In a public hearing concerning the future of telecommunications in Plumas County members of the Board of Supervisors voted three to two in favor of an ordinance submitted by the county Planning Commission.
That vote came during the afternoon session of the regular supervisors meeting Jan. 15. A second vote was scheduled for yesterday, Jan. 22.
Supervisors Sherrie Thrall, Jeff Engel and Michael Sanchez voted in favor of the ordinance as it now stands. Supervisors Lori Simpson and Kevin Goss voted against it.
Simpson persistently recommended that they must put teeth into the ordinance to give the county more power to control activities by those planning to install towers.
Goss said he favored wired communications.
Although many issues were discussed in the hearing by the public and supervisors, one major concern kept surfacing. Plumas County does not now have an ordinance against cell towers. A simple building permit is all that’s needed and anyone who wants one is eligible.
That concern was front and center when a new AT&T tower went up in Chilcoot just weeks ago. It’s believed others are slated for the near future in the Beckwourth area and in Cromberg.
Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson said the owner of the tower did it through a building permit. Although Wilson is not the director of the building department he is aware of the current permit process, he said.
Public hearing process
Sanchez laid out the ground rules for public comment.
Sanchez said the planner would be heard from, then the public and finally supervisors would speak.
He said that anyone from the public was allowed to speak for up to three minutes.
Sanchez said that no one could concede or yield time to another speaker to allow that individual to present longer. He said this was not the time for a debate or discussions. That time was during the planning commission’s 21 workshops that were held from July 2017 until commissioners approved the draft ordinance in the fall 2018. It was then sent on to supervisors to consider.
Sanchez explained that supervisors, in their capacity as the Board of Equalization, formed their opinions based on the general good of the entire county.
Sanchez also announced the ordinance would amend Title 9 by adding Article 41, known as Telecommunications, and Article 6.5, known as Zoning Clearance Certificate, to Chapter 2 of Title 9 of the Plumas County Code.
Wilson introduced Plumas County Planner Tim Evans to the board. Wilson said that Evans worked on the ordinance for more than a year.
As background information in a slide presentation, Evans explained that since 1985, Plumas County code has allowed telecommunications facilities in all zones with the exception of what’s determined open space. At this time, telecommunications facilities are exempt from any county regulation.
Under the county’s general plan concerning communications tower location criteria, it is noted that the county needed to provide site development criteria for the county’s zoning code.
Evans pointed out that under Land Use Implementation Measure 18, the county would “Undertake necessary and appropriate zoning code and zoning map changes to promote and encourage the appropriate location for cellular tower facilities and other communication technology infrastructure within the county, utilizing such measures as co-location.”
Evans said that Measure 18 would be fulfilled with the adoption of the new ordinance. This would implement regulations and standards that were not previously regulated. “The proposed ordinance will provide a much needed tool for the county to regulate telecommunications facilities within the limits of federal and state laws,” according to Evans.
In an analysis of the draft ordinance, Evans explained that it would add Article 41 to Chapter 2 of Title 9 of the Plumas County Code, and add Article 6.5 to the Zoning Clearance Certificate to Chapter 2 of Title 9.
The ordinance would also implement a set of standards for design and placement of telecommunications facilities in unincorporated areas of the county. Portola is the county’s only incorporated city.
Under the ordinance, there are two types of permits. These include a Zoning Clearance Certificate and a Special Use Permit. The first is what’s known as a ministerial permit, which is reviewed for compliance with standards set forth in the county code by a public official. The final decision lies with whether the permit applies to the law to the proposed project and “using no discretion or judgment in reaching the decision.”
A Special Use Permit is a discretionary permit and is considered when uses have the potential to be socially, economically or environmentally incompatible with the surrounding area. A discretionary permit does require an analysis of the project by the planning department or other county departments or agencies. This permit requires a public hearing.
“The decision to approve or deny a discretionary permit is based on findings of fact contained in an ordinance or code,” according to Evans’ report.
This draft ordinance, according to planning commissioners has no impact on CEQA regulations.
While the entire ordinance is still available for review at the Planning Department in Quincy, Evans included some of it within his analysis.
Before allowing the public or supervisors to speak, County Counsel Craig Settlemire explained what the board could determine. Before the board was the question whether or not to adopt the ordinance as approved by the planning commission, he said.
The planning commission determined there is a negative CEQA decision, Settlemire pointed out.
And the board could decide to make substantial changes that would have to go back to the Planning Commission; decide that additional information was needed; or take no action at all, Settlemire noted.
Simpson asked if there was a time limit on adopting the ordinance. Wilson said no.
“We could pass it a year from now?” Simpson asked. “That would leave us without a plan,” Wilson said. And without the plan, companies and others could continue to erect towers with only a building permit.
