At the May 17 Hanford City Council meeting the vote was three to two to deny Verizon Wireless its Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to build a wireless tower in a corner of Hidden Valley Park. Council members Russ Curry, David Ayers and Francisco Ramirez voted against granting the CUP and Mayor Justin Mendes and Garry Pannett voted in favor.
At issue was Verizon’s desire to build a 78-foot tower on a 484 square-foot piece of property. The tower would be disguised as a pine tree and sit in the south west corner of the park close to 11th avenue and Cortner Street, close to a residential area. The tower would sit on nine cell blocks of cement with an 10-foot tall chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.
Jack and Suzanne Willis, and Jean and Jim Leonard, all of whom live on Laura Lane next to the park and in close proximity to the proposed tower, appealed the April 12 Hanford Planning Commission’s decision to approve the structure.
During the city council’s public hearing it was standing-room-only. Of the eight speakers, all of the Hanford residents were against the tower and the two Verizon employees spoke in favor.
Jack Willis spoke on behalf of the four residents who filed the appeal. Dissent broke out when Mayor Mendes cut Willis off after five minutes, saying that a public hearing is no different than public comment. After attendees started giving Willis their five minutes to speak, the city clerk advised the mayor that Willis indeed did have 15 minutes to present his case.
Willis appealed the planning commission’s decision based on the fact that the tower should not be exempt from a CEQA review. He also said that the tower did not qualify as an infill development as Hanford staff claimed because it was not unused or underutilized land. The tower also was not consistent with Hanford’s general plan, said Willis. Lastly, to approve the tower the land would have to be surrounded by urban use. The proposed tower site is surrounded by a ponding basin, vacant lot and Hidden Valley Park.
Robin Mattos, representing Hanford Environmental Action Team (HEAT), said that this was a completely inappropriate use of Hidden Valley Park and that the tower would be ten to twelve feet higher than any of the trees. “This is not a good use of our open space when you think how little park space we have in Hanford. We are in a deficit. It’s not the only 485 square-feet of land available in Hanford. They can find somewhere else.
Mickey Stoddard, a Parks and Recreation Commissioner, was miffed as to why the issue of the tower was not brought before his department. He said that someone just approached the Parks and Recreation department to erect a tool shed. “Don’t you think a 78-foot tower should also come before the department?”
Stoddard pointed out to the council that not brining it before the department violated their own city municipal code. City Manager Darlene Mata said that CUPs are not required to be reviewed by the park and recreation department.
Marilyn Petterson, who has lived in Hanford since 1968, said that Hidden Valley Park is a very personal place for her and her family. Her children played there and a bench in the park is dedicated to her daughter who passed away a few years ago. “I want you to really think of the human side of this when you make a decision.”
The two Verizon employees who spoke in favor of the tower emphasized the need for more coverage. They said that the other towers are at capacity. They also said they looked at two other sites for the tower but neither worked out. “It is the best location for the best service,” said the Verizon representative.
Verizon may appeal the city council’s decision.