The Fallbrook Community Planning Group (FCPG) moved to deny a major use permit on Feb. 17 for an AT&T unmanned telecommunication site on Alta Vista Road, amidst the cheers and applause of residents from the Alta Vista neighborhood.
The permit was to allow a 35-foot faux monopine, which would have consisted of 12 antennas, 24 remote radio units, and four surge protectors. In addition, the facility would also have required a 19-foot, 8-inch by 12-foot, eight-inch equipment shelter with two GPS antennas.
According to the AT&T representative, the residential lot is vacant, and the design for the tree and building would indeed stand out in the neighborhood.
Roy Moosa, public facilities committee chair, stated that the family who owns the lot had plans to build a home at the site, and believed that the tower would work with the home design.
“Residents voiced opposition, especially since it is a rural residential area,” said Moosa. “Installation of the tower would be in direct conflict with surrounding units. In addition, there are no grading plans on file. Based on that, along with the concerns of the neighbors and the lack of landscaping on the lot, we denied the request due to incompatible use, and it passed unanimously.”
Upon receiving notification of the project, several Alta Vista residents banded together in opposition of the tower. Some of the residents stated that the tower would mar their views, while others voiced concerns about sound levels and pollution, and others still raised concern about the legality of having such a tower in their neighborhood. Approximately 65 neighbors attended the FCPG meeting.
During public discussion of the item, Peter Hanna, a 15-year Alta Vista resident, stated he had moved to the Fallbrook area for the quiet charm and village atmosphere. He motioned for other residents who opposed the motion to stand with him and be counted. Residents with him applauded, and held signs protesting the cell tower.
Hanna also presented the board with 200 signatures of Fallbrook residents who were petitioning against the permit.
Melissa Nale, an Alta Vista resident and former planner from Palm Desert with a background in architecture, stood as a representative of the tower’s opposition in her neighborhood.
“All of the neighborhood is in opposition of the proposal,” said Nale. “I researched the parcel, and found it nonconforming to code, as it is in a two-acre minimum development area. In addition, the pad may have been illegally graded. In addition, the noise produced by the generator would not meet the requirements of this zone. The maximum is less than 40 decibels in this zone, and the generator would run at about 78 decibels in times of no power.”
Nale also voiced concern for children living in close proximity to the proposed project.
“Adults are smart enough to stay far enough away, but I’m asking the board to please protect kids from danger,” she said. “I’m also making a call for the board to enhance safety, and minimize the visual impact. This neighborhood is particularly rural, and the pine does not fit in with the character of the community.”
Jack Wood, a FCPG board member clarified Nale’s point regarding the two-acre plot restriction.
“A lot of one-acre plots have been grandfathered lots,” he said. “Don’t be misled into thinking that everything is two acres.”
Elizabeth McCoy, a licensed attorney of 17 years and Fallbrook homeowner also stood in opposition of the tower.
“If there is no grading permit, the project cannot be granted a major use permit,” said McCoy. “In addition, according to the ordinance, the generator must be 15 feet from the property line, which is so far back into the property that there is not enough room to have a septic tank and leach lines, in addition to a house, monopine and equipment. Proposed leach lines would be on top of the electrical tower, and there is no way that would be approved.”
McCoy also raised concerns about hazardous materials and safety issues.
“AT&T must transfer diesel fuel,” she said. “Fuel for the generator must be refilled regularly with a hose. Fuel waste could fall onto the driveway, and runoff is not addressed. The fire department requires that hazardous material must be stored in an equipment shelter, but fuel, batteries and hazardous material cannot be housed in the equipment room. It’s inconsistent on guiding principal.”
McCoy also stated that in order to have a stable pole, grading would need to be corrected.
“There is only a six-foot fill on the original grade,” she said. “A 35-foot would need 10-foot footing, and of the original grading, less than 10 feet would be on original grading. The edge of the pad is additionally unstable.”
“Land use policies state that cell sites must be compatible with the original setting,” continued McCoy. “This is not compatible, and other telecom installations will only increase the size of the mast, issues of safety, and hazardous issues. This is a non-conforming use of a parcel in a nonconforming site and wrong zone.”
