Council Finds Itself in No-Win Situation with Crown Castle

Crown-Castle-1

On Tuesday night, the Davis City Council found itself in a  position that no council or elected body ever wants to be in.  On the one hand, listening to a public that was strongly opposed to a measure that would construct a cellular array in Davis, and on the other hand knowing that, given the state of the law, if they opposed it, they would likely get sued and lose.

Councilmember Dan Wolk put forth a motion that would have outright denied the application altogether, but he was the only one to support that motion.

“I feel like at the end of the day, this is about local control,” Councilmember Wolk said. “Crown Castle, essentially, with the consent of the state government and the federal government, is seeking to usurp that local control and I find that very discomforting.”

Representatives from Crown Castle focused on the extent to which they conducted public outreach and mitigated visual intrusions into the public’s domain.

“Crown Castle did approach this network very thoughtfully from the beginning,” their representative attorney Michael Schoenafelt told the council. “Selecting a configuration that minimized vertical intrusions in the public right of way by using existing vertical elements where possible.  And selecting a design that balances functionality with design.”

He added, “With the city’s concurrence we embarked on a project that would allow multiple carriers, in that way we would avoid the prospect, or at least minimize the prospect of additional networks.”

While Crown Castle has basically taken a much more respectful and cautious approach than their predecessor, at the same time, the public who attended the meeting were overwhelmingly against the project.

The commissions and other bodies question the notion that there is any sort of coverage gap, though at one point an attorney assisting the city noted that under the Telecommunications Act, a coverage gap is whatever the local carrier determines it is.

On the other hand, as the Crown Castle representative noted, “That network is going to be crucial for future data demands for cell phones, smart phones, tablets proliferate.”

“The demands on bandwidth right now are exponential.  We’re headed towards what one industry representative called spectrum crunch.  As new 4G devices are being rolled out, and as dependence on them grows, so is the demand on the network,” he continued.

The Crown Castle representative makes a good point here, that we need to understand.  On the one hand, residents are concerned with visual blight, and some with health implications for the cellular array.

On the other hand, we as a community continue to put additional demands on the existing network with ever-increasingly sophisticated wireless devices, whether they are smart phone or tablets.

Crown-Castle-2

Nevertheless, this is primarily an issue of local control.  Crown Castle may well have been correct in everything that they said on Tuesday night.  However, at the end of the day, most people, including those running the city, believe that if we expand our cellular network, it should because we as a community believe we need to do so, not because a private and outside entity like Crown Castle, no matter how respective and polite they were, says so.

Jill Theg from East Davis was one of many to speak out against the project.

She said, “This new proposal would create a whole new level of intrusion into our residential neighborhoods…  Crown Castle despite what they say knows that this is not about 9-1-1 calls.  They know very well any 9-1-1 call is required by law to be picked up by any available carrier.  We have excellent coverage for that in our town.”

“This is about streaming 4G movies in every corner in our town.  Crown Castle isn’t pursuing this because they don’t want our country to fall behind or because they believe we need it, they’re pursuing it because it’s huge amounts of money for them,” she added.

Crown-Castle-3Samantha McCarthy likened this to environmental concerns, noting, “Just because something is competitive internationally does not mean it has a high standard of living.  Very often those societies that are very competitive are creating great dichotomies between the haves and have-nots.”

“You have to look at the cumulative impacts to the community as a whole,” she argued.  “And look at environmental justice concerns.  Things are going to be challenged on those grounds as they have started to be.  You can’t take ugly obtrusive things that look like trash cans and additional light poles and more monsters coming off of already existing telephone poles and say it’s okay because they’re already there.”

“It’s not alright.  It’s the same as putting in petrochemical plants in the lower income areas in Louisiana, it’s just on a different scale,” she said.

Frank Chastino spoke on behalf of the Village Homes Homeowner’s Association, where this issue first emerged when NewPath showed up unannounced and started digging three years ago.  The city was notified and the city manager put a stop to it.

He argued that, while he understands the city has limited options due to a variety of laws, “that hasn’t stopped us before here in Davis.”

