Cell phone tower
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A group of residents calling themselves Don't Cell Our Parks has filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego for granting building permits without environmental review to cell phone company Verizon Wireless to place a twelve-antenna faux-eucalyptus cell phone tower at Ridgewood Park in Rancho Penasquitos.

And although the lawsuit is new, the issue of leasing city-owned parkland to corporations, with little public input, is anything but new.

As reported by the Reader in February 2015, a group of Torrey Pines and La Jolla residents objected to a similar proposal from AT&T to add additional towers at a small community park in La Jolla, next to a baseball diamond and a YMCA preschool program.

30 similar agreements as of June, 2014

The proposal prompted a small group of residents not only to fight AT&T's proposal, but also caused them to delve into the city policy of allowing corporations to use public land for commercial benefits. According to city staff, as of June 2014, there were 30 similar lease agreements with wireless companies to use portions of public parkland to place large antennas and concrete enclosures in order to improve wireless service and increase business. In exchange for the use of the land, the city receives a total of $1 million per year.

As a result of their complaints, AT&T withdrew the proposal. Objections to the city policy, however, did not die down. Instead the group of residents began to take a closer look at the practice.

Don’t Cell Our Parks speaks up

“In our city parks, the law says you’re not allowed to solicit funds,” resident and president of Don't Cell Our Parks, Marc Kuritz, told the

Reader earlier this year. “You can’t sell merchandise. You can’t pass out advertising flyers. You’re not even allowed to pick flowers. But our mayor and city council hand over chunks of our park land to private corporations for cell phone towers. It’s not legal, it’s not right, and it makes no sense, unless you are the politician getting the revenue or the telecommunications giant making the profit.”

The debate intensified on June 30, 2015 when city officials approved Verizon's Ridgewood Park proposal. They did so while simultaneously exempting the project from any level of environmental review.

That decision will land the city in court. In order to prevail, city attorneys must find a way around City Charter language which outlaws the use of public parks for anything but public purposes.

"All real property owned in fee by the City heretofore or hereafter formally dedicated in perpetuity by ordinance of the Council or by statute of the State Legislature for park, recreation or cemetery purposes shall not be used for any but park, recreation or cemetery purposes without such changed use or purpose having been first authorized or later ratified by a vote of two-thirds of the qualified electors of the City voting at an election for such purpose."

In a August 6 statement Kuritz addressed the issue of public use versus private benefit.

“Like everyone else, I want good cell phone reception. It bugs me when people say ‘not in my back yard’ and then complain about poor reception. But this is not about reception. The butterflies and bunnies in the parks are not complaining about their dropped calls. This is about the mayor and city council misusing our park land to make a buck.”

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Bob_Hudson Aug. 7, 2015 @ 10:18 a.m.

"shall not be used for any but park, recreation or cemetery purposes"

So, legally what are "park...purposes?"

It is easy to find public "parks" that have hotels in them, many more that have small concessions selling food, others with rentals of bikes,beach gear, etc. There are parks with easements for power lines owned by for-profit companies. So to say you can't sell anything in a park is not correct. It's expected that a park concession sells things appropriate for park visitors, but if you've ever been to the gift shop in a National Park you know even that is not always the case.

In today's world cell phones are not just a nicety, they are the center of our communications infrastructure. Do cell towers serve the public interest? Do they serve visitors to public parks? The answer to both is a big "yes," no matter how much some of us hate to see folks in the great outdoors who are looking down at the screen and not looking up at the view.

The NIMBY's not only fail to understand the shades of gray in interpreting any law, but also accuse the council and mayor of personally making a buck from cell towers. I suspect that if and when they get their day in court they will end up inadvertently helping to establish that the list of legal "park purposes" is much longer than they'd thought.


Cassander Aug. 7, 2015 @ 1:24 p.m.

Thank you, Bob, for your ham-handed attempt to defend expediency over legality. Apparently thirty foot towers rising from 240-square foot concrete barb-wired bunkers are no more intrusive than a flyer flitting in the wind.

But even if this land use weren't clearly illegal under the city charter, the reason the cell carriers target municipalities is that city leaders are chumps when it comes to negotiating a decent business deal. Belmont Park, anyone?

This is a clear case where the private sector and private landowners could benefit from and make more profit than the city unfairly competing against them for this business:

"The companies that manage these cell towers will sublease space to other companies and end up making a great deal of money off of them....But that value is not always reflected in the lease agreements with the landowners.....In 2011, cell towers around the country generated more than $2 billion in revenue just from leasing space to other telecom tenants. At the same time, the total rent paid to property owners came to just 12 percent of that amount."



rehftmann Aug. 7, 2015 @ 5:51 p.m.

You can get busted in San Diego for holding a yoga class on a park lawn. There are reasonable arguments regarding park use when you have an entire park covered with yoga mats (Law St, PB) from which discussion I take a quick, if cowardly, exit. But a cell tower in a park or elementary school yard is clearly inconsistent usage with obscure consequences. How about your next door neighbor deciding their garage-based eBay operations could use a new income stream, so a cell tower thinly disguised as a palm tree pops up? Jealous over their income boost, your other neighbor cuts a deal for a tiny 30-foot wind power generator. You got power, you got communication. Bob_Hudson concedes whether it's legal or right, it's done. You also got a ding in property values, you got a humming noise and big trucks visiting, but that's progress. Legal or not, nature just slipped down another notch toward commerce, like planting a faux palm tree that communicates and makes money. (Not enough money to fix potholes, much less plant living palm trees, though.)


Javajoe25 Aug. 7, 2015 @ 11:13 p.m.

