Rancho Santa Fe Association to explore cell tower alternatives

Following the Feb. 29 town hall meeting on potential cell towers, the Rancho Santa Fe Association board stated that it will take a step back and incorporate the concerns it heard into the process as it moves forward, trying to find the best solution to the challenging problem of poor cell service in the community.

Some RSF residents expressed concern after a preliminary map of three proposed cell towers on La Glorieta, Via de Fortuna and Lago Lindo was released and the board readied to enter into a contract with American Tower Company in February.

RSF Association President Ann Boon said it was never the intention of the board to avoid any step of the process and acknowledged that they moved too quickly.

“We were deeply troubled and feel badly that we could have done anything that would have caused you to mistrust our motives or our actions. In retrospect, we, the members of the board and the technology committee, should have had the dialogue with you on Monday night rather than leaving it to the manager and the representatives of ATC,” Boon said. “Honestly, neither the manager nor the representatives from ATC presented the board’s position accurately or fully to our satisfaction.”

The contract with ATC was to explore cell service solutions, not to erect three 95-foot towers, RSF Association Vice President Heather Slosar said. Slosar said she is frustrated that was the message perceived by the membership.

“No one on this board would ever consider taking any action that would violate our Covenant CC and Rs (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions),” Boon said. “You elected us to uphold them.”

Boon said the technology committee studied and met with several service providers and did not come to their conclusions lightly—they became “champions of towers” due to lots of analysis and not “cavalier disregard of the concerns of friends and neighbors.”

RSF Association board member Philip Wilkinson, who served on the technology committee, said they believed that cell towers would be the optimal solution. He said he learned a lot from the town hall meeting, hearing the strong opposition about the safety of RF (radio frequency) emissions from towers, the aesthetics of the 95-foot faux trees, effects on property values and the fact that most residents do not want the towers near their homes nor any residential areas in the Covenant.

Wilkinson said the tech committee will step back from the pursuit of the 95-foot towers in the Ranch and consider alternatives better suited to the community. He said they will consider the possibility of shorter towers, as well as revisit improvements to the current Distributed Antenna System (DAS) improvements even though they have been told it could be expensive and the technology is not feasible. Estimates for a DAS upgrade are $10 to $20 million, according to board member Mike Licosati.

“I was personally really taken back when a member, someone I’ve known for years, tackled me in the corner and said, ‘My wife can’t sleep and we’re going to sell our house if the towers go up near our home,’” Wilkinson said. “And I really felt bad about that. I apologize for all the worries that this has caused.”

A lawyer retained by an anonymous group of residents sent a letter to the board that said they were going to sue if the RSF Association didn’t back off the plan.

“I personally don’t appreciate getting nasty-grams from some lawyer representing unnamed clients and accusing Philip (Wilkinson), Mike (Licosati) and myself of intentionally locating these 90-foot towers away from our homes and that was the only reason why we were on the technology committee,” board member and tech committee member Kim Eggleston said. “Again, I never cease to be astonished at the level of vitriol and misinformation and reaction to good, honest effort. And that’s all we’re trying to do, is do a good job.”

According to members of the tech committee, the decision to re-evaluate the plan came prior to receiving the letter from the anonymous group of residents.

Licosati said one of the reasons the committee recommended moving forward with ATC’s site development plan was to save significant expense in trying to meet the community need for better cell service. He said the need has grown since the wireless master plan was crafted in 2003 and improved cell coverage is a public safety issue as well as an economic issue as the people who work and live in RSF need to be able to be in contact with their clients. Lack of coverage also affects property values, he said.

“It’s become a critical infrastructure that we need to solve. We heard from 5 percent of the community at this meeting so we’re going to go back and see if there’s something we haven’t looked at,” Licosati said. “I’m not optimistic that we’re going to find something but we will re-double our efforts to do so.”

Board member Jerry Yahr said the Association could’ve done better in engaging the community in the process, to get the point of February’s contract action. He said with more participation, the community would’ve understood the steps taken to get to that point even if they still might not like the solution.

“The community wants to be involved in the process of studying the alternatives and having a voice,” Yahr said.

Boon said that the goal moving forward on the issue will be sharing more information and listening to community concerns. The final recommendation will be taken to the entire community for a vote.