Planning Commission Meeting: A Summary

These are notes, not a transcript. DVDs are available for a fee from the City of Sebastopol. This summation provides links and commentary for clarification and additional information.

February 23, 6 pm, Youth Annex Building

The meeting began with City Planner Kenyon Webster giving a review of the Planning Staff’s application report, followed by questions to Webster from the planning commissioners:


  • Does Sebastopol’s telecommunications ordinance limit other antennas and/or towers on the site? “future adding on would depend on the nature of the request”; but “lightweight structure would not support other uses.”
  • Is this site within the city’s jurisdiction (as opposed to county)?  “strictly the City of Sebastopol’s jurisdiction”
  • What would be the next step if the planners did not see a CEQA exemption?  “Initial study, Mitigated Negative Declaration, or cannot be mitigated–denied”
  • What is the tree height on the property?  “don’t know– 40-50 feet estimate”
  • What would be the reapplication process after 10 year lease expiration?  “simple renewal if in compliance”
KOWS then proceeded with their presentation, emphasizing:
      • the low visual  impact of the “see through” structure

[70 feet of galvanized steel;  for specs, see Staff Report]

      • the guarantee that the tower as proposed would never be added onto or changed   

[no guarantee is possible– see  Collocation and Microwaves]

      • the safety of the proposed tower regarding EMF emissions

Arnold Levine stated that EMF exposure to neighboring homes at the proposed site is well under U.S. and international standards. He then began quoting the from a 2006 NIER Report from the OAEC site, not the report made for the actual proposed site, describing  exposures as an “infinitesimal fraction of accepted standards, making health risks nonexistent”.

[EMF exposure ratings at the proposed site meet the FCC and ICNIRP  guidelines. These guidelines were developed by a self- selected group of industry insiders, and have long been criticized as non-protective. They do not comply with much lower standards in Switzerland, Italy, China and Russia. Scientists worldwide are pressing for more protective  standards in the face of increasing evidence of risk.  New studies this year are describing bioeffects from weak electromagnetic fields at the cellular level.

Using the NIER report from the OAEC to validate exposure safety at the proposed site is analogous to proposing to build a multi-story building, but presenting drawings for a cottage instead.  EMF emissions from the proposed site are as much as 5000 times higher than at the OAEC site — see Unanswered Questions.]

Planners asked KOWS questions following their presentation. There were inquiries regarding alternative sites (“no other sites worked”), frequency changes and waivers, using a camouflaged structure (“too expensive”), current and proposed site signal ranges (“can’t always hear the station outside of downtown Occidental”), online listener-ship (unknown, but they could reach 10x more potential listeners from the PHR site), tower height requirements (“going to 60 feet would significantly diminish the range”), alternative sites at the reservoir (“the tower would need to be taller”), size of the proposed 4 antennas (“just wires”), and the construction permit expiration (“approximately one year”).
[SHARP was surprised that no questions were asked or documented evidence requested regarding:
  • fiscal stability/solvency (financial records)
  • current actual listener-ship (actual studies)
  • income sources (underwriters/membership & records)
  • management structure
  • reasons, other than wanting a larger signal, for leaving the OAEC
  • success as a community radio station in Occidental (letters of support from the Occidental community, other than hosts)
  • history of site search with locations, issues

The City of Sebastopol is essentially partnering with KOWS in this antenna tower venture. We are surprised at how little they seem to know or want to know about KOWS, given the enormous potential for harm to the city and city residents  for possible future expenses they would incur as a result of a failing KOWS, and to county residents who would bear the burden of property devaluation and diminished quality of life in terms of health, safety, and welfare. To read about more about KOWS, see KOWS: Who, Where, and Why?]


The public was allowed to speak (community comments will not be reviewed here).


Webster then answered more questions from commissioners.