“This is just another example of the federal government coming in and letting us know that they have other plans for us and that is taking away the things that we do consider sacred which is our environment,” he said.

City Attorney Harriet Steiner explained on Tuesday, as the council asked her to advise them how to craft a preferred policy proposal that a court might approve, that because Crown Castle is considered a public utility by the state, it has the right to install its equipment on public easements.

She and the rest of city staff believe that Crown Castle would prevail in a lawsuit against the city should the city attempt to stop them.

Council was leery of trying to craft delicate policy late at night on the dais, but they directed city staff to evaluate a critical report on 25 proposed antenna locations which it would review at its next meeting in early April.

Council expressed the desire to find enough sites acceptable to all parties such that it would enable the project to move forward and avoid a lawsuit.

Still the residents are angry and resentful.  Merdedith Herman said, “Rather than listening to the concerns of residents and providing installations and technology that address these concerns, Crown Castle is threatening to sue us if they are not permitted to place cell towers of the kind they, rather than we, want and locate them where they, not we, choose.

She continued, “They are threatening to sue because a community of concerned citizens refuses to be taken advantage of – [this] is the act of a bully.”

But the city has no control over this, and that is the fundamental problem that eventually needs to be addressed.  As noted, it is one thing if our community believes that data connectivity is a priority or that we want a citywide wireless network that we can all hook into.  Such ideas and impetus should come from our community leaders, not a private, for-profit company.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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32 Comments

  1. Neutral

    [i]Such ideas and impetus should come from our community leaders, not a private for-profit, company.[/i]

    Because our illustrious ‘community leaders’ have such an incredibly good track record of public utility projects? Like the failed ‘public’ cable operation 1984, the failed community network in the mid-nineties, and the failed push for a city-owned electric utility in the early 21st century? Right. Welcome to Fantasy Island.

  2. medwoman

    Neutral

    I do not dispute the existence of past failures. But do you not feel that new individual leaders should be given a chance to lead rather than just lumped in with past leaders with a “they never succeed ” attitude ?

  3. Neutral

    [i]But do you not feel that new individual leaders should be given a chance to lead [/i]

    Based solely on their actions to date, no. Or would you suggest the processes leading up to a clear rejection by the citizenry of the ‘water project’ was in any way ‘leading’? The singular exception was Sue Greenwald’s constant hammering to slow down to more carefully examine the options. Even then it took a referendum to get the Council’s attention.

    When it comes to infrastructure projects the best that can be said of our ‘community leaders’ is that they mean well. Bless their little hearts.

  4. medwoman

    Neutral

    “Based solely on their actions to date, no. Or would you suggest the processes leading up to a clear rejection by the citizenry of the ‘water project’ was in any way ‘leading’? The singular exception was Sue Greenwald’s constant hammering to slow down to more carefully examine the options. Even then it took a referendum to get the Council’s attention.”

    I can see your point given your feeling that more careful examination was needed. However, there is also a fairly large contingent of us that feel that the 10.+ years of studies and evaluation that have already been put into the surface water project would preclude this being a precipitous rush to action. Just because a large number of the citizenry including myself had chosen to not stay current on the issue, and then got upset because they felt there had been inadequate research, does not mean that research had not been done. I stand by my point of giving the new guys a chance rather than just dredging up past failures some dating back 20 + years.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Such ideas and impetus should come from our community leaders, not a private for-profit, company.[/quote]

    But the law says otherwise…

  6. davisite2

    “Councilmember Dan Wolk put forth a motion that would have outright denied the application altogether, but he was the only one to support that motion.”

    Can this be seen as anything other than campaign political posturing since it was obvious that his motion would not be going anywhere?

  7. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine: that point was certainly made clear enough times in this article. The law needs to be changed, I hope Davis is willing to try to help change it.

    Davisite: How about a reflection of his true preference?

  8. keithvb

    So how much will Crown Castle pay the city for use of it’s (our) land?
    I hope this isn’t like with ZipCar where we pay them to make money from us…

  9. davisite2

    “Davisite: How about a reflection of his true preference?

