Council Votes on Wireless Ordinance Tonight

The Calabasas City Council will vote on the document designed to regulate the placement of cellphone towers in the community at an April 25 meeting.

The Calabasas City Council will vote on this item at its 6 p.m. inside City Hall. What do you think about this issue? Share your opinion in the comments section below.


The final draft of an updated ordinance aimed at establishing stricter regulations for the approval of cellphone towers in Calabasas was released by the city on Wednesday, but some residents are saying there's a loophole in the document that needs to be amended.

The wireless telecommunications ordinance, which the will vote on at its April 25 meeting, establishes certain guidelines for wireless providers such as limiting wireless facilities to at least 1,000 feet from residential areas, schools and parks.

But wireless providers could be exempt from that language if they could demonstrate a significant gap in coverage, according to the ordinance.

Andrew Campanelli, a New York-based attorney hired by the city as a consultant to help revise the ordinance, says providing eligibility for an exemption would prevent City Hall from dealing with litigation.

He said the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 affords cities the right to deny cellphone tower permits if wireless providers fail to demonstrate a significant gap in coverage instead of flat out rejecting such permit requests; a type language that some cities, such as Agoura Hills, have adopted.

The proposed ordinance for Calabasas calls for applicants, as well as residents, to provide evidence of a significant gap by way of providing records of call tests. Based on that evidence, the Communications and Technology Commission would vote whether to grant a permit, Campanelli said.

If the city denies a cellphone tower permit based on evidence that fails to demonstrate a significant gap in coverage, a judge is unlikely to overturn that decision, Campanelli said.

"It would be unlikely that a federal judge would have a new fact finding determination," Campanelli said. "Federal courts do not want to become zoning boards of appeal."

Some local residents, however, said the city should not fear threats of litigation because other communities, like Agoura Hills, have adopted wireless ordinances that prohibit cellphone towers in certain areas.

Agoura Hills' wireless ordinance restricts cellphone towers from being installed in the "public right-of-way of collector roadways as identified in the general plan" or "any location on or near a ridgeline such that the facility would appear silhouetted against the sky."

Agoura Hills' ordinance has been in place since last September, and Allison Cook, the community's principal planner, said the city has not faced any legal action yet.

That's reason enough for some Calabasas residents to add similar restrictions.

"This proposed ordinance appears to written based on fear of litigation as opposed to sound planning and priorities for infrastructure expansions in the city of Calabasas," wrote resident Norman Buehring, president of the Community Association of Saratoga Hills.

Other residents have circulated an identical letter to the city, calling for the city to prevent wireless providers from installing cellphone towers in open space and along ridgelines.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to adopt the new ordinance on April 25.