Sanchez asked Wilson about the tower recently erected in Chilcoot. “Boom! It’s up,” Sanchez said. That’s when Wilson explained about the building permit process.
It was Wilson who said he thought the Chilcoot tower was erected by AT&T. “You guys don’t even know?” Simpson challenged him. “It wasn’t submitted to me,” Wilson said. He represents the Planning Department and the permit was from the building department.
Speaking first, longtime Plumas County resident Leslie Mink asked the board not to accept the negative declaration.
Mink said a collaborative effort wasn’t accomplished in developing the ordinance. She added that people weren’t aware of the postings, meaning when workshops were being held. (The planning commission followed legal requirements for announcing workshops in their online agendas. It also posted legal requirements within the local newspapers as legally required.)
“I don’t want to be a guinea pig,” Mink told the board about the harmful effects of additional RF/EMF bombardment in the county. She went on to call the ordinance unconstitutional. She said she and others didn’t want small cells every 2 or 3 feet. She also encouraged the board to take time to sort things out.
Josh Hart, spokesperson for Plumas Residents for Safer Telecom, told the board, “My mother-in-law has a saying that has reassured us when things looked bleak.‘Truth cannot be hidden. Unacknowledged Truth by its very nature is like a bubble under a rock in the ocean — eventually, eventually it will rise to the surface.’”
“And I believe that’s what’s happening in our community — people are waking up to the fact that wireless technology has a dark side, and wired communications are superior in almost every way,” Hart said.
“Our group has been traveling throughout the county from Chilcoot to Chester and talking to residents,” Hart told the board. “We have discovered that far from being a fringe group with radical beliefs, 90 percent agree with our basic position on the telecom ordinance. Residents have become savvy about the downside of wireless telecommunications in their neighborhoods, and this is a new political reality for our county.”
Hart speaks before boards in other counties and has been instrumental in halting other similar projects. Hart sees the FCC as a tool of major businesses and is against federal regulations now effecting telecommunications. “This means you should expect people to be very angry if a cell tower is built right next to their home, and they find out this board could have taken a bolder position and prevented it,” Hart said.
Hart went on to say that the draft ordinance acknowledges the health and safety risks from wireless technology, but then commissioners failed to minimize the risks. These risks include fire, aesthetics, RF radiation damage and property devaluation if a tower is established on or near private property. He said that wireless industrial equipment doesn’t belong in residential areas because of the known and suspected risks. In fact wireless sensitivity has been recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act since 2002. “Failing to accommodate this disability is a violation of federal law,” Hart stated.
Hart went on to ask the board to consider an open process where input was allowed and not shut down in the process. Hart had been at a planning commission workshop in the early stages of the process where he said he wasn’t given equivalent time that representatives of large telecommunications companies were allowed.
“What we don’t need are elected officials who illegally try to block members of the public from speaking for three minutes when industry reps have had hours to speak their minds,” Hart told the board Jan. 15. “What we don’t need are elected officials who tell the public to save their comments for the planning commission hearing, and then don’t even bother to show up to listen to those comments.”
Before and right after his three minutes were up during the recent meeting, Hart said that the California constitution requires that elected officials defend the health and safety of residents. He said this also includes protecting people from the wishes of the “powerful telecom industry.”
Hart also said that the FCC orders blocking local government oversight are also unconstitutional and at some point will be taken up in the courts.
Other speakers took the opportunity to present their views before the board. One man who didn’t identify himself, but who was wearing a T-shirt promoting 5G-free living, encouraged the board to consider Plumas as a sanctuary county of sorts where people could visit or move to where they weren’t bombarded with the highly increased impacts of the latest technology.
Some speakers told the board that the Planning Commission’s draft ordinance didn’t give residents any choice. Now they can choose to use a cell phone or not; turn it or their computers off when not in use, but with potential increases in telecom accessibility those choices are being denied.
One of the few speakers supporting the draft ordinance identified himself as Rich Green from Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications, part of Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Company. Green attacked what opponents said about how the telecom system failed during the Camp Fire of last November in which 86 people died. It has been indicated by Paradise authorities that if more residents had landlines they could have received timely notification to evacuate. It’s been said that as existing towers went down, cell phone access failed, while landline access, which is a wire process, remained working.
Green stated that people aren’t required to have landlines. He added that if people had waited for a call they wouldn’t have made it out of the fire.
Green also said that Hart’s challenges don’t have any scientific reason and at length encouraged members of the board to approve the draft ordinance.
Among others who chose to sway the board, Faith Strailey voiced a number of concerns including the danger to wildlife increased RF/EMF can emit. Strailey encouraged the board to continue with work on the draft ordinance and put a moratorium on more towers.
