If all goes as planned, a cell-phone tower, disguised as a eucalyptus tree, and a 20-foot-by-9-foot concrete enclosure will be placed less than 10 feet from a sidewalk and approximately 300 feet from the nearest home, inside Ridgewood Neighborhood Park in Rancho Peñasquitos.
The proposal has been approved by the city. Construction will begin as soon as a judge renders his decision on whether the City of San Diego should be allowed to lease designated park space to cell-phone companies at a nominal price, and whether they can do so without a public vote, as required by the city charter.
In August, as reported by the Reader, a group of residents known as Don't Cell Our Parks filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego. A judge is expected to hear arguments in August 2016.
Until then, residents living near Ridgewood Park say they’ll continue to speak out against the project and in opposition to San Diego's policy of renting out park space for commercial use.
Some Rancho Peñasquitos residents say they are frustrated by the process and with their councilmember, Mark Kersey, who, they say, has refused to meet or discuss their objections with them. Until now, Kersey has remained silent on the issue due to financial ties between his company, Kersey Strategies, and cable and telecom companies, including AT&T and Verizon. Kersey’s business conducts research for the companies.
Celling San Diego Parks
By 2014, city staff had granted wireless companies 30 permits to build and maintain antennas and enclosures to house electronics on portions of public parkland. A group of Torrey Pines residents became involved after a similar proposal to construct a faux-eucalyptus Tree in Cliffridge Park in La Jolla.
Rancho Peñasquitos residents jumped onboard with Torrey Pines community members, forming Don't Cell Our Parks. The residents say they are against placing towers so close to where children play.
The city is knowingly and purposefully violating San Diego's City Charter, which states, "All real property owned in fee by the City heretofore or hereafter formally dedicated in perpetuity by ordinance of the Council or by statute of the State Legislature for park, recreation or cemetery purposes shall not be used for any but park, recreation or cemetery purposes without such changed use or purpose having been first authorized or later ratified by a vote of two-thirds of the qualified electors of the City voting at an election for such purpose."
Calling on Kersey
While the residents await their August court date, they are sending letters to councilmember Kersey.
"Just because you had to recuse yourself due to financial ties to Verizon, does not mean you should stand by and let such an invasive project be installed in our neighborhood," reads a form letter sent from community members to Kersey.
"I also want to call your attention to the fact that when you enter our neighborhood...the very first thing you will see in the park as you drive down the hill will be the [fake Eucalyptus Tree]."
Continued the letter, "I have never been so disgusted with the cities [sic] total disregard for its citizens.
"This neighborhood has cell services from other providers that have found a way without destroying our park. And yes many of us in this neighborhood feel this is destroying our park and our neighborhood, especially those homes that are in such close proximity.
"I will not be voting for you in the future and I know many people who have stated the same.
"I will never use Verizon and again I also know many who will not use Verizon.
"Last but not least...what the City is doing taking our dedicated parkland is illegal, what does that say about our representative, you, who sits by and does nothing?"
Kersey's spokesperson says the councilmember will continue to remain silent on the issue.
"Councilmember Kersey’s business, Kersey Strategies, has business relationships with both Verizon and AT&T. Per direction from the City Attorney’s Office and the Ethics Commission, [councilmember Kersey] regularly recuses himself from votes related to either company."
The position, however, doesn't sit well with Rancho Peñasquitos resident Alisa Cassell, a member of the Don't Cell Our Parks group.
"What happened to 'For the People by the People'? Our taxes pay for our public schools, and the parks are dedicated to the people and the City Charter states that if dedicated parkland is to be used for any other purpose than a park, the people need to vote.
"Clearly our politicians are forgetting that they are there to serve and protect us."
UPDATE 12/22, 4:45 p.m.
Kersey spokesperson Gina Jacobs says it's not true that the councilman has refused to meet with residents:
This part of your story is inaccurate.
“Some Rancho Peñasquitos residents say they are frustrated by the process and with their councilmember, Mark Kersey, who, they say, has refused to meet or discuss their objections with them.”
Councilman Kersey never received a meeting request from anyone in regards to Ridgewood Park. We did have a representative from our office at the Planning Board meetings where this project was discussed and approved. They relayed the Councilman’s ethical restrictions relating to Verizon when asked by the public, but never were they asked to arrange a meeting with the Councilman himself.
Additionally, even if the Councilman had been able to vote on the issue (or had he met with the residents to hear their objections — which he would have done if they’d asked — he still would not have been able to take a stance because quasi-judicial restrictions related to land use issues prevent him from doing so.