Re: collocation at the site: “I don’t think that would be the case (in this situation). Cell companies collocate where there is an existing facility or willing property owner who wants to host it.  It would be up to the City to allow it and I don’t believe they could be forced.”
[But the definition of “tower” in the newest FCC regulations is  not limited to traditional cell towers.  The FCC defines “tower” as  “[a]ny structure built for the sole or primary purpose” of supporting any Commission-licensed or authorized antennas and their associated facilities.”  The Commission has also ruled that “collocation” includes the first placement of any transmission equipment. The KOWS tower would qualify as an existing facility– it is a tower by FCC definition, and collocation regulations require only one facility, not an existing collocation, to facilitate further collocation.  Any sitting Council down the road could decide the city should collocate on the site for revenue, or be forced into it via legal action.]
Re: the tower’s potential to carry other antennas/microwaves: “This tower is relatively “lightweight” and could not take on substantial added weight.”
[Strengthening a tower, referred to as ‘hardening‘, as fostered and encouraged by the FCC’s 6409 legislation, allows existing towers to be both extended in height and broadened in base to manage additional structures.  If the collocation, replacement, or removal of transmission equipment makes structural enhancements to (i.e., “hardening” of) the wireless tower or base station “necessary,” Section 6409(a) applies to that hardening activity.]
Planners then expressed their thoughts and concerns:
Evert Fernandez expressed his concern that, even though the city makes it a lease requirement that no additional telecommunications be allowed on the site, “there is nothing that will absolutely assure that this won’t happen under a different city council in the future.”
Paul Fritz said that approval would “set a precedent” for future telecommunications usage.
Linda Kelley said that collocation was a major concern; that having accepted one tower, the city would not be able to keep other applicants off the site.
Zachary Douch expressed concern about collocation and felt that a “mechanism to prevent it” in perpetuity was necessary.
Fritz was not comfortable allowing a 70 foot tower in a rural bucolic setting. He felt that 70 feet was not in any way “small”.  “A 70 foot tower is a significant physical modification, not a minor alteration, not small, and a significant change in an existing facility,” he said.  Fernandez said that in good conscience he could not call this a minor physical alteration, and that to say there are two tanks already is faulty reasoning– that it is not a justification to say the tower is a “small” footprint, or a “minor antenna installation”, or a “supplemental use”, as it is not consistent with what is already there. He stated that the CEQA was not solid.
Colin Doyle said he was sympathetic to neighbors but that “after a few years, we wouldn’t even notice it.”
Russ Pinto asked, had anyone thought of putting up a helium balloon? (His SHARP information packet contained multiple photos of a balloon lofted to 70 feet at the site.)
Fernandez felt that the peace, comfort, health and safety of the surrounding residents was not upheld, in that nothing can absolutely assure them that there won’t be more EMF emissions at the site as councils change over the years. He felt that health issues should be a consideration, particularly when the city had considered them in determining “the greater good” in other situations concerning Smart meters and WiFi.
Pinto said he has been using an EMF detection meter for some time and has found many “hot spots” around Sebastopol. He has adjusted his personal cell phone use and is “feeling better” as a result, and admitted that “not enough is known” about RF emissions from broadcast towers.
Kelley felt that another site, where neighbors would not be “living under the tower”, would be better.
Douch said he would like to know what other locations exist.
Michael Jacob wanted to explore other locations in the city’s purview.
Fritz said that a more urban environment would be a better placement– maybe not providing as wide a range, but “it isn’t the city’s responsibility to provide the largest possible potential audience.”
Fritz asked for clarification about EAS which was supplied by a member of the audience who said that at least 20 other stations supply EAS to the area. He commented that “EAS is therefore not a reason to approve the application.”
Doyle suggested that maybe a denial would be preferable to KOWS, who could then take their appeal to the City Council rather than provide more information to the Planning Commission, which would delay the application process.  He made it clear that the council was supportive of the applicant, and that the City Attorney was on board.
Webster wondered whether KOWS would be willing to continue to look for more sites and come back, and KOWS said they had no other recourse, that nothing else they had pursued “ever quite worked”.
Webster asked if KOWS could maintain their station by continuing at the current location. The KOWS spokesperson said that the OAEC had asked them to leave the site– no definitive date but they “had to leave”.
[KOWS were absolutely not asked to leave; in fact, they were told they were welcome to stay at the OAEC “as long as necessary” by OAEC director Dave Henson. See Unanswered Questions.]
Jacob then suggested that, although the Planning Commission shouldn’t be required to save the station, that they could be “shutting KOWS down, with only one place to put the tower and they can’t keep it where it is for very long.”  He suggested that finding an urban site would be “more trouble” than the current application.
Almost immediately, Pinto called for a motion to approve. The motion was seconded, and the vote was taken– 4-3 in favor of approval.  Pinto, Jacob, Douch and Doyle supported and Kelley, Fritz and Fernandez voted for denial of the application.

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©2019 SHARP Watch

SHARP - Sebastopol Hills Alliance for Rural Preservation Preserving the natural beauty and character of the West Sonoma County Hills, for today and for future generations. Next action: Limit the proliferation of CELL PHONE Towers in the Hills of Sebastopol.

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