It took a Eureka ad hoc committee a year to draft "Wireless Telecommunications Facilities," an ordinance that seeks to regulate the placement of cell phone towers within city limits. But it took only 30 minutes of public testimony to set it back at least another month.
"We asked for an ordinance to protect the residents of our city from the blight of cell phone towers," said Sylvia Scott during Monday's Eureka Planning Commission meeting. "This ordinance is not what we wanted -- we object."
Scott was one of several people who spoke out against the draft ordinance. Dissenters called for the prohibition of cell phone towers in residential neighborhoods and historical districts, arguing that the towers are ugly (no matter how much you try to beautify them), drive property values down and are possibly bad for your health (despite federal government assurances to the contrary).
The draft currently contains no prohibition language. Cell phone towers are allowed anywhere in Eureka as long as property owners get conditional use permits and follow a long list of size, appearance and functionality rules.
Former Eureka resident Linda Sutton demanded a more inclusive ordinance drafting process. "If you really cared about the community, you would do everything in your power to get people's opinions about these types of ordinances," she said. "This is just not right."
Many felt disrespected and argued that Eureka residents' needs weren't fully considered.
Once public testimony ended, however, it was clear that the Planning Commission had no intention of pushing the ordinance forward without more open debate. Commissioner Pam Service said the draft is better than before but by no means complete. She too wants to prohibit cell phone towers in residential neighborhoods and historical districts.
Sylvia Scott pumped her fist with approval.
Commissioner Stephen Avis, who sat on the ad hoc committee, motioned for the commission to take another look at the ordinance with public comments in mind and then come back July 12 to discuss and make possible changes. All agreed.
"It is critical that we get this done and we get this done right," said Commissioner Chet Albin, pointing to a wireless future where Humboldt County may be left behind. "We need this."
ADDENDUM: A cell tower protester called the Journal this afternoon to make the following point: If the Feds don't think these things are dangerous, what's with this sign, posted on the gate surrounding the giant-cigarette-like tower on Dean Street in Eureka, near St. Joe's?