    IMO, highly unlikely since his PUBLIC record on the dais can be characterized as “straddling the middle of the road” and assiduously non-confrontational.

  10. Frankly

    Let’s add to this “no win” situation that despite the outcome, the city will likely add to its reputation as being hostile to business. The opportunity for our fair city will ONLY be the LEVEL of negative business unfriendliness.

    I was in Washington DC the last few days at a conference and noted the vibrant retail and residential neighborhoods fed by a public sector economic engine… this is similar to Davis but on a much larger scale. I also noted that I had 3G, 4G and WiFi for my iPhone and iPad almost everywhere I went around town… including the outskirts of town.

    It is time for the Davis NIMBY wienies to get over their fear of change and start supporting development of the type of infrastructure and business required for business and a modern urban life. If you want a backwards rural village lifestyle without adequate wireless network infrastructure then I suggest you might consider becoming a Quaker and moving to Pennsylvania.

  11. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]So how much will Crown Castle pay the city for use of it’s (our) land? [/quote]

    Crown Castle will be placing the antennae in the public utility rights of way is my understanding, and is the reason they can get away with this project…

    [quote]Let’s add to this “no win” situation that despite the outcome, the city will likely add to its reputation as being hostile to business. The opportunity for our fair city will ONLY be the LEVEL of negative business unfriendliness. [/quote]

    This is a fair point. The fact of the matter is that West Davis for a while had very poor internet coverage, which fortunately has changed for the better. Now with smart phones and ipads, people will want 4G service everywhere in Davis – just not the antenna for it in their yard or within plain view. My hope is the City can work with Crown Castle and come up with a reasonable solution. The City really has no other choice, or face losing its case in court and then having no control over where the antennae go…

  12. Steve Hayes

    Crown Castle Representative:…. “The network is going to be crucial for future data demands (as) cell phones, smart phones, tablets proliferate.”
    ……”The demands on bandwidth right now are exponential.”

    The role of the City of Davis is not to increase everyone’s electronic footprint in response to Crown Castle’s demand-driven communication equation as described above. If it is politically correct to ask citizens to reduce their carbon footprint, why is it not politically correct to ask citizens to reduce their electronic footprint? We can do do this by using our cell phones for essential communication only and minimizing our discretionary (non-essential) cell phone usage. With a more responsible environmental ethic, we wouldn’t be at the mercy of the greedy merchants of communication!

  13. J.R.

    [quote]residents are concerned with visual blight, and some with health implications for the cellular array.[/quote]

    The visual blight I can understand, though in my mind it is inconsequential compared to the benefits to the community of good coverage.

    The alluded to health implications on the other hand are contradicted by every credible scientific study I’ve seen. Those who bring this up are reminiscent of the anti-evolution and the antii-vaccine extremists.

  14. TimR

    The demonstration tower near our house (Redbud & Mace) was suspiciously absent what I think is the biggest eyesore; the support equipment that gets installed at ground level. Does anyone know if these boxes are needed adjacent to every streetlight with an antenna?
    [url]http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/Public+Website/projects/projects+images/projectsinnews/Newpath+Street+Light+Pole.jpg[/url]
    http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/Public+Website/projects/projects+images/projectsinnews/Newpath+Street+Light+Pole.jpg

  15. Frankly

    Steve Hayes: [i]”If it is politically correct to ask citizens to reduce their carbon footprint, why is it not politically correct to ask citizens to reduce their electronic footprint?”[/i]

    Those two things should not be put in the same argument/box unless you want to make the case that wireless technology is destroying the world like you believe carbon emissions to be doing. I would argue the complete opposite for electronic technology… you restrict it at your own progressive peril.

    Like it or not, we live in a global information economy and prosperity will go to those that exploit and leverage current and emerging technology. We are already far behind many countries in wireless technology… even those with emerging economies. We are town having a prestigious research university town. We should demand top-self communications technology to support the pursuit of information and collaboration. Instead, we have had a history of being a communications waste-land just because of so much hyper and irrational NIBY-ism.

    Like I wrote previous, I you desire a place to live that is all natural without any of the common trappings of a modern life, then you might consider moving more rural, or else move to a community that likes being backwards.