Steve April 24, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Are you kidding me?!! Cell towers in OUR open space and OUR residential communities is subversive to the best interests of each and every present and future resident's ability to enjoy Calabasas. If this "loophole" is allowed by the City Council, the next election can't come soon enough.
Yael April 25, 2012 at 12:39 AM
It is a matter of record that members of the development staff have breached their fiduciary duties to the city by failing to carry out the duties they have undertook, such as engaging in punitive measures against residents who fought the public right of way on Paul Revere, sending code enforcement to their residences, as well as not enforcing provisions, including for significant gap and least intrusive means, compliance and monitoring requirements in blatant disregard for the health, safey and welfare of Calabasas residents, etc. within our past ordinances. Infact, the City's current consultant placed into public testimony that he only did what he was directed to do. This included perjuring information regarding significant gap in his public testimony pertainint to the Calabasas High School installation, which resulted in the approval of an installtion of a wireless facility that otherwise the City was not required to permit.   http://youtu.be/LGzC5y8NVY0 Not only were they not reprimanded, they remain in their paid posiitions and now are intended to supervise, review and make recommendations to our decision makers regarding the applications process resulting from the sought exception of significant gap and least intrusive means within our residential and open space zones. Clearly, an exercise in futility.
Yael April 25, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Having actual knowldge of the development staff abuse of power, and taking no action to remedy the resulting damages of their action, our City Council has in fact charged staff with directing the City's peer reviewer and is now considering the implementation of an exception to the prohibited locations within the wireless ordinance which will broaden the City's ( it's development staff's, consultant and decisionmakers whom they make recommendations to), authority to exercise their discretion in granting/ denying applications within Calabasas residential and open space areas. The residents of Calabasas will now be left at the mercy of the developmental staff's and same consultant's biased and fettered discretion and recommendations. As proponents of this exception, the development staff is likely to exercise thier discretion in favor of the various carrier applicants as they have been with the residents having no recourse but to hold the council liable for failing to stand gaurd for our rights and protections.
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Allow me to play the Devil's Advocate here (an appropriate role, as most people in Calabasas think that anyone in favor of allowing cell tower development borders on heresy). I've lived in Calabasas for 20+ years and have been involved in the cellular industry for significantly longer than that. A few points that I think are relevant: 1. There is no definitive description of a "significant gap" in coverage. Does this mean that an entire community must be lacking coverage? A major roadway? Just a few families? Until there is a clear definition of this term it will be impossible to agree on allowing the construction of any towers to fill these gaps. 2. Surely you would not want to deny coverage to 10, 20, 50 or hundreds of families. In today's world where 25% of all cell phone users don't have a landline at all that would deny them a basic utility in much the same way that you'd deny them electricity or water. And, to be clear, there are many, many places in Calabasas where that many families - or more - are without coverage. How do they get served and what is in _their_ best interests as members of the community? 3. When the federal law requiring a "significant gap" in coverage was implemented it was long before people were using cell phones as their primary connection to the Internet. Until recently phones were, well, for calling by voice. That's quite different now and the data use demands additional cells for *capacity*, not just coverage.
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Continuing… 4. Towers that were at one time obvious, intrusive and downright ugly are now nearly invisible and blend well with the environment. I'm not suggesting that they're impossible to spot but I do say that you pass dozens of them in your travels daily and rarely even notice them. Nobody, including me, wants them to intrude on the beauty of our spectacular area (I cover a lot more of this area by bike and hiking than most of those talking about preserving its open space do, by the way) but there is a balance that can be struck and a blanket "no" isn't realistic or in the best interests of the community. Safety, business attraction and the rights of *all* members of the community to enjoy the same services as those that happen to live in areas already covered by cellular towers are part of that balance, too. 5. The set backs called for are, from an engineering standpoint, a de facto denial of any tower approval. As more cell sites are built in an area the location of additional sites is narrowed to a very specific range or radius in order to serve any purpose. Telling the companies that do, in fact, demonstrate a significant gap, that they must locate their sites 1000' from a particular location makes the location useless. Finally, I'd like to suggest that we keep any discourse here civil; I've seen other discussions here degenerate quickly. It's important to hear and understand both sides and it's hard to do that when people are shouting at each other.
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 02:04 AM
And, to be clear… I have no vested interest here other than the coverage that's missing in most of the areas I'm in around Calabasas. There's no coverage at my home on AT&T or Verizon and that means there's none for dozens, probably hundreds of other families in my community, too. I'm not associated with any cellular companies nor do I own any stock in them or have any connection whatsoever. My only concern here is the *overall* best interests of the community and hope others will respect that these opinions are based on many years of living here and of being involved in the development of cellular technology. Thanks for listening. I look forward to your thoughtful comments.
