CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act. As part of the application process for any building project, city officials must determine the level of environmental review required for the project at a particular site.
The site for a proposed KOWS 70 foot broadcast antenna tower is a small island of city-owned property known as the Pleasant Hill Reservoir, that has housed two city water tanks since 1987. It is zoned Community Facilities by the City of Sebastopol, but is surrounded by county properties zoned as Rural Residential and Diverse Agricultural.
KOWS, the applicant, is responsible for the costs of any studies that CEQA requires. KOWS indicated during the Sebastopol Planning Commission meeting that they “could not afford” such costs.
The Staff Report indicated that the project met all CEQA requirements and was therefore Categorically Exempt. Planning Director Kenyon Webster, in his review of the report, emphasized the “small footprint” of the project and its “minimal impact”. Ironically, the project is categorized as a Major Telecommunications Facility.
All but one commissioner expressed concerns about this minimizing characterization.
Evert Fernandez said that he could not, in good conscience, call the project a minor physical alteration, nor did he support the “bad reasoning” that since there were already two large tanks on the site, the tower created a relatively small footprint, pointing out that the footprint of the base of the tower is certainly not the issue with a 70 foot tower.
He also did not believe that the tower was a minor antenna installation, nor a supplemental use, given that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the water tanks already on the site. He very directly stated to the staff that “the CEQA is not solid”.
Paul Fritz agreed that a 70 foot tower is not a small footprint; that it is a significant physical alteration to the site, not a minor alteration. He went on to say that the tower could not in any way be characterized as a small change in an existing facility.
He suggested that other sites, particularly in a more urban environment, would be a better placement, even though such a site might not have as broad a reach. He also pointed out that it was “not the city’s responsibility to provide the widest possible audience” for KOWS.
Zachary Douch suggested that further analysis regarding CEQA was something to consider, including a look at alternative sites as part of that process and the lofting of a balloon to help make a decision regarding impact.
Michael Jacob said that he would like for KOWS to come back with more information.
Linda Kelley said that she had major issues with the viewshed, indicating that she felt strongly about the affect of the project on the surrounding neighbors. She wanted KOWS to further explore whether there might be another site that would be less invasive.
Russ Pinto was not sure that this was the best of all possible sites.
It was disheartening to hear a suggestion by Colin Doyle that they could decide as a group to deny the application so that KOWS could expedite an appeal, and then watch a successful last minute sympathy bid by KOWS, who claimed both poverty (real) and homelessness (false).
We hope that the men and women of the City Council will look carefully at the possibility of a win-win alternative site for the antenna, particularly given that there is no immediate need to re-locate, the station is currently streaming online, and there is an excellent alternative site. A decision to deny this application would at the same time discourage new and unprecedented telecommunications tower use at the Pleasant Hill Reservoir.