  16. Steve Hayes

    J.R.03/22/12 – 11:11 AM “The alluded to health implications on the other hand are contradicted by every credible scientific study I’ve seen. Those who bring this up are reminiscent of the anti-evolution and the antii-vaccine extremists.”

    Thanks for bringing this up J.R.

  17. Frankly

    Wow, I buchered my post in my attempt to edit…

    [i]”We are town having a prestigious research university town.”[/i]
    S/B “We are town having a prestigious research university.”

    [i]”I you desire a place to live…”[/i]

    S/B “If you desire a place to live…”

    Sorry.

    One more point to make… We should compare the visual impacts and costs/benefits of wireless technology to the alternative wired technology. Even the two cans and a string that some Davisites think we should get along with.

  18. David M. Greenwald

    Jeff:

    “Like I wrote previous, I you desire a place to live that is all natural without any of the common trappings of a modern life, then you might consider moving more rural, or else move to a community that likes being backwards.”

    I think different people are willing to tolerate different levels of intrusion or blight. For me personally, I really don’t care if they want to install the array, it doesn’t bother me. Other things do however.

    This clearly bothers other people in the community. None of that means that I or anyone else want to live in a shack in the country far from civilization.

    So for me the bigger issue is who gets to decide. I’d rather allow a community to decide what they want, not some outside entity.

  19. medwoman

    Jeff

    “I was in Washington DC the last few days at a conference and noted the vibrant retail and residential neighborhoods fed by a public sector economic engine… this is similar to Davis but on a much larger scale. I also noted that I had 3G, 4G and WiFi for my iPhone and iPad almost everywhere I went around town… including the outskirts of town. “

    My thought would be that if you love the atmosphere of Washington DC, would you not consider moving there instead of attempting to change Davis which many of us chose specifically because we like it the way it is, rather than you trying to change it into something more of your liking.
    You frequently make a statement that is simply not true. I do not fear change. I simply do not desire change that will make Davis look more like Vacaville, or Folsom, or Washington DC. I have been to all of these places and find Davis preferable to any of those communities.
    Since those communities already exist, if there are those of you who prefer that model, I am sure those communities would welcome you with open arms. Loving the small city atmosphere of Davis does not mean I want to live in a remote rural location. It means that I want to live in a small city, namely Davis.
    What the” lack of growth equals stagnation” line of thought ignores, is that if we do not expand now, the potential for future growth still remains. If we push growth for the sake of growth now, what is lost forever is my ability to have the small community I prefer.

  20. Frankly

    medwoman: With all due respect I think you and others in this town do fear certain types of change, or else struggle with the ability to envision a future state that would be better than the current business-as-usual. Frankly, related to this, I have always struggled with the term “progressive” as it relates to many of my politically-left-leaning friends.

    The problem here is that you and others wanting to maintain the current state are attempting to do so against the overwhelming tide of progress that most others would welcome, or at least accept, and then work to manage. I find it strikingly similar to the Democrats complaints about the GOP being the “Party of NO”.

    There are many places in the country that are not experiencing pressure to grow and change. We don’t live in one of those places. I’m not suggesting that we throw up our hands and allow developers to rule our city design… we are far from that. What I am suggesting is a general paradigm shift to accepting a level of change supporting a level of business and infrastructure progress that is within the standard deviation of normal for a small, affluent, self-labeled “progressive” California city, containing a world-class, prestigious research university.

    P.S. My wife and I are considering a possible move to DC as a retirement destination. Lacking one of those rich public sector pensions, it will be a while before that will happen.

  21. medwoman

    Jeff

    “The problem here is that you and others wanting to maintain the current state are attempting to do so against the overwhelming tide of progress that most others would welcome, or at least accept, and then work to manage.”

