Nonprofit Group Challenges City: Don’t “Cell” Our Park

In the case of Don’t Cell Our Parks v. City of San Diego, the state appeals court had to determine whether construction of a wireless telecommunications facility in a public park could be considered a proper park purpose, according to the National Recreation and Park Association.

In June 2014, Verizon Wireless filed an application with the city of San Diego to build a Wireless Communications Facility (WCF) on the outskirts of Ridgewood Neighborhood Park, an 8.53-acre area dedicated to recreational purposes. The proposal included a 35-foot tower disguised as a faux eucalyptus tree and a 250-square-foot landscaped equipment enclosure with a trellis roof and a chain-link lid.

According to Verizon, the project would fill a substantial gap in cell service including 911 service within the park and the nearby preserve. Verizon found the park was the only property within the intended coverage area that was not an open-space preserve or developed with single-family residences; therefore, it was the only option for the project.

In February 2015, the Rancho Peñasquitos Community Planning Board and City Planning Commission approved the permits for the project to move forward. However, in November of that same year, the non-profit, Don’t Cell Our Parks (DCOP), filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision.

DCOP argued that “placing a WCF in the park was not a permissible park or recreational use under the plain language of Charter 55,” which required “the consent of two-thirds of the voters” before “allowing the installation of WCFs in dedicated City parkland.” However, the trial court said in its opinion, “Charter 55 allowed the City to adopt regulations to manage City parks and enact ordinances not in conflict with Charter 55.” The trial court found the project was consistent with Charter 55 because it would “not interfere with or detract from park uses in the Park.”

The appeals court, therefore, affirmed the judgment of the trial court in favor of the city, noting that improved wireless coverage “undoubtedly enhances the enjoyment of the park for those visitors who use their wireless communication devices to read books, watch movies, listen to music or play games.”

Published July 7, 2018

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