Cell-phone companies want more antennae in parks

City to entertain proposals from Sprint and T-Mobile May 12

The City of San Diego continues to lease public park space to cell-phone companies as attorneys for the city prepare to defend the practice in court.

On May 12, planning commissioners will consider a proposal from Sprint to remove three antennae affixed to flag poles at the Canyonside Recreation Center in Rancho Peñasquitos and install a 45-foot-tall faux eucalyptus tree that conceals 12 antennae and 24 remote radio units.

That same day, commissioners will consider whether to approve a proposal from T-Mobile to install two 70-foot-tall light poles, with three antennae affixed to each pole, at Linda Vista Park near the University of San Diego. The cables running from the poles will lead to a 288-square-foot outdoor enclosure.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the city are prepping for a June 3 trial in a lawsuit filed by a group of residents that says the city is breaking the law by leasing public land to private companies.

The group of residents that filed the lawsuit became involved after learning of a proposal from AT&T to build a wireless facility at Cliffridge Park in La Jolla. After researching the issue, they became aware of dozens of similar leases at public parks, such as Ridgewood Park in Rancho Bernardo.

During the course of the past ten years, the city has grown comfortable with renting out park space to cell-phone companies. As reported by the Reader, the city has entered into more than 30 such agreements, which generate over one million dollars in revenue annually.

Residents against the selling of park space to cell companies point to a specific passage in San Diego's city charter that 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."

According to Craig Sherman, the attorney representing the residents, the city is denying any wrongdoing.

"I believe a successful lawsuit by my client Don't Cell Our Parks will serve as precedent to stop the city from allowing commercial and non-recreational uses in San Diego's park spaces."

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Without commenting on the legal merits of this case, I find it interesting that Sprint wants more antennae. Sprint seems to be fading from the scene. Recently Sprint gave up an antenna in Vista, on the top of the hill in Brengle Terrace Park. Nobody seemed to mind when it was placed in the botanical garden, and the revenue was welcome. As to why Sprint abandoned that spot and yet wants more in San Diego is a mystery.

There's a giant retractable one in Belmont Park they don't even try to hide...It really messes up my view of the ocean...but this lawsuit is good news...hope to see it gone, soon.

If the citizens behind "Don't Cell Our Parks" prevail in court, I would not be surprised to see the City Charter changed to allow this exploitation to continue. But first things first, and I wish the community groups well as they try to protect our kids playing in public greenspace.

Of course Sprint and T-Mobil want more antennas as they are the worst providers of cell service ever. A friend of mine switched to T-Mobil. He is paying half the price as he was with Verizon but, as he says, he gets half the calls.

It is a little known fact that there are TWO types of city parks: dedicated and designated. Dedicated parks are protected by the city charter and formed by city council resolution. Designated parks have no protection. They are simply pieces of land owned by the city which they have chosen to use as a park at this point in time, but could make a different decision, such as build a cell tower or a building tomorrow. Recent parks are all designated. Earlier parks are dedicated, restricting park use. Cliffridge Park is dedicated by city council. It is protected. The city does not provide a list of which parks are protected and which are designated so it takes a little research. I should add that Mission Bay Park is a special case within the city charter, and obviously, its use is less restricted, with hotels, bars, and other commercial uses, but its uses are still defined in the city charter and enforceable. .

You point out the sort of hairsplitting that goes on in San Diego. At any time, I doubt that the city knows exactly what kind of park each one represents. But it appears that for a long time, the city and the council had been hedging its bets about parks, and wanting to keep its options open in regard to alternative uses or outright sale of such parks. Or maybe at the time that many of those parks were set aside in new developments, the bureaucracy just didn't bother to take them to the council for dedication. Who knows? Much of this goes back decades.

But nowadays, the city bureaucracy seems very able to use any small exception to allow things that would be otherwise forbidden.

Personally, I have little problem with the towers if they are placed unobtrusively. We all are dependent upon broadband cell service, and in many areas, the spots for towers are limited. If you want good cell service, there are prices to be paid. One of those is some unattractive towers.

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