by Mitch Lehman
The San Marino Unified School District’s board-authorized Cell Tower Advisory Committee last night unanimously passes a resolution seeking an inspection by the Department of the State Architect, or DSA, of the two cell phone towers located on or near school property within the SMUSD.
One of the towers in question is located on maintenance property near Huntington Middle School and is owned by Verizon Wireless. Another, owned by Global Tower Partners, is located just north of the large gymnasium at San Marino High School.
In a separate action, the advisory committee asked the school board to send out an immediate status request asking why an inspection report is being delayed regarding the towers, which have come under fire for more than a year from parents concerned for the safety of their children.
Verizon’s tower is waiting for a special hearing before the San Marino Planning Commission to obtain a retroactive Conditional Use Permit – or CUP. When the towers were installed, the city told Verizon in writing they did not need a CUP to install the tower, which they do. The first hearing, originally scheduled for September 23, was postponed.
“We don’t know what the next step is,” said San Marino Unified School District Superintendent Loren Kleinrock. “The reason we have been told there is a postponement is that Verizon wants to get all their information into a single package so they can do this is all in one meeting. Verizon claims they are not in default, that they were given a written letter that says they don’t need a CUP. Our attorneys say they would get declaratory relief.”
The tower at San Marino High School is in default, opponents say, because it is located on school property and was never inspected by the DSA.
“If something is higher than eight feet and is located on school property, it must be inspected by DSA,” Kleinrock said. “The cell tower is much higher than eight feet.”
A new scoreboard located beyond the left field wall of San Marino High School’s McNamee Field was delayed for the same reason,” Kleinrock added. – high school baseball scoreboard.
The Verizon tower at Huntington Middle School is technically located on a separate maintenance area that is technically not on district property. Statutes, however, require a CUP and DSA approval if the tower could fall and land on district property. If the Verizon tower at Huntington Middle School would fall, it would land on school property. In fact, it would land within an emergency evacuation zone for Huntington Middle School and within an auxiliary evacuation zone for Valentine Elementary School. The tower at SMHS is located in an earthquake zone.
Even if DSA inspects the tower, Kleinrock isn’t certain it would be brought down.
“We are still not sure exactly what they can do,” Kleinrock said. “This board would be fully supportive of getting rid of this tower if it didn’t cost any district funds or cause a disruption in service that would compromise school safety. We had a power outage a couple weeks ago and all that worked was our cell phones.”
Since any legal approach could easily cost the district “six figures” to enter a battle they might not win, the board and Cell Tower Advisory Committee is considering “the PR approach.”
“We are hoping that Verizon would see this fight as bad publicity that they have this tower so close to an elementary school,” Kleinrock said.
Kleinrock and School Board member Chris Norgaard have met with Verizon personnel in the past and are attempting to get another audience at the executive vice president level.
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