The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to uphold an appeal by Stevenson Ranch residents and deny a proposed 75-foot wireless communications tower after residents spoke against the project during a scheduled public hearing.
“I voted to oppose this cell tower project in response to the concerns raised by my constituents who live, work and play in the Stevenson Ranch community,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley.
“I want to be clear; this is not a reflection of AT&T in any way. I carefully listened to advocates on both sides of this issue. But I want us to develop options that both meet and keep residents’ priorities in the forefront,” Barger continued. “We have more work to do to ensure we deploy appropriate solutions in our residential communities.”
AT&T submitted its project plans and applied for a conditional use permit to authorize the construction and operation of a new wireless facility, which would consist of one 75-foot monopine and appurtenant facilities, at the start of 2021.
According to Jerry Ambrose, representative of AT&T, the company had proposed the project after the West Ranch Town Council and the Stevenson Ranch Homeowners Association reached out to all four telephone carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — at the time, essentially “inviting” the carriers to bring better service to the area.
“As many of you know, back in 2017, Stevenson Ranch and the Santa Clarita Valley suffered through some severe wildfires,” Ambrose said, referring to the Rye Fire, which burned more than 6,000 acres, threatened more than 5,000 structures and prompted evacuations, and the Woosley Fire. “AT&T proposed the project in direct response to the community outreach for needed improved wireless services in Stevenson Ranch.”
According to documents submitted to the Department of Regional Planning, the proposed project would have been built at 25550 West Kavenagh Lane in Stevenson Ranch on approximately 945 square feet of land — with parts of Stevenson Ranch Elementary, single-family residential dwellings, Dr. Richard H. Rioux Memorial Park, a walking trail and community gardens all within 500 feet of the project.
The proposed project met resistance from more than 400 Stevenson Ranch community members — led by residents Tiffany Hedgpeth and Annette Peterson, who worked to inform their neighbors and advocated against the project.
Hedgpeth cited potential health hazards to the community as a result of exposure to radio waves and possible radiation, a decrease in home values, up to 12%, and aesthetic reasons for the community opposing the tower.
In addition, Hedgpeth noted the project would violate county law and policies regulating cell towers.
“You each have a duty to implement county laws and policies at 75 feet,” Hedgpeth, who is a partner with Edgcomb Law Group, said during the public hearing. “The tower violates the 35-foot height restriction on cell towers in residential communities in both the wireless facilities ordinance, but also in the long-standing wireless facilities policy.”
Ambrose noted the hearing officer and Regional Planning Commission determined that the project is in compliance with all county codes, ordinances and policies regarding wireless telecommunication facilities.
The Board of Supervisors, after hearing both the defendant and appellant on the proposed project, received public comment on the issue before discussing the item. More than 30 speakers addressed the Board of Supervisors with a majority of speakers in opposition to the project.
“I live and own property in Stevenson Ranch since 2002,” said resident Denese Zuniga. “I’m against placing the cell tower that will be one block away and in direct line of sight of my home. We on purpose bought our home in a neighborhood without commercial structures.”
Zuniga reiterated that real estate agents have said property values would “dramatically” decrease, the tower would be a blight on the community, and expressed her health concerns the tower might potentially cause.
Her comments were then repeated in some form by other Stevenson Ranch residents. There were a few comments from residents who favored the proposed project.
According to those residents, the tower would improve cell service for daily use and enhance communication in times of an emergency. They also noted that it would improve cell service for Stevenson Ranch Elementary.
Newhall School District officials acknowledged a need in Stevenson Ranch for improved service back in August 2022, but were unsure whether the tower would accomplish that goal. Ultimately, the governing board passed a resolution that addressed wireless communication facilities.
The district also took a position against the proposed project, according to county officials.
“We know that on our school campus, if you’re standing out in the yard, you don’t always get service, or it’s spotty, so the school district has an interest in improved service,” said Donna Rose, president of the district governing board at the time. “But… we also have an interest in making sure that this tower is going to be safe for our kids and our staff.”
Supervisors had a brief discussion on what might be the best solution to address cell coverage. County staff suggested a combination of cell tower and small cell facilities, which are usually attached to street lights or street signs.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell, 2nd District, asked staff where, if any, cell towers were located in residential areas in the county. County staff could not give a definitive answer, but noted cell towers are usually in commercial areas — there are some in East L.A. on Third Street, and another in Kenneth Hahn Park in Baldwin Hills.
“I just want to concur with my colleagues,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, 4th District, and chair of the board. “I do think that there’s going to be necessary steps for us to go back and review it because there’s too many loopholes.”
The Board of Supervisors recently amended county code regarding wireless facilities for the purpose of streamlining permits and creating clearer guidelines to follow. But this discussion highlighted the need to review macro wireless communication facilities, especially in disadvantaged communities, according to Supervisor Hilda Solis, 1st District.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to uphold the appeal and deny the Department of Regional Planning’s recommendation to approve the proposed project.