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.”