    I cannot speak for others, but I find this a mis characterization of my position. I am not attempting to freeze Davis in time as you seem to believe.
    I fully favor developments which I believe enrich our community environmentally, socially and aesthetically as well as economically. I would very much favor developments on a par with Village Homes or the complex developed by Lucas, Corbett and company. I am also not opposed to businesses which would provide unique contributions to the area such as an Urban Outfitter as an example for clothing, or a more upscale electronics vendor.
    What I do object to is the constant attempt by some to turn Davis into a copy of every other community in close proximity with its own Target, and panoply of fast food chains and characterless, all look alike developments. I do not feel that these types of development represent the future, but rather
    past that promoted our car friendly, consumption driven culture at the cost of our health and our environment. I believe, and hope, that the future will not entail ever greater chasing of goods and a more and bigger is better mentality, but will accept that living in harmony with our environment rather than constantly attempting to subdue it will provide a better a better future for our children.

  22. Frankly

    Ok medwoman. Fair enough. Our differences on this topic seem to be the degree and types of change we would both support. There is room to negotiate as long as there is acceptance of change in general.

    Getting back to the Crown Castle issue… this town needs state-of-the-art wireless infrastructure. If not this project, then what?

  23. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]So for me the bigger issue is who gets to decide. I’d rather allow a community to decide what they want, not some outside entity.[/quote]

    But the law says the feds/state get to decide, not the city. Again, the issue is not what you want the law to be, it is what the law actually is currently… and fortunately/unfortunately, depending on how one looks at it, the city has to wrestle with what the law IS RIGHT NOW…

    To medwoman: The problem with your statement:
    [quote]My thought would be that if you love the atmosphere of Washington DC, would you not consider moving there instead of attempting to change Davis which many of us chose specifically because we like it the way it is, rather than you trying to change it into something more of your liking. [/quote]

    … is that not everyone agrees with YOUR vision of what Davis should be, Jeff Boone for one, and many others. Frankly it seems the height of arrogance to me to suggest he move if he doesn’t like YOUR vision of what Davis should be, and I don’t mean that statement in a disrespectful way, and I doubt you meant it quite the way your statement sounded. Many in Davis have a habit of assuming that all of Davis has the same views as theirs, but that is just not true. Target was approved by a majority of voters, despite your other statement:
    [quote]What I do object to is the constant attempt by some to turn Davis into a copy of every other community in close proximity with its own Target,[/quote]

  24. Frankly

    [i]”Frankly it seems the height of arrogance to me to suggest he move if he doesn’t like YOUR vision of what Davis should be, and I don’t mean that statement in a disrespectful way,”[/i]

    Elaine, great point. I have to take ownership for the same writing that others wanting no change should join the Quakers and move to Pennsylvania. I think most residents should have a voice in the vision for what Davis should be. However, I do think that those that tend to reject any change are problematic and worthy of exclusion from the debate.

    There is a body of project management best-practice for large organizational change that applies here. It is typical for humans to get energized blocking change that they feel would have any negative consequences. Since negative consequences are more easily conjured-up from a basis of fear of the unknown, critics and blockers can multiply like rabbits in a community cage. The leadership challenge for organizations that want to remain on top of the constantly changing marketplace is to develop a common constituent mindset to accept change as part of the new normal and to work hard to optimize the impacts and benefits from it. However, there is always a minority that is incapable of “getting it”… either they don’t get it or won’t get it. They cannot overcome their fear of the unknown, or have an unshakeable expectation of negative consequences, or cannot grasp the vision of the future state… or have ulterior motives (e.g., political ambition or need to satiate an ego) for ensuring particular change does not occur. In any case, there is NO reason to invite these people to a seat at the change negotiating table because they have established themselves as enemies of change in general. However, for Davis, we not only invite them to the table, we let them control the agenda. These are the people that seem to have the most political power in our town, while they SHOULD have the least.

  25. David M. Greenwald

    “But the law says the feds/state get to decide, not the city.”

    Which is why the city did what they had to do. But I hope that the city will lobby their representative in Congress to change the law.

