AT&T Mobility, the telecom giant’s mobile phone division, has requested that the Sonoma City Council “reconsider” its Dec. 16 vote to deny a permit for an 80-foot, “stealthy” cell tower on the property of Sebastiani Winery near the corner of Lovall Valley Road and Fourth Street East.
The City Council voted 4-to-1 in denying the tower after numerous neighbors adamantly objected on grounds that the installation would be an eyesore that would harm local property values, and that cell towers omit harmful microwave radiation.
Only Mayor Tom Rouse voted to uphold a 7-0 Planning Commission approval of the tower, saying he doubted that denying the application was legal.
The request will be considered at the first council meeting of the new year, scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 8, at 6 p.m., rather than the normal Monday meeting day.
Cell tower installation is governed by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which limits the grounds upon which denials can be based. According to a letter from AT&T attorney John di Bene, the City Council violated terms of the Telecommunications Act when it voted to approve the neighbor’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s tower approval.
“The Act prohibits a local government from taking action that prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting personal wireless services or that unreasonably discriminates among wireless providers,” di Bene wrote.
His letter reiterates AT&T’s claim in its application that, “AT&T has a significant gap in service coverage and seeks to close that gap by the least intrusive means …”
Di Bene’s letter adds that, “the City is preempted from denying the application unless it offers a less intrusive means to close the gap that is both available and feasible.”
Notably, the City Council will hold a closed session prior to the open meeting to discuss “significant exposure to litigation …” What that potential litigation could be is not addressed in the agenda and a spokesperson for AT&T responded to an Index-Tribune query with the statement that, “At this point, it’s premature to discuss any possible legal action by AT&T. We are working with the City of Sonoma and we are hopeful that the City Council will uphold the unanimous (7-0) Planning Commission vote approving our application.”
Di Bene could not be reached for comment because, said the spokesperson, “we don’t typically have our legal counsel go on-the-record with media …”
AT&T will be filing “an extended explanation of the issues associated with the appeal before the Jan. 8 meeting,” according to the spokesperson.
The City Council is not required to even consider the request for reconsideration, but may do so under the existing rules of order only if a motion is made to do so by a council member “on the prevailing side of the decision,” meaning one of the four members who voted to deny a permit for the tower.
If a City Council member does move to reconsider the decision, the actual discussion would have to be placed on the agenda of a subsequent meeting. That means, what ever the council decides about reconsideration, no decision on reversing the Dec. 16 vote will occur Wednesday night.
Other city business on the Wednesday night agenda includes:
Possible approval of a modification to the Planned Development Permit for the 18-unit subdivision on West Spain Street proposed by developer Steve Ledson.
Discussion of possible amendments to the city’s fee schedule.
Consideration of requests from the Sonoma International Film Festival for suspension of fees and for official city sponsorship of the annual event.
Consideration of a request for two inflated arch banners on the Plaza horseshoe during the April 26 Echelon Gran Fondo Sonoma Bike Ride.
Consideration of action on the library proposed JPA agreement.
Consideration of adding a council committee to address mobile home park rent control issues.
Discussion of the annual City Council meeting calendar.
Additionally, the council will approve appointment of Cameron Stuckey as alternate to the Community Services and Environment Commission, and will adopt a resolution approving temporary use of city streets for the Echelon Gran Fondo.
The City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, in the Community Meeting Room, 177 First Street West. The public is invited.