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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.