  26. medwoman

    Jeff and Elaine

    “… is that not everyone agrees with YOUR vision of what Davis should be, Jeff Boone for one, and many others. Frankly it seems the height of arrogance to me to suggest he move if he doesn’t like YOUR vision of what Davis should be, and I don’t mean that statement in a disrespectful way, and I doubt you meant it quite the way your statement sounded. Many in Davis have a habit of assuming that all of Davis has the same views as theirs, but that is just not true. Target was approved by a majority of voters, despite your other statement:
    What I do object to is the constant attempt by some to turn Davis into a copy of every other community in close proximity with its own Target,”

    I would like to thank Jeff for his very gracious owning of his comment about suggesting that those who oppose change move to Pennsylvania, and to point out to Elaine that my comment about his moving to DC was in part a tongue in cheek response to this comment of his and should not be taken out of context. In fact, I will miss Jeff if he does move to DC. I greatly enjoy the blog sparring engendered by our very different views of the world.

    Many years ago I read a novel by Octavia Butler centered on the proposition that change is the central tenet of life. I agree with this principle and do not interently reject change. As a matter of fact, judging by previous posts, I am more open to certain types of change such as cultural, religious, and linguistic change than Jeff has indicated that he is. I have no problem for instance accepting a polyglot society rather than preferring that everyone be proficient in English. I admit freely to being less open to the kind of change that I find less environmentally and aesthetically appealing.
    With regard to the Target, I was on the losing side of a 49 to 51 split in our community. Hardly an over whelming majority, but a majority nonetheless and I certainly accept this as a majority position and must content myself with my right to exercise my right to vote with my dollars and never shop there.
    I feel that there is a tendency for those who would prefer more economic growth to tend to label those of us who prefer less, as NiMBY or other less that completely respectful terms, than to truly consider our actual positions
    .

    With regard to the issue at hand, Crown Castle, I tend to agree with Jeff, that the interest in developing and maintaining world class electronic communications may trump the limited aesthic concerns of those who do not like the appearance of these appendages to the existing poles.
    I am sitting in my front room looking at an example of technology vs aesthetics. There is an old fashioned wire bearing telephone pole directly outside my front window. I would certainly not suggest that this pole be removed to improve my view at the cost of my neighbors telephone service even though I myself no longer use any land lines but have chosen to rely exclusively on my cell.

  27. medwoman

    Jeff

    “However, I do think that those that tend to reject any change are problematic and worthy of exclusion from the debate. “

    Upon rereading your post, I felt the need to respond to this particular point. I disagree with you here. In a free society, I believe that every point of view should be given a respectful hearing and that no one who is expressing their feelings in a peaceful and respectful manner should be excluded from the debate simply because we disagree with their position or reasoning. For instance, should we likewis label as “problematic” and exclude from the debate those who favor every change suggested ?

  28. Frankly

    [i]”For instance, should we likewis label as “problematic” and exclude from the debate those who favor every change suggested?”[/i]

    I suppose that is fair, but I have never met that person. I doubt he/she exists. However, I have met many that are chronic change avoiders/blockers/deniers.

    With all due respect to Mike Harrington, he exemplifies what I am talking about here (at least from what I can remember). I frankly cannot think of one major development project he has been for. Yet, he seems to wield significant political power in the city. Mike if you are reading this, please prove me wrong!

    I’m a problem-solver by nature. So, here is what I want to see… If you don’t like the proposed solution, then by all means let us know. But then please offer an alternative to fix the problem. I don’t think you deserve a seat at the negotiating table… and certainly not the leadership table… for jut saying no. Critics are a dime a dozen.

    This city has had a long-standing problem being behind on network communication technology. Going back about seven years ago, I could not get DSL or cable broadband at my house in West Davis. Also, the cell coverage was crappy out there. Things have improved but only from the persistence of the service providers. The city has done just about everything possible to make life miserable for them attempting to provide state-of-the-art services to their customers.

    The current problem is lack of wireless communications infrastructure to support emerging technologies. So, if not the Crown Castle solution, what should we do?

  29. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]I am sitting in my front room looking at an example of technology vs aesthetics. There is an old fashioned wire bearing telephone pole directly outside my front window. I would certainly not suggest that this pole be removed to improve my view at the cost of my neighbors telephone service even though I myself no longer use any land lines but have chosen to rely exclusively on my cell. [/quote]

    LOVE this example! LOL

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