Steve April 25, 2012 at 04:49 AM
Scott, wow, for a uninterested third party, you sure sound interested, are up to speed on the issues, and know all the pro cell company talking points. Just sayin'.
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 05:01 AM
@Steve - I am hardly "uninterested" as is clear from my comments. If you read them carefully you'll see that I wrote that I had no "vested interest," which I explained in detail and is significantly different. Maybe I'm misinterpreting here - and if so, I apologize - but your implication appears to be that I'm somehow representing the cell phone companies. I'm not. I make no secret of the fact that I do know people at these companies and have spoken to them periodically but my opinions are based on engineering, math and RF technology knowledge collected through a 25+ year career in the industry. On what are you basing your opinions, may I ask? As far as knowing all the "pro cell company talking points" I could counter that you know all the standard "anti/protest/opposition" talking points. The fact is that the points are the points and whether they come from the cell phone company or from an outside source the facts are what they are. And yes, I'm up to speed on the issues. Aren't you? Why else would anyone take the time and go to the effort of commenting here if they weren't. I certainly anticipate anyone responding or initiating comments here to be equally well-versed. Just sayin'.
Steve April 25, 2012 at 05:35 AM
Uninterested? Ok, if you say so, whatever. It's just that your statement of uninterest reminds me of when then President Clinton replied to a question with "....it depends on what "is" is."
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 12:41 PM
@Steve - As I said in my earlier comment, the word "uninterested" only appears when quoting you - please don't try to make it appear that I've said something that I didn't. I stated very clearly that I didn't have a "vested interest." It's becoming apparent that you may not know the difference as this is your second mistaken reference to it so perhaps you should look it up. Let's try and keep the comments relevant to the topic, shall we? And to that point, how about if we stick to *facts* and leave innuendos, implications and personal attacks out of it? Those only diminish the speaker's position and the level of the overall debate. Thanks.
Steve April 25, 2012 at 04:26 PM
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." - Hamlet
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 04:32 PM
@Steve: Funny stuff! Now here's one that appears to apply to your comments: "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullsh*t." - WC Fields. Stick to the facts of the debate, please. (Unless, of course, you've realized that the *facts* aren't on your side and have to resort to pithy campaign slogans.)
Steve April 25, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Funny you quote the Field's line. I was considering that one as well, but chose the Bard instead. The Field's quote is actually a better fit in summing up all the bullsh*t this entire ordinance process has produced. This new ordinance: WILL NOT protect property values. WILL NOT protect open space. WILL NOT protect residents. WILL NOT promote citizen power. WILL NOT protect the environment. WILL NOT protect Calabasas from runaway development. What a stinking, steaming load of backroom, insider, deal making! Jeez, I'd rather buy the Brooklin Bridge, then be sold this "bridge to nowhere."
Yael April 25, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Scott, Playing devil's advocate is an exercise in futility, there is much too much at stake for us to just be playing. I dont have an issue with oppositional articulate argument, however, the very points you make in support of the exception are the very reasons why teh exception shuold not be made to begin with. We were all asleep when the lobbyists for the carriers influenced teh legislature to enact a statute that outlawed any health factored reasons for denying their applications. Yes, the elephant in the room is that we are all aware of the health impacts but can not use that argument because it is outlawed and the only remaining quality of life thread we need to hang to is esthetics. As you well pointed out the current state of teh law provides little guidance for teh vague and ambiguous terms "significant gap", and "Least intrisive", do you suggest that Calabsas bear the cost prohibitive burden of taking this issue all teh way to the supreme court for them to define by case law what this means? I am certain you would agree it not a practical solution. Having an outright prohibition retains control where it belongs with the City of Calbasas, not the bootom line, profit hungry carriers who are going to be bombarding the city with applications and filling suits for every denial. They have unlimited amount of resources, hence the current state of the law.
Yael April 25, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Also, maybe in some third world countries it is ok to rule by tyrany and intimidation, we chose to live here because the 1st A affords voicing our opinions. We should not be subject to intimidation tactics by the development staff which would send code enforcement with fabricated violations intended to quiet us down. Much resources were expanded on retaining legal experts that provided their expert opinions as to liability and the options avaiable, outright prohibition was not ruled out. The expert than incurred much wrath for his conclusions, by none others than they ones placed at the gaurding post, the development staff, but non the less, he adopted by teh city as their expert, only to water down his opinion to the only one acceptable to the development staff, i.e. an exception. Having the exception, no matter what language is adopted, restrictive or otherwise, will only result in the very thing we want to avoid, litigation. Up and down teh courts of appeal.
Yael April 25, 2012 at 05:09 PM
