by Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Neighbors of the San Carlos Rec Center showed up to the Oct. 14 meeting of the Navajo Community Planners (NCPI) to voice concerns over proposed cell towers they say were green-lighted by the city with little public discussion.
The cell towers would be attached to 75-foot tall lights that would illuminate the field at the Rec Center for nighttime activities.
A vote on whether or not to approve the project by NCPI was postponed because no representative from San Diego Parks and Recreation was present at the meeting to answer questions about the tower project at the Rec Center.
According to T-Mobile’s representative Jerrod Ploof, who presented the project at the NPCI meeting, the Rec Center was not the company’s first choice. T-Mobile first looked at putting the cellular stations up on the water towers overlooking State Route 125. When that fell through, the company looked at building cell tower lights at the Pershing School. “They wanted the lights,” said Ploof, adding that Pershing did not deny the request to build the towers but San Diego Unified School District has a moratorium on new towers. Also, Pershing has expensive fake turf in its field that would be ruined by a construction project.
The Rec Center neighbors voiced their own concerns about what might be ruined by the proposed lights and cellular towers.
Dan Staberg lives across from the park at the Rec Center and will be able to see the towers from his home if they are built. “Why do they have to be so tall?,” he asked at the meeting.
Jonie McCauley echoed the concern that the towers would be “too darn high.”
Chuck Carter worries what effect the towers will have on the real estate market in the area. “T-Mobile gets their towers and I get lower property values,” he said.
Emma Young Walker wondered about the safety of cell towers near a place where children play. “I’m shocked,” she said. “Can this be legal? Cell towers near children in a park?”
David Fusco, a local Little League board member, wondered about the effectiveness of the lights saying that the planned layout would do nothing for sports like baseball. “Seventy-five feet up, those lights won’t be good for anything but playing Frisbee.”
Ploof said the lights were designed for playing soccer at night, adding that the layout of building the lights 200-feet apart was by design for the lighting and not a need of the cell towers but that the lights have to be that tall because the cell antennas need the elevation to attain the coverage area needed for T-Mobile customers in the area.
Construction for the project would only take two months from start to finish, Ploof said.
However, it is unclear when the project would go up for a vote by the city, let alone begin construction. Usually, the city waits for a yes or no recommendation from local planning groups before deciding to allow a building project and because the NCPI is waiting to speak to someone from the Parks Department before giving a recommendation, the process is at a standstill.
And it appears that won’t be changing anytime soon. According to a statement from San Diego Public Information Officer Timothy Graham, “Park and Recreation Department staff are not planning to attend an NPCI meeting regarding this project as it is not a park development project and do not have specific input or recommendations regarding the project.” According to the statement, the presentation at the Oct. 14 meeting by T-Mobile should be sufficient enough for NPCI to make its recommendation.
San Carlos Recreation Council Chairperson John Pilch said he is frustrated that the Parks Department won’t answer the SCRC’s or the NCPI’s questions. “Nobody at Parks and Rec is talking,” he said, adding that it seemed to him the department was attempting to “stifle the neighbors’” complaints about the project.
The city maintains it is policy to not interfere in the review process and maintain a “neutral position” for all private development projects submitted to the city, except for providing “input regarding the installation of the project as it relates to potential impacts on park operations.”
The city’s statement also rejects the notion that it is not answering questions, adding that “the Development Project Manager and their contact information is included in the public notice for these projects and is always available to answer questions about the project.”
But Pilch said there are specific questions SCRC has about the impact of the lights and they do relate to park operations, such as –– how late will the lights be on? Will the Rec Center be hosting sports practices in the evenings now? How is the money from renting the Rec Center at nights going to be divided?
If the Parks Department won’t answer the questions at a meeting, NCPI or SCRC can’t block the towers from being built, but it can give a negative recommendation for the project before it goes in front of the city planning commission.
Although Pilch said he is not necessarily for or against the project, he would give a no recommendation as of now just because the Parks Department has avoided sending someone to speak to the community.
If the planning commission sees a no recommendation from the community, it will want to know why, Pilch said. The neighbors of the Rec Center will also have a chance to voice their concerns at any planning meeting that discusses the T-Mobile light towers, although Pilch said the neighbors will have to have better arguments than the ones they have been using to support their case against the cell tower project.
“They should have more than just ‘they’re ugly’ and ‘they’re a health hazard,’” he said, adding that the Telecom Act of 1996 precludes decisions on cell towers based on perceived health hazards alone and there has been no real proof that cell towers are dangerous.
One of the positives of the project is that the city will get $38,000 from T-Mobile for building the site. Pilch said the deal would split the money 50-50 between the Parks Department and the city’s general fund. “We want a better split for the Parks Department and more of that money to go to San Carlos Rec,” Pilch said.
In the meantime, a yes or no recommendation vote is only waiting on someone from Parks to appear at a meeting to answer the community’s questions.
“This is the first time I’ve ever run into this,” Pilch said about the Parks Department’s absence from community meetings involving a project it stamped for approval. The Parks Department will have an opportunity to show up, answer questions and allow a recommendation vote to happen when NCPI meets again on Dec. 9.
–Write to Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.