Although the comments weren’t addressed, Evans listed 22 letters and one phone call from the public during the draft process. While most were from individuals, one was from the Governor’s Office of Planning Research/Navy, and another from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
As the chair of the meeting, Sanchez was careful not to exclude anyone who wanted to participate in the public response portion of the meeting.
Sanchez then closed the public hearing and the Board of Supervisors resumed. The first reading of the ordinance was waived, and it was explained that a role call vote was required.
Comments from supervisors
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said that she had some concerns about the ordinance. She was concerned that people would erect towers that interfered with law enforcement and other emergency communication towers.
She said that 5G is still an emerging technology and that she didn’t know that much about it. “Personally, I’d be really surprised if some people ran right up here and gave us 5G,” she said.
Thrall said that she has concerns about people taking down unused or abandoned towers. She said that she has one right next to her house in the Chester/Lake Almanor area. But the owner of the tower continues to pay the rent on the space so there’s nothing that can be done about it.
Thrall said that considering federal regulations Plumas County residents and official might not have any say if 5G becomes available. “I would rather see us to enact an ordinance that give us some teeth,” she said. She added that she wanted an ordinance that gives them some say.
Supervisor Goss said he had concerns about the number of towers that the railroad was putting up all over the place. He was also aware of a Verizon tower going up on what’s referred to as the grade outside of Greenville.
Goss said he believes in wired technology, but where he lives outside of Greenville, he was told he couldn’t get what he wanted for his computer. He was stuck with dial-up, or Digitalpath or Frontier. He said that when he attempted to get wired communication to his house he was told there was only a certain number of slots and the company wouldn’t add more.
Goss said that he believes there are issues with 5G that we don’t know about. He concluded that Plumas County needed to put some teeth into the ordinance to protect us.
“I’ll be honest,” Simpson admitted. “I didn’t go to one planning commission meeting.”
She said she didn’t research telecommunications until recently.
Simpson said that people were not going to get rid of cell phones. She said she had one, but she also had a landline in her house. But realistically she’s learned first hand that the phone company wasn’t maintaining its landlines. She said that her line developed a problem and the company kept telling her it was in her house. What was finally determined was the line from the pole was deteriorating and the pole itself was full of bees.
The arrival of 5G is just around the corner, Simpson said. While it was on trial in Sacramento, companies said it would be available in other areas by 2020. “2020 is next year, they’re rolling it out,” she added.
Simpson said that she’s concerned that the FCC has limited what counties and cities can legally do. While they had the opportunity, she said they needed to put teeth into the ordinance.
Deputy County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr answered a question from Simpson about a possible suit involving 5G. Stuhr said a lawsuit is now being heard in the 10th District Court of Appeal in Denver.
As Simpson continued she loudly asked supervisors, “Why are we backing down?” She pointed out the county is known for its fights with the federal government.
Engel was next to respond. He chose to read what was in a California Public Utilities Commission newsletter stating they needed to follow FCC regulations.
Sanchez said he took offense to anything that was said about supervisors not doing their homework. He said they must make decisions based on the best interests of everyone. He added that they have to know about many topics concerning the public. He also went on to “set the record straight,” about what happened during a Planning Commission workshop he involved himself with in 2017.
Sanchez also said that he didn’t approve of the scare tactics that he thought Hart and others were using to link wireless exposure to cancer.
Proposed general requirements
Some of the following are the requirements that have concerned some members of the county. These are not the only concerns voiced in the Jan. 15 public hearing.
Sec. 9-2.4108. General Requirements: The general requirements section establishes the general design standards that regulate the design and placement of a telecommunications facility. This are is divided into subsections.
Setback: Sets the general setback requirement of one foot of setback for every foot in facility height plus an additional 25 feet. Setbacks may be reduced depending on the zone if near an existing structure, adjacent owners consent to the reduced distance, or reduced via a variance.
Height: Sets the maximum height for towers at 200 feet in all zones, 150 feet with towers in military training routes, 35 feet in residential zones, 15 feet for roof mounted, 50 feet for two-way radio antennas or television receiving antennas, and 70 feet for two-way radio antennas or television receiving antennas, and 70 feet for amateur radio towers. Additional height may be approved with a variance.
Location Guidelines: Outlines the county requirements for locating telecommunications facilities.
Building and Electrical Codes: Emphasizes telecommunications facilities complying with all applicable building and electrical codes.
Lighting: Requires orienting and shielding lighting to not be intrusive in residential zones, while complying with FAA requirements.
Signs: Establishes that only warning and equipment information signs are permitted.
Aesthetics: Emphasizes reasonable efforts to create facilities that are architecturally similar with existing structures.
