Archive for June, 2011

Redistricting and The Lines of Fools

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is failing so badly that it makes one long for the good ol’ days when politicians made a decent spectacle of the job. After months of soliciting public input, the Commission threw its sticks up in the air, and drew lines around where they fell. It then published the so-called “1st draft maps” online for all to choke on.

Those who are concerned about breaking up the Santa Monica Mountains area, have no fear. The Redistricting Commission is here! Not only did they ignore your input, they divided the Santa Monica Mountain region into three Senate districts. But the coup d’état was the gerrymandered combination of Thousand Oaks, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, and Bell Canyon with Santa Clarita and the Frasier Park area. Even Sarah Palin on steroids would be challenged to piss off as many people at one shot.

If this is democracy at work, it’s not going to woo the leaders in China into open elections. Help the Redistricting Commission redeem themselves. Visit the California Redistricting Committee for Saving the Santa Monica Mountains where you can conveniently give them advice well worth remembering. In fact, this is the gift that one should continue to give over and again.  Invite your neighbors.  Tell your friends.  What have you got to lose?  Remember to get on this right away, as the Commission closes its doors on public input next Tuesday, June 26.

Temporary Cell Phone Tower Moratorium an Important Step

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

The prominent agenda item in the May 25th Calabasas City Council meeting was community regulation of cell phone towers, dominated by complaints that the City is not doing enough to steer the installation of new transmission towers.  The chamber was packed with citizens concerned with this issue, and no wonder.  According to Ms. Tamuri, Community Development Director, there are 60 cell towers already installed in Calabasas.  And more are coming.

In the course of the meeting, there was substantial disagreement over the degree to which a community can regulate cell tower placement.  However, the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 provides guidelines.  To quote Section 704 (a)(7)(A):

GENERAL AUTHORITY- Except as provided in this paragraph, nothing in this Act shall limit or affect the authority of a State or local government or instrumentality thereof over decisions regarding the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities.

The Act goes on to site the limitations, which in summary says that State or local government:

  • Cannot discriminate among providers
  • Cannot prohibit personal wireless services and
    – will respond to applications in a reasonable time,
    – that requests to deny such services must be supported by substantial evidence,
    – and cannot regulate on the basis of environment effects as long as the facility complies with FCC regulations.
  • Further, any person adversely affected has 30 days to take legal recourse.

To put it simply, the City can’t deny a cell tower willy nilly, but there is wiggle room to push back.  The FCC is interested in growing the number of cell towers, but the FCC does not tie the hands of the public from shaping their placement.

For expert assistance in this area, the City hires the services of Jonathan Kramer, an attorney whose practice it is to guide cities in wireless planning policies.  But in public comment, several citizens expressed strong discontent with Mr. Kramer over his less-than-helpful activity in Calabasas.  This discontent led one unhappy Calabasas citizen to independently hire Andrew Campanelli of New York, an aggressive and well-known attorney who has advised many communities across the country in the creation of effective cell tower ordinances.  Mr. Campanelli spoke during public comment, and was complimented by Mayor James Bozajian, who said he learned more about the City’s rights in Mr. Campanelli’s 3+ minutes than he had learned during the prior year of debate.

Needless to say, the evening didn’t fare well for Mr. Kramer.  Interestingly, it appears that he has a much better reputation for aggressively fighting cell tower placements in other communities.  Perhaps working so closely with City personnel has caused Mr. Kramer to contract a terrible infectious disease that affects his judgement.

Input to the City has not been limited to Mr. Kramer.  Both the Planning Commission and the Communications and Technology Commission (CTC) have reviewed the issue.  Among the lists of recommendations, both Commissions advised the City to place final approval of cell tower placement with the CTC, as shown in Commission documents linked online in the evening’s agenda.  But while Mr. Kramer found himself on a hot seat that evening, the cake went to Ms. Tamuri, who demurely pointed out to the Council that the Commissions “forgot” to recommend that she have final approval.  Of course, the lapse wasn’t by the Commissions.  One of Ms. Tamuri’s endearing qualities is her dedication to herself.

Two important but delicate outcomes came of the meeting:  there is strong desire on the part of the Council to strengthen the City’s cell tower ordinance, and there was support for imposing a moratorium on further approvals of cell tower installations until the cell tower ordinance is revised.

The support for the moratorium is important.  The information provided by Mr. Campanelli says that it is possible to go much further in guiding the placement of cell towers than the City has been doing.  To do so requires a strong ordinance that goes further than the current municipal building code, and a moratorium will provide time to create that ordinance.  A moratorium also has certain political value, as it will send a strong signal to both citizens and wireless communication companies that action is being taken and change is coming.  The large number of citizens who filled the Council chambers deserve this.  But there are legal limits as to how long existing cell tower applications can be delayed, and there is always the question as to how quickly a new ordinance can be created.  The discussion bounced from the replacement of Mr. Kramer and the hiring of a new City consultant (it will take time to do this), to retaining Mr. Kramer and hiring a 2nd consultant to review (deemed to be a faster process).

With so much love towards citizens on the City Council these days, Mr. Gaines could not subtlety hide his dissent, raising objections against the simplest of points related to the cell tower issue.  Notably, Mr. Gaines does not want a moratorium, as he states it will send “a bad signal to the world.”  Presumably the truly bad signal would be to Mr. Gaines’ client James Kay, who owns substantial wireless spectrum in the Los Angeles region.  When it was raised that Mr. Gaines had a conflict of interest and should recuse himself, the City Attorney stepped in to say that the nature of the discussion did not require Mr. Gaines to do so.

The primary challenger to a temporary cell tower moratorium appears to be Mr. Gaines, driven by his professional interests.  However, three Council members will be up for election soon enough, and it is not Mr. Gaines that these Council members need to please.  The right thing for the City Council to do is to impose the moratorium and take the necessary steps to create a strong wireless ordinance for the City.