific evidence to show that a significant gap in coverage exists, a position upheld by the 9th Circuit Court.

Concerning tower placement, residents speaking at the meeting said they were particularly concerned about a staff recommendation to allow new wireless facilities in prescreened residential zones and open space.

“The intent is to strengthen the ordinance, not weaken it,” Samouhi said.

With regard to distance between towers and sensitive areas, residents asked for a 1,500-squarefoot setback to make sure towers are away from homes, parks and schools.

Planning Chair Martha Fritz said setbacks shouldn’t be determined until the city receives a detailed analysis from an expert. The study will guarantee that local regulations will hold up in court should the city get sued and will be suitable for the area’s cell coverage needs and topography.

The commission did suggest that all residents living in a 1,500- foot radius of proposed towers should be notified by phone.

“We believe this is the most effective way of letting citizens know about an application and also lengthens the notification period by cutting out the mail delivery,” Fritz said.

Tamuri said a 1,500-squarefoot setback would prevent towers from being built in almost every part of the city.

Current land regulations forbid cell sites on all private property within residential and open spaces zones, which limits cell coverage in communities such as The Oaks and Mulholland Heights.

At previous meetings, city staff proposed offering incentives to wireless companies that agreed to build towers in locations suggested by the city, but the idea did not have the support of commissioners and residents.

“Many cities, like Glendale, offer incentives to promote sites away from sensitive areas. But if the goal is to require all providers to go through an onerous and rigorous process, then you can’t offer an incentive,” Tamuri said.

She urged people living in communities with poor cellphone service to participate in upcoming discussions about wireless regulations to be sure their interests are represented.

“We know there are areas in the city where there is truly no service. We would strongly encourage residents to make their voices known,” Tamuri said.

If you are a home owner in Calabasas, how do you feel about new cell towers? We live in an area with limited service so it is a tough situation.

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