There was a big article on the front page of the January 6thDaily Courier, “Council approves cellular tower in northwest GP.” www.thedailycourier.com/articles/2011/01/06/community/news01.txt In it, reporter Jim Moore managed to wring every drop of drama out of this hearing in the January 5th meeting–and leave it out. You’d never know, by reading the article, what the real issue was for the Peaceful Pink People who opposed the cell tower. The only way to catch all the drama is to watch it on RVTV Channel 14 (roguetv.org), or on your computer at http://www.grantspassoregon.gov/Index.aspx?page=1449 .
The organizers of the Peaceful Pink People had been out at the Growers’ Market on their last day of the season and elsewhere through December, passing out links to a website on the supposedly awful health effects of cell tower transmissions, and asking people to show up for the meeting: they got a full chamber and about 20 ended up speaking. Their supporters got a shock at the beginning of the land use hearing, when the rules were laid out: they were to speak only to the criteria in the code, and the Council was forbidden to consider health effects, by FCC rule.
(Mayor Murphy also cautioned the supporters of the Pink People that audience demonstrations were forbidden, but failed to point out that applause was a demonstration. After several cautions from the Mayor when applause broke out, Councilor Lily Morgan pointed out that he had not said that clapping is a demonstration, and he finally made it clear.)
The appellants knew the criteria, and they spoke only to the criteria that the Council could consider: that AT&T could not sufficiently mitigate the appearance of the tower; that they could co-locate it on another tower in the area; and that the city code for business parks does not allow any structure over 45 feet.
This made for a lot of dramatic speaking about the possibility of this awful eyesore within sight of an elementary school, a neighborhood, and the freeway exit into town. In public testimony, Gordie De Young pointed out several other tall eyesores within a couple blocks, including an exceedingly tall and ugly sign at a closed gas station on the freeway entrance itself that, it turned out, houses cell antennas, so it can’t be taken down.
AT&T gave the Council several options for mitigating the appearance, one of which was to make the tower only 65 feet rather than 90 feet, not allowing for co-locating future antennas on it as the code prefers; they could add a shroud it to make it look like a fat flag pole, or build it to look like an artificial conifer. (Someone later said that he doesn’t like artificial Christmas trees, and he doesn’t want to see one 65 feet tall in front of his house.) They showed that the towers surrounding the area where they want to improve coverage, on the freeway north and south of the north entrance/exit ramps, would not work for it, and that the tower within the area does not allow for co-location. It was eventually pointed out that city code contemplates that cell towers would certainly be taller than 45 feet and allows them up to 125 feet.
Despite the fact that the Council could not legally consider health effects, several people had come to talk about them and did so, citing their right to free speech. So this writer got up toward the end of public testimony and pointed out that we are bathed in electromagnetic radiation from the sun, including radio waves, that these are radio waves, and we’ve had radio towers blasting for nearly 100 years without ill effects; that towers outside the area where AT&T wants to improve coverage could not work for them; that the contemplated shrouds would only make it more visually intrusive; and that we don’t have free speech in public meetings; we have to stick to agenda items and time limits.
AT&T’s rebuttal pointed out that the appellants hadn’t pointed out any specific co-location towers that could work (essentially asking that AT&T prove a negative) so the appellants had not made their case.
The real drama came in council deliberations and their votes. Councilor Dan DeYoung asked staff if we will be likely to see many more applications for cell towers. Yes we will; there are more electronic devices using them all the time, and only so many can use then at one time.
Chris Woodburn motioned that the tower be approved at 65 feet, not allowing co-location, but somewhat mitigating the eyesore. It got only two votes. The Pink People cheered, against the rules.
Councilor Morgan made a motion to deny the permit; after the City Attorney pointed out that it would be good to state her reasoning, she said that AT&T “hadn’t done enough” to find a better location. De Young gave similar reasoning: “it’s ugly;” it could work better visually elsewhere, maybe the opposite side of 7th Street. This motion got 4 votes for and 4 against; Mayor Murphy broke the tie and killed the motion, saying that “we don’t like the location” is not legal criteria, all of which had been met. The Pink People were confused.
Council President Woodburn was also confused by the votes of Councilors Don Reedy and Jim Williams on his motion, until Reedy pointed out that they wanted the 90 foot option with room for co-locating antennas, or we’d eventually end up with three 65-foot towers instead of one at 90 feet. After some negotiation with mikes off, Woodburn said that he and Rick Riker wouldn’t go for 90, so he made the motion for 65 feet again. Riker seconded; Williams and Reedy went along; the other four voted against, and it passed with the Mayor’s vote.
Jim Moore wrote, “As the tower’s opponents filed out of the Council Chamber, several were wondering aloud if and how they could appeal the council’s decision to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals.” Too late for drama now; the real drama was in the hearing, in what the people came to talk about, but the Council couldn’t legally consider.