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Antenna for Park Picks Up Static

Communications: Neighbors oppose cell phone equipment as nuisance, say they weren't properly notified of city's plan.

September 11, 1997|HOPE HAMASHIGE and JOHN CANALIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEWPORT BEACH — Dan Rabun believes in filling parks with things that benefit the community--like play equipment and ball diamonds.

But he draws the line at cell phone antennas--even if they make the city a little money.

"Have you ever stood at the bottom of one of these and looked up?" he asked. "You would think you were in some industrial or military place--not in a park."

Rabun and the Newport North Homeowners Assn. are crossing wires with City Hall over an agreement with L.A. Cellular to install an antenna in Bonita Creek Park.

Dozens protested at Monday's City Council meeting, although the contract was signed last month and the item was not on the agenda.

Residents contend the antenna will be a nuisance and is an improper way for the city to earn $30,000 a year in user fees.

"It doesn't matter what it looks like," said Rabun, president of the homeowners association. "This park is not an income-producing property. It's a community park for the benefit of the residents."

The device will replace an existing light at a park baseball field and should blend in with remaining lamps of the same height, according to L.A. Cellular. The 60-foot pole, which will still provide field light, will be equipped with an 8-foot antenna wrapped around the midpoint.

"It's very site-friendly, so to speak," said Steven C. Crosby, an L.A. Cellular spokesman. "In fact, it's one of the most unobtrusive we have ever done."

In mobile phone-crazy Southern California, hiding antennas is an art form. L.A. Cellular, after all, dresses antennas in the Santa Monica Mountains and Long Beach as palm trees. But the antennas have sparked similar neighborhood disputes in Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Orange and other communities.

The Newport North residents vow to sue if the City Council fails to reconsider the decision. The residents allege, among other things, that they weren't properly notified of public hearings about the antenna plan. They also allege that telecommunications equipment in public parks violates zoning laws, and that the contract between L.A. Cellular and Newport Beach is invalid without environmental review.

"I think city staff has made some serious errors," Barbara Lichman, an attorney representing the Newport North Homeowners Assn., said.

City officials said that they complied with the law every step of the way and that the contract, signed Aug. 29, is legal. The homeowners, they said, failed to show for the first public hearing on the antenna three months ago.

City Manager Kevin J. Murphy said the city contacted the homeowners association's management and posted meeting agendas at City Hall, as the law requires.

Without opposition, either in person or in writing, the council approved the project.

But residents said they didn't learn of the project until July, when it reached the Coastal Commission, which had a say on the antenna because the park is on tideland.

The commission sent every resident an individual notice that a pole with an auxiliary charging station was slated for Bonita Creek Park. By then, residents said, it was too late for them to organize effective opposition.

City Atty. Bob Burnham said council members could not vote on the project again, even if they wanted to, because reconsidering a vote more than two weeks after it is taken violates city law.

In the last few weeks, Newport North homeowners signed a petition saying they oppose the facility and calling for the ouster of Murphy and Burnham.

Meanwhile, the City Council agreed Monday to look into concerns, and the cellular phone company is willing to continue talks. Representatives of the city attorney's office said they are investigating options.

Rabun said he understands that antennas are needed to make cell phones work. He has one of the phones, after all. "But I also use water," he said, "and I don't want a sewage treatment plant in the park."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NEIGHBORHOODS / Newport North

Bounded by: University Drive on the north, Jamboree Road on the west, Bison Avenue on the south and MacArthur Boulevard on the east

Population: There are 159 single-family homes in the subdivision

Hot topic: About 90% of the residents have signed a petition asking the City Council to reconsider allowing a cellular phone antenna in Bonita Creek Park

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