Residents in Calaveras County (CA), which is home to the annual Jumping Frog Jubilee, are fighting back after AT&T applied for an administrative-use permit to build a 140-foot tower in a Vallecito neighborhood. The Calaveras Enterprise reported that residents whose properties are within 300 feet of the roughly 20-acre parcel containing the proposed tower were sent letters from the planning department in December, notifying them of the project.
“We kind of got blindsided,” said Julie Hollars, who lives across Main Street from the proposed site. “We felt like we didn’t have a say in the matter.”
After residents received the notices, a group of community members drafted a petition, signed by over 80 residents, and sent letters to the planning department, reported the Enterprise. The concerns outlined in the petition included:
- Sound annoyance
- Health effects
- Declining property values
- Potential fire hazards
- Effects on pollinators (bees)
- Fear that the approval of one tower would bring more towers to the neighborhood
The Enterprise reported that the petition also requested the right to a public hearing, which is not required for administrative-use permits. “There are alternate landowners willing to work with the county and cellular company to install this tower well outside the immediate town and away from residents and farmers,” the petition read. “We ask that the residents and landowners have a part of this decision process.”
Hollars fears the tower will impact her bee business. “I’m fifth-generation on this property here,” she said. “I have a farm, and we have pollinators. … [The tower] could mess with their electromagnetic ability to get back to the hive. … If I lose my bees, I won’t have a business anymore.”
Some residents acknowledged the need for better service and connectivity but asked why an alternate location, away from the residential area, can’t work. According to 60-year resident Debbie Jensen, the town doesn’t even have a traffic light or any businesses, so she’s questioning the tower project.
Residents are also angry about a lack of time to react to the project. Scott Speer, the county’s planner responsible for processing AT&T’s application, said the notification letters went out the day the carrier requested the permit. “This project itself is in the very preliminary stages,” he said. “They just turned it in.”
“If we need any more information from [the applicant], we have 30 days to let them know,” Speer added. “When it comes to cell towers, there is a federally mandated review timeframe that we have to deal with that’s fairly strict, and we have to make sure that we hit these certain benchmarks.”
The next planning stage involves going through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process to determine and address environmental impacts. Residents will have another opportunity to comment during this 30-day review period and will be notified again, reported the Enterprise.
After the project goes through the CEQA process, the planning department will make the final decision regarding the tower. Following this decision, members of the public have a right to appeal.
“With an administrative-use permit, the only way you can get to a public hearing is if you file an appeal after a project is approved or denied,” Speer said. “We definitely do take the local consideration into our evaluation of the project. Just because there’s no public hearing doesn’t mean we’re not listening to the public.”
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