PINOLE -- Public anger over City Council approval of a Verizon cellphone tower in Pinole Valley Park two months ago showed no signs Tuesday of abating, as residents demanded answers to how a lease was signed months before the conclusion of the public approval process, and on whose authority.
Pinole Mayor Debbie Long promised a full report and public airing of the issue, which originally was supposed to happen at Tuesday's council meeting. But by the time the agenda was published, the matter had been postponed to a special meeting Sept. 11.
Several residents have submitted long lists of written questions, which Long said city officials need time to research. She promised that all of the officials who had any role in the matter -- the council, City Manager Belinda Espinosa, City Attorney Ben Reyes and others -- would attend the Sept. 11 meeting to answer questions.
"It will serve us all to have it done all in one forum and have all the players in the room at the same time," Long said before Tuesday's meeting.
On July 16, the council voted 3-2, with Long and Councilman Phil Green dissenting, to ratify a ground lease of up to 25 years with Verizon Wireless, starting at $2,200 a month, to build a 78-foot-tall antenna on about 1,000 square feet along Adobe Road in the easternmost section of the park.
The decision reversed a 4-1 vote June 18 rejecting the deal, with only Councilman Roy Swearingen in favor. The June action prompted a threat of a lawsuit by Verizon, which announced it already had a valid, enforceable lease with the city -- one that had been signed by Espinosa in December, followed by a memorandum of lease that the city submitted to the Contra Costa County Recorder's Office in January.
On Tuesday, Matt Bielby, who lives near the proposed antenna site, blasted Councilmen Pete Murray and Tim Banuelos, who had voted with the majority to reject the lease in June, for changing their vote in July.
"With one little poof of Verizon's lawyer power, they faded away," Bielby said.
During public comment at an Aug. 20 council meeting, other residents had hinted at more sinister possible motives than lack of council fortitude. One, Sal Spataro, labeled the lease approval a "stealth job."
"You guys wanted this thing, and you made it happen," he said.
In a Feb. 5 staff report, Espinosa had said that on Feb. 21, 2012, the council "authorized the city manager to proceed and sign the lease," but when the council emerged from closed session that day, there was no announcement related to the Verizon lease issue.
Long said in July that there had been no vote by the council to authorize signing the lease, and that the only direction given was to "look at deal points."
Espinosa is on vacation and did not attend Tuesday's meeting. She did not respond to requests for comment on the matter earlier this summer.
Residents opposed to the cellphone tower have raised health concerns such as fear that electromagnetic waves could cause cancer; aesthetic concerns, including that the tower would despoil a pristine area of the park; and other safety concerns such as fears that a backup generator and its fuel tank could constitute a fire hazard. Others have said the tower could hurt threatened animal and plant species and damage Native American archeological items that are known to exist in the general area.
On Tuesday, several residents held out hope the lease might be invalidated if covenants limiting certain uses are found in the deed that transferred the parkland to the city decades ago, or if there were restrictions attached to any state or other public funds used to acquire the land.
What: Pinole City Council special meeting
Where: Pinole City Council Chamber, 2131 Pear St.
When: 6 p.m. Sept. 11