PINOLE -- The City Council will revisit its refusal to allow Verizon Wireless to put up a cellphone tower in Pinole Valley Park, after the telecommunications giant threatened to sue.
On June 18, the City Council rejected a ground lease of up to 25 years with Verizon, starting at $26,400 a year, to build a 78-foot-tall cellphone antenna camouflaged as a faux tree on about 1,000 square feet on Adobe Road in the eastern end of the park. The decision came after residents voiced aesthetic concerns as well as fears of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, fire and noise from an auxiliary diesel generator. The vote was 4-1, with Councilman Roy Swearingen dissenting.
But it turns out that Verizon already has a lease signed by the city -- although Mayor Debbie Long questions whether it is valid without the council's imprimatur. She referred to a passage in the project's conditions of approval stating the applicant "shall enter into a lease agreement with the City of Pinole, as approved by the City Council, for use of the property for the proposed wireless communications facility."
Verizon Wireless attorney Jim Heard told the council last week that the city has recorded a memorandum of lease with the Contra Costa County recorder. Thus, Heard said, "the city announced to the world, formally, that it was a party to the lease."
"Verizon Wireless has a valid, existing, legally binding lease with the city of Pinole," Heard said moments after the council emerged from Tuesday's closed session, at which the matter came up under "Anticipated Litigation."
City Manager Belinda Espinosa did not respond to a request for comment.
Notwithstanding her skepticism about the validity of Verizon's lease, Long voted in favor of reconsidering the council's June 18 rejection, she said, because she had since learned that Pinole police were experiencing transmission problems in the Pinole Valley.
"I spoke to the Police Department. I was not aware there were dead zones in the valley," she said at Tuesday's council meeting.
"That is why I voted in the affirmative to reconsider," she said in an interview last week.
The council will reconsider its action at a public hearing as part of its July 16 meeting.
Verizon's negotiations with the city over a cellphone tower site go back at least as far as January 2011. The proposed project has since received approval from the Planning Commission, which also approved a mitigated negative declaration of environmental impact and a conditional use permit.
Matt Bielby, who lives near Verizon's chosen site and who helped organize the successful -- so far -- opposition to the cellphone tower and circulated a petition against it before the June 18 no-vote, expects the council to hang tight next week.
"I have faith that the City Council will maintain its fortitude, and see through Verizon's desperate attempts, and do right by its citizens," Bielby said in an email Wednesday. "We the residents of Pinole Valley don't want Verizon, or its high-powered lawyers, anywhere near our parks."
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.