Another one of these things was just installed at Spanish Landing Park, across from the airport, right where they built that San Salvador wooden ship recently. It wouldn't be so bad if it looked like a real tree. It looks like such a bad imitation of a tree, it hurts to look at it. They actually stuck it near the roadway, not really taking up too much real estate as far as the park goes. I always thought the cell phone parking lot, just outside of the airport terminal parking areas was a good idea, so I guess this is what comes with it.


AlexClarke Aug. 8, 2015 @ 6:22 a.m.

The fake tree towers are as real looking as Goldsmiths hair piece.


Wabbitsd Aug. 11, 2015 @ 4:55 p.m.

I nominate that Alex Clarke's post as "Quote of the Year!"


gcchaser Aug. 8, 2015 @ 10:12 a.m.

Oh Bob, dedicated parks, are dedicated for recreation purposes (you knew that), your such a Company Man! You obviously have not been to Ridgewood Neighborhood Park which borders the Los Penasquitos Nature Preserve and watched a sunset. Verizon, with the City's blessing wants to build a 250 sq. ft. (1760 cubic sq. ft.) building, and 35 ft fake tree in the middle of that aesthetic sunset. That sounds so preposterous considering they are planning to build two more Cell Facilities (Cara and Black-Mercy) about 1/2 mile and 1 1/2 mile from Ridgewood Park. So why build in a dedicated park? It's about MONEY Bob, not customer service! Our argument is about preserving and protecting a community resouce which by design, makes nature and environment a priority!


stefkasd02 Aug. 8, 2015 @ 10:51 p.m.

I'm glad to see this finally happening. It seems kind of ridiculous that kids can't put up hand made posters at the park, and dogs can't be off their leashes, but telecomm giants like AT&T and Verizon can dig up half a community park to build an "equipment housing" structure to go along with an cell tower made to look like an ugly fake tree. Oh and the equipment will make noise all day and the building will be an eyesore, and the tower itself will be transmitting signals all day long. I hope these Don't Cell Our Parks people win their case. Too often the large corporations and government of America are just bulldozing the little guys... Oh wait the PEOPLE of this country.


AlexClarke Aug. 9, 2015 @ 6:17 a.m.

If dog owners and kids had money then . . . . .


KLoEditor Aug. 9, 2015 @ 8:24 a.m.

Thanks for this story, Dorian. Glad to see someone finally busting the City on this, because seriously it doesn't have any teeth when the City wants to grab park land.

"All real property owned in fee by the City heretofore or hereafter formally dedicated in perpetuity by ordinance of the Council or by statute of the State Legislature for park, recreation or cemetery purposes shall not be used for any but park, recreation or cemetery purposes without such changed use or purpose having been first authorized or later ratified by a vote of two-thirds of the qualified electors of the City voting at an election for such purpose."

Just a tangential here, but park land at 29th and Ocean View was grabbed for a library and parking lot without a vote, then or now. I remember going to a Park and Rec meeting and telling the area manager what the plans were and he all but called me a bald-faced liar because he said, "No one can take dedicated parkland." Some time later, he apologized to me, more in anger at what happened, and said, "I didn't believe you, and I should have."

There truly is no bottom to the power and corruption rampant in San Diego. The laws are there, like those fake trees, merely for decorative purposes.


monaghan Aug. 9, 2015 @ 11:27 a.m.

Great story. NAUGHTY NIMBYS REACT TO WIRELESS ONSLAUGHT. The truth is that commercial interests are running roughshod over community interests in the runaway installation of wireless facilities across the United States.

In San Diego, a charter city, it is illegal to do what Verizon thinks it can pay its way to do -- put up cell towers in public parks. Not allowed without a 2/3 vote of the people permitting it to happen. (The public should know that the San Diego City Charter is being "updated," so without push-back from the People, look for charter park protections to disappear or be "modified" into oblivion.)

Meanwhile, the FCC is being sued in U.S. District Court by Montgomery County MD for its interpretation of the Spectrum Act. The FCC since 2012 has given carte blanche to the wireless industry to build cells towers with impunity in communities across the United States.

The FCC has written that no local zoning rules or environmental regulations are to apply anywhere when it comes to putting up cell towers or adding visual garbage to existing poles. The League of California Cities, of which San Diego is a member, has joined the lawsuit as a friend of petitioner Montgomery County, but that hasn't stopped San Diego's aptly-named Development Services Department (DSD) from greasing the skids locally for the wireless juggernaut.

San Diego Development Services has called for public comment on its citywide plans to conform to the FCC's wireless giveaway at a (mid-summer) August 12 meeting (at rush-hour) 5:45 p.m. at the Mission Valley Public Library, 2123 Fenton Pkwy., San Diego 92108.

Anyone not on vacation or at the beach or drinking craft beer somewhere trendy who cares about this issue should SHOW UP. And don't be late: the DSD notice warns "the meeting could end earlier than 7:15 p.m., depending on the number of attendees."

Or you can WRITE no later than August 17 to A. McPherson, AICP, Environmental Planner, City of San Diego Development Services Center, 1222 First Avenue, San Diego 92101. Or EMAIL no later than August 17 to DSEAS@sandiego.gov using the following project name: "Amendments to the Land Development Code and the City's Local Coastal Program - Spectrum Act Wireless Communications Facilities."

Your elected officials plan to gut local zoning and environmental protections to conform to wireless industry-friendly demands of the FCC and this DSD meeting is the first step.


CaptainObvious Aug. 9, 2015 @ 12:50 p.m.

How about an amendment that states that all money made by leasing space in a park, must be used only for improvements to that park?


Wabbitsd Aug. 11, 2015 @ 4:58 p.m.

Watch what you ask for. They will next be awarding contracts to their favorite developers without any competitive bidding.


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