Different Strokes: Verizon and Resident Group Appeal Small Cell Decision

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Last week, the Sonoma City Council reviewed two appeals regarding planned small cells, one from Verizon Wireless and one from the resident group Sonoma Neighbors for Safe Tech. The Sonoma Index-Tribune reported that Verizon sought to eliminate two conditions the Planning Commission placed on its January 23 decision. 

The conditions included putting transmitters underground and requiring the carrier to apply for another conditional use permit for any transmitter upgrade in power of 25 percent or more, essentially keeping 5G plans in check. The resident group desired to eliminate the Commission’s approval and prevent the small cells from entering the city.

The three proposed small cells have been a point of contention since Verizon announced its plans, with residents concerned over radio frequency emissions and the eventual implementation of 5G. However, according to the Commission, during the public meetings leading up to the January decision, “no information was provided to demonstrate how the public would be ‘incommoded’ as a result of the placement of the three wireless telecommunication facilities other than statements that related to the distressing nature of harmful radio frequency emissions.”  

Regarding the Verizon appeal, Attorney Paul Albritton of Mackenzie & Albritton held that being forced to place technology underground “violates the federal Telecommunications Act as it is not supported by substantial evidence.” Albritton added the request is infeasible due to “operational challenges.” 

Verizon also plans to construct seven small cells in residential areas around Sonoma. The carrier threatened to withdraw its application if the Commission forced the underground issue with Albritton after mentioning a lawsuit. Mayor Logan Harvey and Councilmember Rachel Hundley said they felt trapped by Verizon’s litigation threat, reported the Index-Tribune.

Another factor affecting the Commission’s decision was financial. With the coronavirus causing revenue shortfalls, the three Verizon towers were considered from a revenue standpoint.

The Commission settled on a split decision, reported the Index-Tribune, by permitting the telecom to build the small cells at the three proposed locations while putting restrictions in place to appease residents. The final decision requires Verizon to build technology underground, but councilmembers agreed the additional use permit condition was problematic.

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