If you live in an area that has quality issues reception, enjoy the view, I am certain it is breath taking. Consider other options such as land line. I have three mobile phone with three different carriers because my job demands avaiability, and I have a land line. The cost of these is a fraction of what I would have to pay to defend against corporate america crashing down the court house, and in Calabasas charter provides interenet service faster than any of teh mobile carriers. I dont work for teh industry and have no interest in their bottom line. I enjoy the very benefits they provide and supplement it with other solutions because in balancing between opening teh flood gate and the quality of life I enjoy in Calabasas, I choose life, every single time.
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 05:12 PM
@Steve - All true, indeed. We agree. What it also WILL NOT do is help provide cellular coverage for the hundreds of families that don't have it at their residences. While I am deeply concerned about the environment and, to be sure, my property values, in every situation there needs to be a reasonable compromise that offers some of what every party wants. That's what compromise and life in a community is all about, right? While I'm not as familiar with the complete ordinance process as you are the end result does appear to leave a lot of people dissatisfied.
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 05:20 PM
@Yael - I respect your perspective and have been enjoying my view for 20+ years here. That, however, has nothing to do with my inability to receive the same services as other members of the community. I obey the laws, pay taxes and support the community just as others do and would like to be afforded the same services - especially when the cellular carriers are willing to incur the expense to provide it. The choice of landlines, VoIP services, etc., is wonderful. Cellular service is one of those choices, too. If I were to insist that you shouldn't have landline service because I didn't want a telephone pole disrupting my view that wouldn't be fair or reasonable to you. There's a balance to be struck here. And let's be clear about something - we're not talking about a hundred new 200-foot cell towers here. The sites that are proposed are quite stealthy and look like lamp posts or other items that blend visually with the local scenery. Nobody wants to inundated with towers that look like a field of windmills at an energy farm but the occasional tower that provides coverage in areas that don't have it now isn't a wholesale change to the environment. Extreme positions at either end don't work for a community. There needs to be compromise.
Steve April 25, 2012 at 05:24 PM
I also, am not anti-tech. There is a way to provide and preserve. This new ordinance will provide at the cost of preservation. But then again, I guess it's a damn shame if the cell providers have to work a little smarter to provide.
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 05:29 PM
@Yael - While it may be an exercise in futility it is also an exercise of my First Amendment rights as you so correctly point out in your next post. We should avoid the issue of health concerns here because unless you intend to lobby Congress and the FCC to change the law it is a de facto non-issue, regardless of what your personal beliefs may be. I do not recommend that Calabasas incur the expense of determining "significant gaps" in coverage. Gaps either exist or they don't and coverage maps aren't accurate. Like a weather map they can show the general climate but not specifically how it's going to be in one community or cluster of homes. One last point - these "profit hungry carriers" you reference can only make a profit one way… if people buy their services. Do you think that carriers would want to randomly install towers at a cost of $500K each unless there was a demand for the service? No, they would not. Unless someone who could not use the service now was going to be able to use the service after the tower was installed it wouldn't make any business sense for them to install additional sites. There are middle-ground solutions here and your opinion, clearly stated, is that it should be a binary "none" - an interesting position given that your next post indicates an abhorrence of rule by "tyranny and intimidation." If a binary all-or-none rule isn't tyrannical, what is?
Liat Samouhi April 25, 2012 at 05:46 PM
The good news is that as Calabasas residents, I believe, we all share in our mutual interest for cell phone coverage. The good news is that to date, carriers have been able to provide Calabasas residents with such without intruding on our residential and open space areas. I agree with you, Scott, that extreme positions at either end is not the solution. It is not extreme to strike a balance between encouraging new and efficient technology and preservation of our land uses in a manner that is consistent with the values, plans, goals and policies of our City . I understand from our previous discussions that you live in a gated community that could not secure the necessary vote of its membership to allow for installations there. To try and supercede that majority opinion is disingenuous. Perhaps you are in the minority and should consider getting a booster for your home. You also chose to live in a gated community and if you read the letters of the many dissatisfied, you will see in that residents who choose to do so make a well informed and intentional decision to do so with added restrictions. I would add that several proposals around your area were opposed by your neighbors. As such, I am not sure what 100s of families you purport to represent. More importantly, and to get back to the facts, this is not about cell phone coverage. The strong presumption is against prohibiting or having the effect of prohibiting personal wireless service within our City.
Liat Samouhi April 25, 2012 at 05:56 PM
This is about local control. With your purported engineering background, I am sure you know that coverage can be achieved in a neighborhood without physically placing the antenna or facilities within it. There are other options. Also, your background must lend you the knowledge that capacity is a different issue and that there is a test for that called an erlang test. Also, you must be aware that new legislation allows for the upgrading, modification and co-location of existing facilities, of which we have 60+ (some of which include multiple panel antenna.) Again, I believe our interests are mutual when it comes to cell phone coverage. Striking a balance is exactly what we are after.
