PINOLE -- Verizon Wireless is looking at alternatives to Pinole Valley Park to locate a cellphone tower, officials announced Tuesday, but tower foes appearing before the Pinole City Council were not placated.
Earlier this year, the council first rejected, then ratified, a 25-year lease that City Manager Belinda Espinosa had signed in December 2012 with Verizon on a 1,000-square-foot parcel in the eastern section of the park. Verizon had threatened to sue if the city sought to extricate itself from what the company insisted was a valid, enforceable lease.
But in September, the state notified the city that a cellphone tower, as a commercial use, would violate the terms of a federal, state-administered grant that helped Pinole buy the land for the park in the 1970s.
In October, as public ire over the lease and the city's handling of it grew, the council and Verizon agreed to a cooling-off period to allow each side to explore its legal options and possible alternatives.
The well-organized and vocal residents group opposes a cellphone tower mostly on aesthetic grounds and over health concerns about electromagnetic waves.
On Tuesday, City Attorney Ben Reyes reported that Verizon is in negotiations on two privately-owned properties in the city as potential alternative sites for a tower. If negotiations come to fruition, and assuming the company secures permission from the Federal Communications Commission and a use permit from the city, Pinole and Verizon could terminate their current lease arrangement.
Reyes said he could not disclose the locations of the properties. But the residents group blasted Reyes and the council, saying it does not want a cellphone tower anywhere in the Pinole Valley. Several people accused the city of indifference to the health of its residents.
Councilwoman Debbie Long noted that federal law pre-empts localities from challenging cellphone towers for health-related reasons as long as the towers conform to federal electromagnetic wave emission and other standards.
In response to a question, Reyes said the city rang up 27 hours, or $6,700 worth, of legal expenses related to the cellphone tower issue in the last 90 days and invested 50 to 60 hours of staff time on research.