City Clarifies Position in Recent Letter as County Recommends Denial of Appeal –
The city and county will come to blows today, at least metaphorically speaking, over a one-year extension of a use permit for a 365-foot radio tower at the landfill site.
The recommendation comes despite a letter issued on December 7, following the council’s meeting last week in which City Manager Steve Pinkerton wrote, “The City Council reviewed the project and approved a recommendation that the Board not support an extension of the permit to construct the tower based on the potential impacts to biological resources and the creation of aesthetic impacts associated with tower lighting.”
The council also suggested interest “in discussing the general issue of tower construction at a future City/County 2×2 meeting as a way to increase communication in advance of any future proposals for towers in the Davis area.”
According to the county, “Under the Yolo County Code, the term of a Use Permit may be extended if ‘it is found that circumstances under which the permit was granted have not changed.’ Both the Zoning Administrator and the Planning Commission approved a one-year extension of the Use Permit upon determining that the circumstances under which the original Use Permit was issued had not changed.”
According to the county, appellant Ms. Samitz “argues that circumstances under which the permit was originally granted have changed, and that therefore neither the Zoning Administrator nor the Planning Commission had the authority to grant the one-year extension of the Use Permit.”
The county’s staff report, while responding in detail to Ms. Samitz’ complaints, does not address the City of Davis’ concerns – at least not directly. The staff report did note that “the proposed tower was determined by the Davis City Council to be consistent with the Pass-Through Agreement.”
The report notes that, in 2002, the MOU signed by the City and County read: “We declare and affirm our mutual commitment to the protection and preservation of agricultural lands and open space, our desire to avoid urban sprawl, and our intent that there shall be no urban development North of County Road 29 and South of County Road 27 as between the communities of Davis and Woodland.”
They argue, “The approved radio tower would be located within the existing developed area of the County Central Landfill and would not result in the loss of any farmland or open space. In addition, the tower is not considered urban development. The radio towers currently placed in Yolo County are all located in the unincorporated area, generally on farmland, are not within any city limits. Based on these reasons, staff believes that the Use Permit is not in violation of the non-binding Memorandum of Understanding.”
Two of the main arguments are bird strikes and light pollution.
The county staff report disputes both of these claims.
With regard to bird strikes they argue, “Prior to the September 14, 2010 Board of Supervisors hearing, the applicant proposed to change the design of the tower from a guy-wired tower to a freestanding tower for the purpose of greatly reducing potential impacts to bird species.”
And in response to the light pollution issue, they respond, “The flashing of three white strobes will undoubtedly be visible from vantage points within the Cities of Davis and Woodland, as well as from rural residences and agricultural properties in the nearby vicinity. However, the intensity of light diminishes significantly with increased distance. The nearest rural residence is approximately 0.5 miles away and the nearest subdivision of homes within the Cities of Davis and Woodland are approximately 2.4 and 4.2 miles, respectively. The impact of lighting on Davis residents would be no different than similar lighting on the existing radio tower located 0.9 miles north of the city.”
However, the city disagrees on both of these points.
They argue first, “Despite improvements in the project design, the proposed project is inconsistent with the US Fish and Wildlife Services’ communication tower locational guidelines and will create a potential bird strike hazard due to the close proximity to wildlife habitat areas and bird migratory routes.”
And to the light pollution point, “The tower will decrease nighttime visual quality in a dark part of Yolo County. Towers should be located in lit corridors.”
The city argues, “The Yolo County Board of Supervisors should not support an extension of the permit to construct the tower based on (1) the potential impacts to biological resources associated with its proposed location and (2) the creation of aesthetic impacts associated with tower lighting.”
The city had previously noted, in March of 2010, several related points to the bird strike issue.
First, “Communication towers, and associated guy wires, are well documented to present a bird strike hazard. A nation-wide annual estimate of 4-50 million birds are mortally injured via collision with communication towers.”
Second, “The proposed site is located within close proximity of three water bodies that attract high concentrations of avian wildlife throughout the year.”
Third, “The proposed location of the communication tower sits in the middle of the daily migration path of thousands of gulls. During the day gulls seek food on the active face of the landfill. The landfill drainage ponds and WWTP [Wastewater Treatment Plant] oxidation ponds are used by the gulls for loafing and nighttime roosting. The gulls make frequent trips during the day to and from the landfill and ponds, thus increasing their potential for collision with the tower and/ or guy wires.”
Yesterday, KDVS General Manager Neil Ruud wrote an op-ed on the Vanguard that argued that KDVS needs the tower.
He argued, “If this tower is not built, there will be an immediate negative impact on KDVS’s coverage. Even more importantly, KDVS’s prospects of relocation will be even more limited than they already are.”
He also noted, “The Davis City Council’s offers of assistance finding alternate sites were appreciated, but KDVS has already exhausted other options in the extremely technical field of tower location which is constrained by the FCC, the FAA and local government.”
The question I have is whether or not there is some sort of a middle ground here – a way to protect KDVS, which is a community asset, while addressing the concerns of environmentalists about bird strikes, and of residents about light pollution and other nuisances.
—David M. Greenwald reporting