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Supervisors approve new telecommunication ordinance changes in 3-1 vote

While citizens still attempted to sway individual decisions of members of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on the final vote on a telecommunication ordinance change, the vote had the same outcome as a week earlier.

Supervisors Sherrie Thrall, Jeff Engel and Michael Sanchez stood by their decisions to support changes as drafted by members of the Plumas County Planning Commission. Supervisor Lori Simpson voted no. Supervisor Kevin Goss was absent. His was the other no vote during the public hearing Jan. 15.

Simpson said she continued to have concerns about the ordinance and wants someone to keep an eye on building permits and other processes required when anyone wants to erect a tower for telecom purposes.

Citizens speak

“Where are the people who want it?” asked Josh Hart, spokesperson for Plumas Residents for Safer Telecom. He was referring to the lack of much response by those supporting the ordinance.

Hart has spearheaded efforts to get planning commissioners and supervisors to understand the importance of carefully considering the impact of what he sees as rushing ahead with the ordinance. He strongly believes most officials are not considering the impact of telecommunications on residents, wildlife, health, scenic values and other considerations as they approve the new ordinance change.

Hart said he tried to work with commissioners during required workshops during the planning phase, adding that while commissioners allowed telecom representatives almost unlimited input into the planning phase, he was shut down. Hart said on numerous public occasions that his right to participate as a citizen and as a representative of a group of concerned residents was denied.

While Hart doesn’t deny cell phone use needs, and understands that some regulation must be in place to curb tower construction that now only requires a building permit, he pushes officials to realize that there is a lot more to consider.

“You should not approve this ordinance,” he told supervisors once again Jan. 22. He said there are no teeth or consequences in the ordinance.

Piers Strailey, president of the Plumas Audubon Society Board of Directors, was a new voice before the board.

Strailey said that the society “promotes understanding, appreciation and protection of the biodiversity of the Feather River region through education, research, and the restoration and conservation of natural ecosystems.”

Birds are essential to the society’s efforts to sustain environmental health, Strailey said from a prepared statement. “But other wildlife, and people, necessarily encounter the same dangers and also need protection,” he said.

“It is in that context, and on behalf of the Plumas Audubon’s staff, governing board, and many members, that I implore you to reject the current proposed telecom ordinance and allow time for some much-needed, practical revisions,” he told the board.

Strailey said that the ordinance fails to regulate telecom towers. More than 240 bird species are at mortality risk from the structures, guylines, tower lights that disorient birds and the threat of radiation exposure. “Radiation side effects include nest abandonment, heart attacks, plumage deterioration, and death,” Strailey stated.

He added that an estimated 6.8 million birds die every year because of communication towers and their effects.

Strailey said that people are intelligent, but not necessarily forward thinking. “The need for short-term answers can lead to long-term folly and regret.”

He said that he understands the county must have an ordinance to have meaningful control. He also understands that economics is a key factor and that people need faster and more reliable internet services. But he questions how safe, reliable and durable the technology is that is being accepted and promoted in the ordinance before supervisors.

Strailey went on to encourage supervisors to consider common-sense provisions. These include tower height and location, and safety measures to minimize injury and mortality to wildlife, including birds. He also included aesthetics and setbacks from residences and public buildings be included in the process without taking much more time for consideration.

“Can that be done?” he asked. “The answer to that question needs to be yes, but that cannot be realized by approving the existing proposal today. Please allow time for a better, wiser ordinance to be finalized.”

Bob Marshall, president of Plumas Sierra Rural Electric, which has a telecom section, encouraged Supervisors to approve the draft ordinance.

When looking at 5G, Marshall said that it’s an urban solution for an urban problem. He said he didn’t see it coming to the area for many years. “We don’t support AT&T,” he said about the big companies.

Discussion

Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson was asked by the board to share his views on the ordinance.

He said that people wanting to put up a tower still have to get a building permit and now go through a process for a use permit. Use permits require studies by the planning department.

Supervisor Lori Simpson said that more recently she did her own research on the situation. She also turned to California State Association of Counties, commonly known as CSAC, for information. That organization is paying close attention and favors local control, not a blanket policy for everyone.

For now 5G and similar telecom issues are tied up in court. First, a suit brought by numerous California cities and counties went to the Tenth District Court of Appeal, but that was moved over to the Ninth District Court of Appeal, Simpson said.

As he was preparing to leave the meeting, Hart said to supervisors that they were a “captured audience,” by big telecom businesses just like the FCC and California Public Utilities Commission.

Following the meeting Hart stated, “One important item to note is that the exemption for wireless facilities under 35 feet applies to 4G and 5G and whatever G they want to install. In other words, even if 5G were years off, they could install 4G small cells in neighborhoods 10 feet from people’s homes with no notification or planning review.”

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