County considers Next Gen communication towers, faces appeal threat.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Fake tree limbs might be all that are standing in the way as the county scrambles to meet a federal deadline for reducing the amount of bandwidth used by its emergency communications.
The county has proposed a $24 million overhaul of its emergency communications system, known as Next Generation or Next Gen, to let fire and law enforcement officials in different jurisdictions radio into each other’s frequencies.
Next Gen would consolidate 33 existing telecom sites to 18. Four of those are new towers that each require a permit, and some vocal neighbors in Pebble Beach and Royal Oaks are threatening to appeal – and potentially sue – if the county Planning Commission approves towers in their areas. (The Planning Commission considered the project Sept. 26, after the Weekly’s deadline.)
Law enforcement and fire officials met with Pebble Beach residents on Sept. 24 to try to sell them on a proposed tower on Huckleberry Hill – in Del Monte Forest just west of Highway 68 – which is already home to two commercial towers.
Residents asked about relocating the proposed tower to Pacific Grove or Jacks Peak, but simulations show Huckleberry Hill provides the best coverage.
“It looks to me like they missed some alternatives that probably should’ve been evaluated,” says Marc Del Piero, Pebble Beach resident and county supervisor candidate.
The county signed a contract with Harris Corp. in December 2010 to map out and execute a plan. The county committed $15 million to equipment and infrastructure, but the public copy of the 20-page payment schedule is marked as proprietary and fully redacted. County officials say they’ve already spent $3.5 million on radios and $2 million on design.
After Pebble Beach neighbors complained, Harris reduced the height of the tower twice, from 150 feet to 120 to 100.
Though some neighbors were swayed, Sunset Lane resident James Halpern is considering an appeal to the Board of Supervisors if the Planning Commission grants the county its permit. “The one thing I’m asking them to do is just disguise the whole thing like a tree,” he says.
County officials say Harris’ models show fake limbs would create too much interference at the site, which is leased from California American Water.
Halpern worries the broad definition of “monopole” in county code – “a structure erected on the ground to support wireless communication antennas” – could allow for a wide lattice structure, despite assurances of one narrow pole.
The county already received a six-month extension on the Federal Communications Commission’s Jan. 1 deadline for trimming bandwidth.
The FCC can take enforcement actions, including issuing fines or revoking licenses, against licensees who miss their deadlines.