The AT&T representative stated that there was a misconception regarding the noise level from the generator and air conditioning units.
“What’s listed is a raw level of noise that is uncontained and not surrounded by a wall” he said. “That is used to see what kind of sound attenuation is required on a project. All projects have a generator and air conditioning within a concrete block wall designed to attenuate noise to meet county noise standard. I know it’s not an issue that will determine the fate of project, but we are required to attenuate the noise levels.”
The representative also stated that once the emergency generators are installed, they are not tested more than once a week.
“I know that Verizon runs their generators for 10 minutes every Wednesday at 10 a.m.,” he said. “Other than that, it doesn’t run unless there is a major power outage. We do have to refuel tanks periodically, but I do not see this as an environment concern. We are required to get a hazardous permit in the county, and we are highly regulated.”
Not all of the Alta Vista residents were in opposition of the site.
Beth Broussard reminded residents how using cell phones has changed the demand for cell sites.
“Everyone refers to cell phone towers as commercial use, but we are using cell phones like it’s a normal public utility,” said Broussard. “It’s an investment for us. I pay it every month expecting that it is going to work. They put cell phone sites up for a reason. When you are trying to make a call and it doesn’t go through, it’s because people have phones, and need more towers. They aren’t popping up because cell phone companies have nothing better to do.”
“Younger residents who are brand new homeowners use their cell phones like a landline,” continued Broussard. “Where I live, we can’t use our cell phone. We have to stand on the road and always have to have a landline.”
“It’s a public safety issue. I like knowing that my children have their phone, and if in an accident, I want to be secure knowing my phone works,” said Broussard. “A lot of people are self-employed in Fallbrook, and we need to go find places where our phones will work. If we have cell towers, the calls would be more reliable. I hope all of you would reconsider the ideal concept of commercial use. We have to find a way to make phones a part of the residential area. A lot of thought went into making the pole a tree. If these are the services we want, we have to make a way to make this all work together.”
“I like to think we all agree on the need for more cell towers,” said Moosa. “The need is more and more increased. The real issue is this particular tower in this particular location.”
The AT&T representative stated that engineers looked at the area in addition to other properties, and had gone with this property as “a last resort.”
“We will still look for coverage in this area, somehow, someway,” he said. “Who knows if it will be on Alta Vista or higher on a hill.”
The representative stated the company may even split the ring, in which two tower sites are used to cover what one cell tower would have.
“We would have to get the budget, and it would take the same amount of equipment on each site,” he said.
Jim Russell, FCPG chair, stated that even if the group chose to deny the permit, the county could still elect to approve it.
Russell explained that the county can use covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) to approve it, and if the county approves it, the neighborhood cannot appeal the permit until after it has been through the administration process.
Eileen Delaney, FCPG board member, stated that the project should be denied solely based on the fact that there were code violations, and grading permits.
Planning group board member Anne Burdick commented on the size and location of the suggested site, stating that it was at the end of a long, windy, and narrow road through mountains.
“It feels so inappropriate,” she said.
Tom Harrington agreed, stating that the density of homes and proximity of the pole would be incompatible for the community.
“The pole would be right in the view-shed of the homes,” he continued. “[The location] is inappropriate for commercial use.”
Moosa moved to deny the motion, stating it was incompatible with the neighborhood and its surrounding community, and that it would be a burden to the road.
The motion passed with one abstention.
Russell reminded opposing individuals that the best way to continue their effort would be to attend the county hearing.
“You need to have a convincing reason,” he said. “The board isn’t putting the cell tower up for little old ladies; it’s for you and me. We need the coverage all over the place.”
According to an email from Marisa Smith, the San Diego Planning and Development Services project manager for the AT&T mobility site on Alta Vista, it is uncertain which direction AT&T wants to go.
“If this project were to continue, it would probably not be ready for hearing until June at the earliest,” said Smith.
Residents would be given approximately 12 to 14 days notice to challenge the project.