City Settles Antenna Dispute With Verizon

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     SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (CN) – Verizon Wireless withdrew its lawsuit against the city of Capitola after the quaint California beach town reversed its denial of a communications tower construction permit.
     Capitola is a surfer’s haven and tourist destination perched on the cliffs of Monterey Bay’s northern arch, with a population of about 10,000.
     In March, the Capitola City Council reversed the city planning commission’s approval of a construction permit granted to Verizon that allowed the company to build a tower near an apartment building on 41st Avenue in the heart of the small town.
     Verizon sued Capitola in May, saying the requirements of city ordinance 17.98 — which prohibited the construction of communications towers within certain distances of residences — amounted to a de facto ban on such towers, an express violation of the Federal Communications Act of 1996.
     Verizon wants to erect a facility to improve coverage and lighten the demand on other antennas located throughout the city. The freeze on construction essentially means Verizon is unable to improve or keep pace with services to its customers, the company said.
     “While this upgrade is significant to Verizon Wireless and its customers, it is utterly insignificant from any legitimate land-use perspective,” Verizon said in its May 9 complaint. “Placing small antennas and ancillary equipment on the roof of a commercial building, with the antennas concealed inside a faux chimney, would not cause any significant visual, noise, or other impacts properly regulated under the Capitola zoning code.”
     The ordinance that stipulates no antenna may be built within 300 feet of a residential structure. The tower in question is slated to be built within 240 feet of a residence, according to Verizon’s lawsuit.
     But the Capitola City Council, convening in early June, backpedalled on their March decision, granted Verizon the permit, and okayed the terms of a settlement between the city and the telecommunications company.
     Along with the disputed tower location, Verizon has three permit requests for other communications towers in various stages with the city’s planning department. The settlement stipulates that the city will reconsider certain provisions of the ordinance, which Verizon said prevents it from building any wireless facilities within city limits.
     “Verizon and [the] city agree to fully and completely settle all of the issues in any way related to the action, without admitting any fault or liability, on the terms set forth herein, and to establish a timeframe for processing the pending applications while city considers amending the ordinance,” the 23-page settlement agreement states.
     Verizon says wireless communication has been regulated by the federal government since the turn of the 20th century, with the advent of the radio. In 1993, Congress reaffirmed and strengthened the federal government’s sole authority over wireless communication regulation and explicitly prevented states and local municipalities from asserting their own regulatory framework that infringed upon federal management, according to the May lawsuit.
     The telecommunications giant claimed Capitola enacted its ordinance in 2003 in response to public pressure and a concern over perceived health risks associated with living in proximity to the towers and antennas.