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A better approach on emergency warning system

  • Updated

Given the staff report, we were shocked and disappointed that the Napa County Board of Supervisors decided to continue talks with Illumination Technologies (ITC) to install 32 60-foot monopoles disguised as trees and equipped with fire warning sirens in the public right-of-way. ITC would recoup the cost of the monopoles, plus profit, by leasing them to wireless companies, using public land for corporate profit.

The county is pursuing the project in the name of fire safety and equal access to technology. However, nothing in the staff report indicated that those goals would be met by the proposal.

The fire chief pointed out many flaws in Illumination Technologies’ proposed emergency warning system. For example, he acknowledged that the cell towers could themselves cause a wildfire. He also stated that the plan “leaves ‘gaps’ within the county where areas such as Mt. Veeder/Dry Creek, upper Atlas Peak, upper Soda Canyon, Berryessa Estates, Gordon Valley and portions of Pope Valley are not covered.”

These sirens are supposedly about fire safety, yet do not cover the areas historically first hit by wildfires.

The staff report did not acknowledge the alternative emergency warning system proposed earlier by the sheriff to use hi-lo sirens on emergency vehicles to signal an evacuation and to use those same emergency vehicles to deliver audible messages to give specific information about the nature of the emergency and actions to take. In addition, the sheriff’s assessment of the ITC proposal was completely absent from the staff report.

Why isn’t the county listening to its own public safety experts?

In terms of the ITC proposal bringing access to technology to underserved areas, the Broadband Consortium acknowledged that the proposed monopoles are on the Valley floor where there is already good cell coverage and that “providers will be most interested in sites in populated or heavily trafficked areas.” The group also acknowledged that the county cannot force providers into unpopulated (unprofitable) areas and does not explain why Illumination Technologies would have more influence than the county in persuading them to do so.

The Broadband Consortium acknowledged its preference for broadband fiber over wireless cellular service and that Illumination Technologies would not be able to bring broadband fiber to these underserved areas. If the Broadband Consortium is really interested in meeting its goal of bringing broadband fiber to underserved areas, it should work with the state to access money owed by telecommunication companies to provide free broadband fiber to areas that don’t have it— money that was won in the Irregulators v. FCC lawsuit.

Finally, the staff report claims that the county’s telecommunications ordinance pertains only to applications for cell towers on private land and not public land, and that as a result, “there [would be] no required noticing of nearby neighbors and no public hearing.” We dispute that claim as that distinction is nowhere to be found in the ordinance.

In addition, erecting a 60-foot monopole/cell tower equipped with a fire siren near someone’s home or business without informing the owners in advance and allowing them to provide input would lack transparency and be undemocratic.

The county has the ultimate authority and responsibility to regulate the design and location of telecommunications installations in the public right-of-way to protect the Valley’s aesthetics, property values, and public health and safety. The 1996 Telecommunications Act and recent court rulings, such as Metro PCS Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco in 2005 and the 2019 California Supreme Court ruling in T-Mobile v. San Francisco, have all affirmed this fact.

Will we all have to endure these monopoles on the Valley floor where they are not needed so that ITC can earn their profit and then “generously” provide monopoles in the remote areas where they are actually needed? There is a much better way.

We request that the board not waste any more staff time or money on this proposal and instead work with the sheriff to implement his low-cost, low-impact emergency warning system; provide monopoles with sirens in the remote areas using some of the money from the PG&E fire settlement; work with the state to bring free broadband fiber to underserved areas in Napa County; and, strengthen the county’s telecommunications ordinance by regulating the design and location of cell towers and cell antennas to protect the public, using the model ordinance found on the website.

Valerie Wolf

Napa Neighborhood Association for Safe Technology

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