Supervisors Look to Craft Cell Tower Regulations

Supervisors will direct county planners to put together a policy
that mirrors those in other jurisdictions
Gilroy – It’s too late to help a Gilroy family that just fought – and lost – a battle to keep a cell phone tower out of their neighborhood, but county leaders will at last craft a policy governing where and when the towers may be built on county land.

Today, Santa Clara County Supervisors will direct county planners to put together a policy that mirrors rules and regulations in other jurisdictions.

The goal is to streamline a controversial process and prevent situations like one in June, when supervisors overruled a unanimous planning commission decision and allowed the extension of a tower on Furlong Avenue, just east of Gilroy.

The planning commission ruled that extending the current tower from 35 to 75 feet went against the character of the neighborhood, where there are no similarly tall structures or trees.

The supervisor’s reversal came despite a furious protest by Steve and Jill Britton, who claimed the tower was responsible for his throat cancer and a tumor in Jill Britton’s eye.

Last month, the planning commission OK’d two additional towers in South County. A 60-foot tower designed to look like a tree will be installed at LJB farms in Gilroy and a 35-foot tower will be extended to 50 feet at Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill.

Landowners are paid rent by the cell tower companies. Supervisor Don Gage voted to allow the Furlong Avenue tower to be extended to improve service for AT&T and Cingular customers in the Route 152 corridor. He said Monday that, in the absence of hard and fast rules, there are no good reasons to disallow towers. By federal law, local officials are not allowed to consider health issues, and the lack of policy is forcing county staff to spend – some say waste – a lot of time on tower decisions.

“We can’t even deal with health hazards, so what am I going to use to say no to more towers?” Gage said. “I don’t want to get caught between a rock and a hard place and waste of lot of my time and staff time. I want some standardization so when someone comes in, everything doesn’t have to come to the board.”

Cell tower policies are common throughout California, and were it a mile or two east or south, the tower on Furlong Avenue would be illegal.

Both Gilroy and San Benito counties have ordinances regulating microwave towers that emit radiation.

In Gilroy, towers must be in commercial and industrial areas.

San Benito County proscribes towers within 500 feet of homes or 1,500 feet of schools. Gilroy’s ordinance requires existing towers to be in compliance within five years.

Gage said the county’s ordinance will be developed with input from cell tower companies and will likely be delayed while county planners sort out more pressing land use issues such as farmland tax breaks and hillside home building rules.

The Britton family has said they will consider suing the county to prevent the tower near their home from being extended and may have to move from the home where they’ve lived for more than 12 years.

Jill Britton said Monday the family has not yet decided how to proceed.

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