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 06:12 PM
@Liat - Nice to see you here as it's always good to have a voice of reason join the debate. A couple of points - I do *not* have an engineering degree and have made that clear previously. What I know is what I've learned - and taught - through my years in the industry (anyone wanting to know what I've written can visit my blog at TheWirelessWizard.com). I absolutely concur that coverage can be attained without having a cell site in the local neighborhood - which is precisely why your earlier point about my community having voted down an installation within the gates isn't really relevant. Moreover, as I'm sure you can affirm, the lack of votes in favor of something isn't the same thing as voting against it. Ambivalence and complacency have a strong inertial effect. That said, however, contrary to your comment, to me the main issue absolutely *is* the coverage. A community without ubiquitous cellular coverage puts its citizens at a disadvantage. Is it fair that some people who have coverage should vote down the ability of others to get it?
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 06:13 PM
@Liat - Continued… To overcome the limitations I have had a booster in my house for years. That doesn't however, provide coverage from 50' outside of my house to all the way down Parkway Calabasas until I'm within sight of the 101. By the way, capacity is an issue but erlang tests are largely irrelevant to data channels. The erlang Grade of Service references call capacity, not data capacity. The definition of Erlang is: "A measure of telephone traffic load on a multi-channel route, effectively the mean number of simultaneous calls." Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/erlang#ixzz1t4oM8nsQ Data is what is driving the need for additional cells far more than voice. We text, tweet, Facebook and browse far more than call.
Scott G. April 25, 2012 at 06:22 PM
@ Everyone… Thank you all for a vigorous and civilized discussion. I'll be signing off now (alas, some "day job" work must be done) and will try to make it to the council meeting tonight. I encourage any of you that don't know me to introduce yourselves. I find that when the anonymity of online discussions is removed it helps people work together better. In the end I believe that we all want the best for our great community. Reasonable minds can differ about what that means but our long-term interests are the same in that regard. Whether one favors more coverage or more restrictions doesn't make us all that different. Let's continue to try to find compromise and eventually we'll reach a point where we are all at least somewhat satisfied. Scott
Carol Elliott April 25, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Tonight's decision will be a definitive referendum on just where each of the City Council members stand on whether they truly want to serve the needs and rights of their constituents or not! To protect open space or not! To protect residential areas or not!
Liat Samouhi April 25, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Scott, To turn this into whether or not one favors more coverage or more restrictions, as I see it, is misleading. I myself enjoy the benefits of my iPhone as do my neighbors. First off, the City is not in the business of providing cell phone coverage. The carriers are. The City's job is to not prohibit the provision of wireless facilties in a manner that is consistent with its plans and purpose for preservation of its land uses. And, that is a balance that can be struck. I understand your frustration with your drive from your house to all the way down Parkway Calabasas until you're within sight of the 101. My understanding, once again, is that when proposals for installions within the public right of way in your area (outside of gated communities) were made, your neighbors fought them. I do not believe that such installations are prohibited there nor are we proposing that they be.
Steve April 25, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Well said Carol.
ChangeatCalabasasCityHall April 25, 2012 at 08:47 PM
"Tonight's decision will be a definitive referendum on just where each of the City Council members stand on whether they truly want to serve the needs and rights of their constituents or not! To protect open space or not! To protect residential areas or not!" - well said! ...all the campaign promises....kept or not? The question is not can they do it (which they surely will be told they cannot). The question is will they do it. Agoura Hills did it. Are they not governed by the same state and federal laws as Calabasas? Read their staff responses to CALWA and AT&T posted on the City website!!!! Tonight's definitive referendum will be turned to to when the next batch of campaign promises are made!
Liat Samouhi April 25, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Scott, nice to see you here as well. What I am saying is that coverage and preservation of land use can go hand in hand. To say that it is either or is to try to instill fear in people that they will not have coverage if our City exercises its power and responsibility to ensure that the deployment of the technology is done so in a reasonable, rational and organized manner. That is what high school students apparently are being told by coaches who also serve as leaders, I am told. To encourage people to come to City Hall to complain about their coverage is not only disingenuous but also not what the ordinance is about. Again, the strong presumption is against prohibiting or having the effect of prohibiting the provision of wireless service within our City. Preservation of land uses as pertains to the placement of these facilities is what is being considered in doing that. "ubiquitous" cellular coverage is not what the city is required to permit. While it may choose to in some cases for economic growth, especially in its commercial districts, it is not required to under federal law. Year after year, proposal after proposal, when carriers have attempted to place their infrastructure within, adjacent or in close proximity to residential areas including their surrounding open space residents and/or entire communities have unanimously and unequivocally opposed them. Calabassa offers its residents many advantages which seem to override that of "ubiquitous" coverage.


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