NEVADA CITY, Calif. May 29, 2019 – The Nevada County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a motion of intent to uphold an appeal by neighbors regarding the permitting of a 110-foot-tall monopine telecommunication tower and equipment facility on Wild Life Lane in the You Bet area.
The project, initially applied for in June 2017, was approved by the Zoning Administrator on March 27, 2019. The appeal, filed by six residents in the area, cited four main reasons why the appellant believes the project should be denied: (1) environmental concerns and an inadequate environmental review; (2) potential damage to the unengineered bridge and private road; (3) failure to comply with County ordinances; and (4) the property owner lacked capacity to enter into an agreement, and consent by the property owner was given under duress.
During the lengthy public hearing members of the public reiterated these concerns while representatives from AT&T pointed to the signed contract and their compliance with all county ordinances.
Neither the property owner or their legal counsel were present at the hearing. Members of the public alleged the owner had withdrawn his consent for the project but was afraid of a potential lawsuit by the telecom company that would bankrupt him. In the county’s supporting documentation, the property owners consent is documented: “Planning Department staff contacted the property owner, Michael Stapleton, and verbally confirmed on March 13, 2019, that he has given his authorization for this project to be scheduled for a second hearing on March 27, 2019, to seek approval. Staff asked the property owner to respond to an email, giving authorization for the project directly to the County. On March 20, 2019, Michael sent an email to staff advising to schedule the hearing and stating that he will not oppose the project. Staff also talked to the property owner on May 6, 2019, after the appeal was filed and verified that he still gives consent for the project.” [Source: staff report page 3 of 14]
The Supervisors were receptive to the arguments made by the neighbors, even though they were not focused solely on land use regulations. Enhanced fire danger by the use of one and possibly more generators on the property and the damage caused to the private road were repeatedly cited as major concerns, as well as possible health concerns due to radio frequency emissions from the cell tower. Neighbors also pointed to an existing tower in the area and stated their reception was excellent and they didn’t see the need for another tower close by. There was no member of the public who spoke in favor of the project during the public comment period.
The AT&T representative stated the company was fulfilling their mandate by the FCC to provide service in underserved areas of Nevada County as the winner of an auction held by the regulatory agency. Questioned by the BOS if the company’s legal team had attempted to enforce the contract with the homeowner, she was unable to provide details or connect with their legal team during the Board meeting. She refuted allegations by the neighbors stating “our attorneys do not bully.”
Also in discussion with the BOS, the AT&T representative stated she was responsible for dozes of counties in California and wanted to make sure her area received the benefit of new connectivity. The tower would also serve as a FirstNet tower. FirstNet is a nationwide public-safety broadband network. At this time, vast areas of Nevada County have no or inadequate connectivity for the first responders, including the heavily visited South Yuba canyon. There are no plans by AT&T to remedy the situation to our knowledge.
Supervisor Heidi Hall was not impressed with the responses provided by the company representatives and stated she had been pressured to approve the project. Supervisor Ed Scofield stated in this case he was inclined to side with the appellants, whereas Supervisor Dan Miller was ready to approve the project and deny the appeal. Supervisor Sue Hoeck and Chair Richard Anderson also had misgivings about the project’s possible impacts.
In the end, a motion of intent was adopted to uphold the appeal by a 4-1 vote with Miller voting No. Staff will now have to provide findings supporting the decision and the BOS will vote on a motion at their June 11th meeting.
You can watch the full hearing below.