Mission Viejo Planning & Transportation Commission votes 4-1 to reject Wireless Master Plan

At tonight’s meeting of the Mission Viejo Planning and Transportation Commission, after taking testimony for three hours from the consultant and his engineer, three dozen concerned residents, plus written statements representing another 40 residents opposed to the Master Plan, the commission voted 4-1 rejecting ATS Communications comprehensive Wireless Master Plan.
A major concern, as expressed by virtually every speaker, was the inclusion of 18 city owned parks as potential cell tower sites.

In my comments I questioned the conflict of interest that I feel exists when you have a consultant who we paid $200,000 to draft the plan be compensated with a chunk of the revenue for every future site on city owned property. His contract reads:

(a) Consulting Fee. As compensation for its services in developing the Wireless Master Plan, Consultant shall be paid on a time and material basis, at the hourly rate specified in Exhibit “B” “(Consulting Fee”) provided, however, that the Consulting Fee shall not exceed $200,000……………”

(b) Consultant Lease fees. In addition to the Consulting Fee, Consultant shall receive thirty percent (30%) of the revenue for each New Lease (defined below) over the first five years of the New Lease, and then twenty percent (20%) of the New Lease revenue for years 6 through 10….” How do you say “conflict of interest.”

It’s worth pointing out that the assistant city manager handed me a document that I had requested which shows that General Fund reserves are over $19 million yet the city is looking to recommend city parks over private property as a tool for raising revenue. Setting aside the debate over possible health risks we place the almighty buck over the health and safety of our children who may spend hours playing in the parks which are being recommended to raise funds. With the open debate of possible health hazards I questioned why the city didn’t bring in their own engineering expert to discuss this issue and not rely solely on the testimony of the one retained by the consultant.

One would expect that a consultant would have done his homework knowing that over 100 angry residents attended the first Hearing held in April. When told that Laguna Niguel, an adjoining city, had an Ordinance in effect on this very issue, Mr. Ingegneri acknowledged that he hadn’t seen it. For the chance to make upwards of ($1,000,000) one million dollars on this Contract you should at least know what surrounding cities have written in their Wireless Plans as you prepare to make your presentation and respond to questions from the residents, staff, and commission members.

One speaker, an attorney-at-law, said his firm with multiple international offices, stated that should the city approve and implement the Plan as written will challenge the city in court on a “pro-bono” basis.

Vice Chairman Sandzimier asked ATS Communications if “the initial focus is the 18 locations on city property” to which ATS President Tony Ingegneri responded yes.
The item is now being forwarded to the city council based on the Motion made by Chairman Richard Schweinberg with Amendments as provided by the other commission members. Next action will be a Public Hearing that we were told would occur on Sept 17th.

In voting NO to the Motion Vice Chair Sandzimier stated that the commission was “tasked to provide a tool for the council.” He added that “we need to provide a recommendation of the best options” and closed with “we shouldn’t oppose every park.”
I did learn something new at this Hearing. The assistant city attorney clarified the difference between the city operating as a “regulator” where our power would be limited with regard to FCC laws and the Telecommunications Act. However, the city becomes a “landowner” when it relates to our parks. As such we have the power to deny applications by the cell providers.

Does your city have a Master Cell Tower Plan?
Do you agree with me that a consultant being paid to create the list of future cell sites and than share in the income for the first 10 years is a conflict of interest?

If so, feel free to comment on what is in our pipeline. If you disagree, I’d like to hear your opinion. Thank you!

About Larry Gilbert