NEPA Confusion at Rohnert Park City Council Meeting, Mar 10, 2020

Confused City Attorney: Michelle Marchetta Kenyon

See Nepa Strategies here —>

Similar NEPA Confusion at Thouasand Oaks City Council Meeting, Jan 12, 2020

Confused RF-EMR Consultant: Attorney Jonathon Kramer, from Telecom Law Firm, LLP

NEPA Fails for Verizon WTFs


1. Thousand Oaks, CA Residential Neighborhood

Verizon Macro Cell Tower WTF approved for a residential zone on 1/14/2020 — as close as 90 feet from homes — at the Candle Crest Water Tank in Thousand Oaks, CA with antennas that are only 6-8 feet off the ground, outputting 36,000+ Watts of Effective Radiated Power (ERP)

2. South Lake Tahoe, CA Residential Neighborhood

Verizon Macro Cell Tower WTF approved for a residential zone on 1/14/2020 — as close as 90 feet from homes — on Needle Peak Rd., about 150 feet from Ski Run Blvd. in South Lake Tahoe, CA with antennas that are 40+ feet above the surrounding tree line outputting 160,000+ Watts of ERP

3. San Francisco, CA Residential Neighborhood

Verizon Small Wireless Telecommunications Facility (sWTF) — as close as 12 feet from, and in line with, bedroom windows — at 2620 Laguna St. in San Francisco, CA with antennas that are less than 10 meters (33 feet) from the ground, outputting 7,000+ Watts of ERP

NEPA Fails for AT&T WTFs


More coming . . .

NEPA Fails for T-Mobile WTFs


More coming . . .

NEPA Fails for Sprint WTFs


More coming . . .

Cell Tower Concealment

Adapted rrom

How does communications infrastructure impact the landscape and the people who live, work, and play in it?

In the 1960s Congress passed several landmark environmental protection laws. Two of these . . .

  1. the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and
  2. the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA),

. . . are key to understanding the framework within which the FCC is required to consider visual impacts to sensitive historic properties as well as cultural and natural landscapes. In passing NEPA Congress unambiguously stated that Americans should be assured of “safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings.”

Visual impacts, especially those associated with tower structures (notably, electricity transmission towers), have long been an element of NEPA compliance. Even states with strong environmental compliance laws (such as New York and California) have strong visual effects standards. But it is up to the individual federal agencies required to comply with NEPA to create compliance rules and a compliance regimen and in 1974 the FCC did just that.

“The principal, and probably the only, significant environmental effect is the visual impact of the completed facilities,’ wrote the FCC about the potential environmental impacts of microwave relay stations in its 1974 order implementing NEPA rules. When the FCC amended its NEPA rules in 1986, the safeguards for “areas recognized either nationally or locally for their special scenic or recreational value’ were gone.

In their place was guidance noting that such aesthetic issues are best handled by local planning and zoning authorities. A decade later, the Telecommunications Act set up a cooperative Federalism to enable localities to maintain their control over aesthetics.

Within four years of Congress passing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC was pushed by historic preservation interests to explore how to best comply with the NHPA. The end result was yet another modification in 2005 of the FCC’s NEPA rules that include a nearly 100-page report and “programmatic agreement” that dwarfs in density the media ownership rules that Federal judge Richard Posner said in a 1992 that the landmark ruling was an example of “Rube Goldberg complexity.”

*One analyst of FCC policy wrote: *

“the FCC often seems more adroit at jerry-rigging intellectually sloppy deals to appease industry factions.”

Despite its verbiage and breadth, the programmatic agreement failed to define how a tower can alter the character and use of historic properties, including buildings and landscapes. In fact, the FCC and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation approached the problem with blinders on, never once looking to the advances in visual impact assessment made in the electricity generating and transmission industries nor were they interested in successful approaches developed in Europe.

Visual blight and visual impacts are quantifiable and may be evaluated and mitigated effectively through good faith consultations with stakeholders. The outcomes of siting towers and antennas in sensitive cultural and natural landscapes without thoughtful consultation are many.

These include broadcast and wireless telecommunications towers built in farm fields and radio towers in Civil War battlefields.

  • They are historic former municipal water tanks that are more aptly described as telecommunications towers or historic buildings with unsympathetic alterations.

  • Ill-conceived “monopines” and “monopalms” line the nation’s highways

  • towers loom large over minority neighborhoods.

Residents of rural historic districts change the ways they use their interior and exterior space to avoid beacon lights and views of poorly sited towers. And, visitors to historic urban oases where landscape photography has defined the visitor’s experience for more than a century avoid photograping historic buildings and landscapes because a tower now intrudes.

Contrary to arguments by communications industry lawyers and FCC functionaries, looks do matter. NEPA says so. The NHPA says so. Myriad federal court cases say so:

Justice Stevens for the United States Supreme Court iwrote in a 1984 case

“The character of the environment affects the quality of life and the value of property in both residential and commercial areas,"

The FCC continues to raise the bar on what constitutes an impact to sensitive scenic areas. To even out the regulatory asymmetry stakeholders need to be informed about
– the FCC’s environmental rules and
– their local and state environmental laws.

Local planning and zoning officials need to be better informed about their standing in tower siting cases. Remember, Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon.’