Deed Restricts: Establishes not violating deed restrictions.
Vehicle Access: Establishing having a road leading to the facility that meets Plumas County Code.
Accessory Equipment Storage: Requires accessory equipment and supplies to be stored in the telecommunications facility or accessory structure(s).
Federal and State Regulations: Sets forth that all facilities are subject to the applicable authorities’ regulations (FAA, FCC, etc.) and that facilities must remain compliant with those regulations.
Emissions: Requires the submission of a biennial RF/EMF (radio frequency and electromagnetic field) emissions report and facilities remaining complaint with federal standards.
Landscaping: Provides landscaping criteria for facilities in residential zones that have unavoidable visual impacts.
Security and Fencing: Establishes having fencing or other security measures in place to prevent public access.
Maintenance: Sets forth that all facilities shall be maintained on a routine basis.
Cultural Resources: If cultural resources are found, work shall be stopped within 50 feet of the find and the applicable authorities shall be notified.
Proposed ordinance continued
Sec. 9-2.4101. Purpose and intent: Establishes that the proposed ordinance is intended to protect and enhance the health, safety, and welfare of the public, maximize co-located facilities, encourage location of new facilities in non residential areas, encourage providers to locate facilities so as to not interfere with agricultural and air navigation and establish standards suitable to the operating requirements and site conditions of a facility.
Sec. 9-2.4102. Definitions: Sets fourth 40 definitions for the terminology used in the ordinance.
Sec. 9-2.4103. Applicability: Demonstrates that the article applies to all new telecommunications facilities and associated equipment, and is in addition to any applicable state and federal laws or regulations.
Sec. 9-2.4104. Pre-existing Facilities: Sets forth the requirements for facilities constructed prior to the adoption of the ordinance.
Sec. 9-2.4105. Exemptions: The facilities exempt under the proposed ordinance are
– Telecommunications facilities utilized as an accessory to residential or commercial uses, internal business or household communications systems such as two-way radio communication systems, citizen band radio systems, television antennas, radio antennas, and internet antennas if compliant with Section 9-2.4108(a) and (b) of the proposed ordinance.
Telecommunications facilities issued a permit by the California Public Utilities Commission or FCC demonstrating exemption or exemption due to any state or federal law.
Temporary telecommunications facilities providing public information coverage of a news event for a time period no greater than 30 days.
Government-owned communications facilities utilized for a public purpose.
Facilities exempted under federal or state law.
Ordinary maintenance, repair, or replacement of a lawfully establish (including lawful nonconforming) existing telecommunications facility or accessory building that does not result in a substantial change as defined by the ordinance.
Facilities utilized for temporary use during an emergency or natural disaster.
Facilities located in the Timberland Production Zone.
Wireless access points mounted on new poles of any height and mounted at a height of 35 feet or less.
A facility meeting the definition set forth in the ordinance as an “eligible facilities request.”
According to the draft ordinance, these regulations doesn’t apply to facilities operated or leased to any FCC licensed commercial telecommunications provider.
Sec. 9-2.4106. Permits Required: As part of this area, the draft ordinance defines telecommunications facilities as those meeting the definition of facility in Federal Standard 1037C. These facilities or facility are defined as:
A fixed, mobile or transportable structure, including all installed electrical and electronic wiring, cabling and equipment and all supporting structures, such as utility, ground network and electrical supporting structures.
A network-provided service to users or the network operating administration.
A transmission pathway and associated equipment; in a protocol applicable to a data unit, such as a block or frame, an additional item of information or a constraint encoded within the protocol to provide the required control.
A real property entity consisting of one or more of the following: a building, a structure, a utility system, pavement and underlying land.
These facilities include a new tower or pool, pole mounted facilities, building mounted facilities, co-located facilities and pre-existing facilities.
Sec. 9-2.4107. Permit Application Review and Terms: The area discusses the materials required for a zoning clearance certificate and special use permit. It also discusses fees as set by planning and building fee schedules.
Sec. 9-2.4109. Facility Design Standards. Establishes specific standards for specific types of facilities, such as building façade-mounted facilities, roof-mounted facilities, existing pole or tower-mounted facilities, and co-located facilities that the general requirements do not address.
Sec. 9-2.4110. Facility Abandonment, Removal and Remediation: This section complements the performance security required by Sec. 9-2.4107(e) for special use permits. This section establishes how the county deems a facility abandoned and sets forth the documentation required and a timeline that must be followed by an applicant before the county will exercise its rights under the performance security to have the facility removed.
The abandonment section met with criticism by some during the Jan. 15 meeting. It was pointed out that the county has not been having abandoned towers or poles removed.