PINOLE -- The fight over a planned cell phone tower in Pinole Valley Park is far from over, as the state looks into the city's conversion of park space to non-recreational uses, an inquiry that also encompasses the establishment of a fire station on what once was parkland.
In July, the City Council, over the objections of a vocal group of opponents, approved 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.
In the early 2000s, the city built Fire Station 74 along Adobe Road near the western end of the park.
The park, created in the 1970s, has received several state grants over the years; at least some of the money originated with the National Park Service, to be redistributed by the state. At least one of the grants, $223,740 in late 1976 or early 1977 toward the purchase of parkland at what was then named Sobrante Ridge, came under the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) program, according to a timetable recently produced by the city.
In a Sept. 23 letter, Jean Lacher, chief of the Office of Grants and Local Services of the state Department of Parks and Recreation, reminded the city that "all property acquired or developed with LWCF assistance be maintained perpetually in public outdoor recreation use."
"The city's construction of a fire station and proposal to build a cell phone tower are a conversion of park use," Lacher continued.
To convert parkland that was purchased or improved with the help of certain state or federal park funds requires a multi-step conversion process, including environmental and other studies, appraisal, maps and approvals that the city apparently did not complete for the fire station and apparently has not initiated for the cell phone tower. The conversion rules generally would require the city to substitute replacement recreation "of at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location."
"Until the conversion is resolved.... the city may also be subject to federal sanctions," Lacher said, without elaboration.
The LWCF State Assistance Program Manual's section on "Conversions of Use" specifies that if the National Park Service gets wind of an ongoing, not approved conversion activity, it will ask the state to tell the project sponsor -- in this case Pinole -- to discontinue the unauthorized conversion, pending completion of the conversion process.
"If the conversion activity continues, NPS shall formally notify the State it must take appropriate action to preclude the project sponsor from proceeding further with the conversion, use, and occupancy of the area pending NPS independent review and decision of a formal conversion proposal," the clause, in the manual's Chapter 8, Section E, continues.
City, state and federal officials did not immediately respond to inquiries Monday whether under that clause, federal or state officials could put a hold on the cell phone tower project, which although equipped with a land lease, does not yet have any city construction permits.
What: Pinole City Council
Where: Pinole City Hall, 2131 Pear St.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday