Council vetoes cell tower proposal

The ugly red-and-white cell phone tower erected in a north Chico neighborhood four years ago signaled doom this week for a proposal by the Chico Area Recreation District to attach wireless towers to the baseball field light standards in Hooker Oak Park.

The allowance would have called for amending the city’s ordinance regulating cell tower placement in open spaces such as parks. In 2000 residents protested Pacific Bell’s construction of a tower in the Mariposa neighborhood. But since the tower was located in the county, the city was powerless to stop it. But it did adopt a detailed ordinance strictly restricting them within the city’s jurisdiction.

Last September CARD made its proposal to allow the towers, which serve the thousands of private cell phones used in the Chico area. City Planning Director Kim Seidler pointed out that the CARD proposal did not call for the building of a new tower and would not be within 500 feet of a school or residential area, all restricted by the ordinance.

Mary Cahill, the CARD general manager, said revenue raised by the wireless companies installing the towers would be used to improve the lights at the ball field in Hooker Oak as well as improvements at Community and other parks.

Cahill said the proposal was nothing new, that other California communities were doing the same thing.

However, a stream of opposition to the idea followed Cahill to the lectern to argue against the towers on basis of health issues, aesthetics and fears of weakening the ordinance that some of them had helped create.

“Parks need money, but this wasn’t thought out,” said Harold Carlson, a Mariposa neighborhood resident. “This is just chipping away at the ordinance.”

He told the council that the city was not responsible to make sure “every teenager in Chico can run up a $300-a-year monthly cell phone bill. These [wireless] companies already make a lot of money.”

Other speakers warned of possible health issues connected to radio waves emitted by the towers and that making this exception could lead to the installation of towers in Chico’s beloved Bidwell Park.

When Doug Perske said the council would be opening a Pandora’s Box with the approval, Councilman Dan Herbert pointed out that a use permit would be needed with each new tower attachment.

“We have a chance to disguise a fairly necessary evil,” Herbert said. “I bet there are only about 5 percent of the people here [in the council chambers] who don’t have a cell phone attached to their belts or in their pockets. This is a great opportunity for money for the parks.”

Perske was not swayed, noting a use permit was simply a procedural action.

Herbert moved to approve the request, and Councilman Larry Wahl seconded.

But Councilwomen Ann Schwab and Maureen Kirk voted against the motion, creating a 2-2 tie, which meant it died.

Only four members voted because Councilman Steve Bertagna owns a business that contracts with wireless companies, and Councilman Andy Holcombe and Mayor Scott Gruendl were absent.