Frustration levels for both the City Council and the Public ran high during the Coronado City Council meeting of Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Legislation enacted by both the federal and state governments continues to have a negative impact on the city and the council is powerless to prevent it.
During the previous council meeting May 7, the topic was a state-mandated new housing allotment that could add between 1,100 and 1,800 units to the city over an eight-year span. It would be the city’s responsibility to initiate the construction of the housing.
At the May 21 meeting, the issue was the placement of communications poles for 4G cellphone service at four locations in Coronado. Due to recent legislation passed in both Washington, D.C. and Sacramento, cities throughout California and the nation cannot delay, restrict or prevent the installation of the poles, several of which in Coronado are 43 feet in height. The same poles could eventually be converted to become a 5G wireless communications facility (WCF), the official designation of the pole itself and the electronic cannister array on the top of the poles.
There were four related agenda items, all dealing with the installation of poles in alley rights-of-way adjacent to 1145 F Avenue, 956 Orange Avenue, 411 D Avenue and 541 Ocean Boulevard. Since the principles governing the topic were the same in all four cases, and all of the requests were filed by a single vendor AT&T, they were combined into one agenda item.
Coronado City Attorney Johanna Canlas said, “At both the federal and state levels, communications are a priority. From federal to the state, what is left is cities don’t have any discretion (on applications to install WCFs) outside of the design. Technology is a prime factor in the economy of the country. The city cannot deny the use of the public right-of-way. The city council took action last summer and we knew this was coming. The city can’t discriminate among carriers, they are all provided the same access. We encourage co-location (WCFs from more than one company on a pole). In our particular case, we have location standards and our No.1 preferred locations are in alleys. They are less obtrusive and the WCFs can be camouflaged.”
Canlas later added there is no compensation for the City of Coronado from the installation for the WCFs. “Local governments can only recoup cost recovery on the time spent to process the application,” Canlas explained. “The city has no role in the location of the poles. We got as crafty as we could with our ordinance, but moratoriums are illegal. A September order of the Federal Communications Commission abolishes location options.”
Canlas noted other cities and municipalities aren’t happy with the federal or state legislation on the subject. “There are efforts to challenge the FCC. There was a case filed in Portland against the FCC. It is going slowly and there may be a ruling in 2020, which will likely be appealed and taken to the Supreme Court. Cities aren’t taking this lying down. We should encourage lawmakers to take action at the state and federal levels.”
Until there is a final disposition on the Portland vs. FCC Suit, things look pretty grim for municipalities on the legal front. Canlas said, “No cities have prevailed since the September 2018 FCC order. There is no case law and given that current status of the law, cities have no chance of winning.”
After the city council had a chance to hear the staff report, which recommended approving the applications, 16 residents addressed the council, and all spoke against the applications. Potential health effects of the 5G technology, which is coming in the immediate future, was a primary concern. Unfortunately, federal legislation specifically preempts the consideration of health effects as a reason to deny installation of WCF’s.
After the public input concluded, the city council wrestled with how to approach the issue. Mayor Richard Bailey said, “If we denied these applications, we would be sued and responsible for paying their legal fees. The public, this council and the city attorney are all on the same side. We hear you. We didn’t ask for the antennas (WCFs) to be installed. We didn’t want that. The state has allowed them to do that. The best decisions are made at the local level and you have five representatives responsive to your concerns. The state stripped us of local control and forces us to make a decision against the wishes of the community. It’s a no-win situation for us. We are all equally frustrated with the actions of Sacramento and Washington, D.C.”
What followed was a series of three related motions, with the first proposed by Bailey. It included an invitation for a second appearance from Telecom Law Firm P.C. Partner Dr. Jonathan Kramer to address the council. And there would be a request to have a representative of AT&T appear at the next meeting to discuss implementation of the WCFs. That motion passed 5-0.
The second motion was a direction from the City Council to City Staff to evaluate radiation emissions from WCFs, identify consultants who could perform the work, identify costs and create a timeline. That motion passed 5-0. The third motion was to accept the staff recommendation to permit the installation of the towers, which passed 4-1 with Councilmember Bill Sandke voting against the motion. Immediately after the vote was taken, a visibly upset Bailey called for a five-minute recess of the meeting.
The other major discussion point at the meeting was direction from the Council to Staff regarding a lingering capital improvement project of the city, to address the crowding on the Ocean Boulevard sidewalk, particularly during the summer. Staff outlined a variety of options including moving the existing rocks, which did not meet with anyone’s approval. The other end of the spectrum called for moving the ‘street furniture,’ which is defined as benches, streetlights, trash receptacles, and benches, into the rocks. The middle ground was expanding the sidewalk two feet to the east, which was projected to cost $1.3 million. The selling points of the latter concept were that there was limited risk, and it would be a standard construction project, with no impact on parking. The negative element is the project would require Coastal Commission acceptance, which City Engineer Ed Walton said was, “Another step to go through.” Walton explained the Coastal Commission comes into play due to the size and area of the construction.
The council was divided on the issue, which was reflected in the fact that two motions died for the lack of a second. After a couple of attempts were made at another motion, City Manager Blair King recapped what he thought the council was trying to achieve. He said, “The basic project is moving the curb out two feet to the east and in addition, relocating the streetlights, benches and trash receptacles into the rock revetment area. And if possible, create some form of pedestrian bulb outs.” The total cost of project would be approximately $1.65 million.
In other Council actions:
Coronado Police Chief Chuck Kaye presented a report to the council that reflected the city is having fewer traffic injury accidents, which may be tied to increased enforcement. King added, “The SANDAG crime statistics are out and during the last reporting period Coronado is the safest community in San Diego County.”
A public protest hearing for Coronado Tourism Improvement Districts I and II passed with no protests filed by any of the four member hotels. The staff recommendation to extend the districts passed 4-0 with Sandke recusing himself due to his business interests at the Hotel Del Coronado.
By a 4-0 vote, with Councilmember Marvin Heinze recused from the deliberations, the council overturned the Historic Resource Commission’s finding that the residence located at 500 Palm Avenue was historic. Councilmember Whitney Benzian said of the smallish Spanish style home, a work of architect Oscar Dorman, “Not all works are notable works.”
Via a 5-0 vote, the Council denied a lot line adjustment for the single family residences located at 577 B Avenue and 1307 Sixth Street, which have common ownership. The properties are currently considered to be legal and non-conforming. The request was to move 300 square feet of land from one parcel to the other. Heinze said, “We are a community of laws and we can’t increase non-conformity. Their goal is notable, but I don’t think we can grant this.” Councilmember Mike Donovan said, “They can achieve their goal by placing an easement in the contract when they sell the properties.”
The last piece of business of the three hour and 42-minute meeting, minus 18 minutes of recess time, was approving a Nixle Public Notification Policy. The challenge is to balance dispensing useable information to the public, without making the notifications onerous to those who receive it. The vote was 5-0 in favor of the staff recommendation.
The next meeting of the Coronado City Council will be held Tuesday, June 4, 2019, at 4 p.m. City Council meetings are held at City Hall, located at 1825 Strand Way in Coronado.