Objections raised over placing an AT&T wireless facility on Washington Street convinced Ramona Community Planning Group (RCPG) members to unanimously oppose the request at their May 3 meeting. The advisory decision is a recommendation to the San Diego County Planning Commission.
The vote taken was 0 in favor and 9 against with Casey Lynch recusing himself because he works for AT&T on cellular projects and has a financial interest in the topic and Frank Lucio recusing himself because he lives near the site.
About 50 people attended the RCPG meeting to hear the item presented. Of those, two spoke in favor and 10 speakers voiced concerns with the proposed 35-foot faux eucalyptus tree, a roughly 9-foot by 26-foot concrete masonry unit enclosure, 12 antennas, 24 remote radio units, four surge protectors, six filters and a 15 kilowatt diesel generator.
Opposition focused on the potential for fires in a windy area, the likelihood of lost views and lowered property values, and firetruck and AT&T truck access on an unmaintained road.
Mike Vest, a Washington Street resident, said 13 houses and seven vacant lots are in the area and rain frequently creates deep ruts in the unpaved road. He said he’s concerned if a fire arises at the diesel generator then first responders may not be able to gain access because of the road trenches when it rains.
Lynda Spivey, a Washington Street resident who lives near the site, said windy conditions fuel fires and creates a high fire zone in the area.
“Locating on this site increases the fire danger for us all,” Spivey said.
She added concerns about the long-term effects of exposure to radio waves, having experienced frequent headaches, nausea and feelings of being in a “fog” when she worked near a similar Verizon facility.
Realtor Paul Tarr, a resident of the adjacent Ramona Real Street, said he’s worked in real estate since 1990 and is aware that these types of wireless facilities negatively impact negotiations when selling properties.
“It’s really easy when you have a cell tower nearby to use this as an argument for lowering the price,” Tarr said. “It will lower property values near a cell tower.”
Other concerns raised were the possibility of noise pollution from the diesel generator and blocked views with a tower that may be placed 10 feet above the grade of the homes. Others suggested alternative sites such as the closed landfill.
Glen Brugh and Charlotte Roman, owners of the property where the facility would be located, spoke in favor of the AT&T proposal.
Brugh said they were approached with an offer from AT&T after a similar agreement to locate the facility on a neighbor’s property didn’t work out. Brugh defended his right to place the tower there as the property’s owner. He said nearby residents should be clearing brush from around their properties to help prevent the spread of fires, and added that a tree of similar height to the proposed faux tree is already on the property.
“I’m sorry you’re upset and I’m sorry you weren’t notified,” Brugh said. “This was already in the works with someone else but it didn’t work out.”
Roman added that she hadn’t previously heard objections from the Washington Street area residents other than receiving one letter.
“AT&T has told me that they check on their equipment once every three months and if there’s no problems they’re not there,” Roman said. “They’ll only occasionally work on the equipment. I don’t think there’s a problem.”
Christian Ruvalcaba, a job captain who represented AT&T, said AT&T crews are expected to visit the site every three to six months unless there’s an emergency.
Ruvalcaba added that the diesel generator is required by San Diego County for backup power in case a fire or other emergency occurs.
RCPG member Donna Myers said she’s opposed to a compensation agreement between AT&T and the 374 Washington St. property owners when neighbors will be affected by lost views and other impacts.
“When you impact a neighbor, they have every right to react and protect their property,” Myers said.
Other RCPG members raised concerns with the wireless tower possibly interfering with Sky Valley Network’s Internet service and creating hazardous fire conditions in an area that lacks water resources.
“If the tower or generator catches fire, there will not be a lot of resources,” said RCPG member Richard Tomlinson, noting that even a fire-resistant enclosure could be penetrated. “You’d be amazed at what burns if it gets hot enough.”
Dan Scherer, RCPG chair, said the group’s vote of denial is only an advisory recommendation to the county and suggested residents attend the county Planning Commission meeting when it is being considered. If the Planning Commission approves the AT&T wireless facility, the decision can be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors.
“There’s strength in numbers,” Scherer said. “You have a coalition so you can go to Supervisor Dianne Jacob and she will hear your concerns.”
This article originally ran on sandiegouniontribune.com.