City Awaits Next Cell Tower Steps From Verizon, SMUSD

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City officials have made it known to Verizon that they and residents expect the company to find another location for a new signal apparatus that isn’t behind City Hall on Huntington Drive.

OUTLOOK Photo This cell tower at San Marino High School will be moved outside of city limits in the coming months.
OUTLOOK Photo
This cell tower at San Marino High School will be moved outside of city limits in the coming months.

In fact, it seems Verizon could be hard pressed to find an alternative way to the traditional 65-foot tower to address their service void that is going to come after such a tower is removed from San Marino Unified School District property near the district office and Huntington Middle School. Another tower also will be moved from San Marino High School to outside city limits.
“We have a sort of hierarchy with what we prefer, with monopoles being last,” said Aldo Cervantes, director of the city’s Planning and Building Department. “I think they got the point.”
The City Council filed this update at its morning meeting Friday, July 28, weeks after it shelved a tentative lease agreement with Verizon to place the tower, which is called a “monoelm” tower because of its tree-like disguise, behind City Hall. Residents widely denounced the plan both for aesthetic reasons and also hazard concerns regarding the tower’s proximity to the city’s police department, fire station and emergency operations center.
SMUSD currently leases land for the tower in question to Verizon, but the community has opposed that location and officials have publicly called for SMUSD to evict Verizon because it failed to get local conditional use permits, as stipulated by the contract.
The SMUSD Board of Education is in the midst of its summer break but plans on resuming regular meetings this month.
“We have tentatively scheduled a meeting with the school district sometime in early August,” Cervantes said at the City Council meeting. “We’re still working out a specific date.”
Cervantes also updated the council on the tower that will be removed from SMHS. Verizon first needs to modify the structure of the tower to hold additional equipment before relocating it to a site outside of city limits. Cervantes said it will take four or five months to do that.
Potential alternative options to a full tower include smaller antennae on commercial buildings throughout Huntington Drive. Some residents also have suggested using an existing structure such as a flag pole to blend in some sort of data tower.
“A monopole is not an option,” Mayor Dr. Richard Sun said, to some applause.
As an aside, local business owner Debbie Priester told the City Council that cellphone towers that share use with other providers often add their own power generators to the towers without running it by the Environmental Protection Agency, which can violate emissions regulations.
“That’s why as a city we need to be vigilant and make sure they’re doing this (correctly),” Priester said.

Interim City Manager Cindy Collins said she expects the City Council to be able to give final approval to the redesign of Lacy Park’s Rose Arbor as early as the Sept. 13 regular meeting.
The landscape committee for the project plans to meet on Monday, Aug. 7, to go over final details and any other changes, but there could be another public meeting called to solicit additional input from residents. Collins said the landscape committee meeting also will include finalizing efforts to fundraise for the project.
The new arbor, which will replace the former wooden one that was torn down last year after it was found to have dangerously deteriorated, will be made of steel and sport proper archways throughout, according to City Engineer and Director of Public Works Dan Wall, as opposed to the impromptu ones made of several pieces of timber last time.
“By using steel, which is powder-coated to ensure longevity, we’re actually able to create the arches,” Wall said. “These pieces are all bolted together. We’re looking at about a hundred-year lifespan without too much maintenance attached to it.”
Gretchen Shepherd Romey, a member of the landscaping committee, said she believes there should be another public meeting after the Aug. 7 meeting to account for locals who may be out of town on vacation.
“I think that it’s sincerely a good opportunity to reach out to the community,” she said.
The city’s budget has set aside $400,000 for the project, but at least half of that is being covered by donations, chiefly the $200,000 donation on behalf of Dr. Matthew Lin, a former city councilman and mayor. Wall said an independent cost analysis of the project gave a price tag between $300,000 and $400,000.
“We estimated high to make sure we don’t miss anything,” Collins said.
Donors to the project will be recognized with plaques at the arbor, and previous plaques from the former arbor also will be kept with the new one.
Resident and historic preservation advocate Shirley Jagels spoke against the project, saying the former arbor was unnecessarily demolished and suggested the City Council pushed through the project at public meetings it suspected would not be well attended.
“There were areas where there was rot, but there were others that certainly could have been restored for less than $200,000,” Jagels said. “It was demolished without community consent and without community knowledge. I disagree that we need to demolish wood structures every 30 years. They need to be maintained. There could have been fundraising done to do the restoration and we would have our Rose Arbor done already.”
Collins said estimates for restoration of the wood structure actually came in close to the current budgeted amount, and Sun seemed to resent the notion the City Council acted improperly.
“It’s not something that didn’t proceed transparently,” he said.

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