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Going to See the Planners

While not falling into the “Lost Cause” category, attending a County Planning Commission meeting when you KNOW your side is going to lose, eats up a day and leaves you disappointed. I have nothing but respect for the commissioners who sit through day after day of pleading and cajoling over whose side is right.

Word had been buzzing for a while that AT&T wanted to put a cell phone tower up on a ridge in Comptche. Rather than NIMBY (not in my back yard) it was YIMBY (yes in my back yard) as the community thought finally our volunteer fire department and new disaster shelter would have something other than a landline for emergency communication.

No map was shared with the community showing coverage until AT&T and their subsidiary, Epic, had to publish one in the two weeks before the Planning Commission meeting for public comment purposes. There was a claim that 200 people would now get Wi-Fi and cell phone service. Fine and dandy. But guess what? No service in the valleys, no service to the fire department, disaster shelter, school, store… So who are they serving?

The proposed site is east of town on Mendocino Redwood Company land on a low ridge surrounded by higher ridges and will require a new, 7,000-foot road. Homeowners on nearby ridgetops already get a cell phone signal from the Mathiseon Peak cell tower about halfway to Mendocino on Comptche-Ukiah Road. They inspected other potential sites for the Comptche tower but of course exactly where is secret information not to be shared. These companies claim they reach 200 people, but guess what? These people are already served!

So a half dozen Comptche folks trekked over the hill to Ukiah on May 16th to tell the Planning Commission that the tower placed where it is proposed will be next to useless and the community does not want AT&T claiming, “They have met the needs of the underserved with this tower…” 

Nope. They have not. This is just a start.

There were five or six cell tower sites up for different areas of the county. 

The Commissioners started the discussion by saying that the state believes cell phones do not damage human health and they don’t want to discuss beliefs that they do. 

Good Luck commissioners, this is Mendocino County. 

A well-spoken member of the Albion Nation stood up for each proposed tower proposal stating very clearly her belief that cell tower emissions are bad. She was allowed her three minutes to state her opinion and she did it very well. Other people who spoke were addressing the issues raised in the permit applications.

You learn new things at these meetings. I didn’t know cell phone towers have set backs from property lines so if they blow over in a wind storm they won’t land on a neighbor's home. The rule seems to be “Five times the height of the tower is the setback,” as I understood it. A 100-foot tower should be 500 feet from a property line. 

So the first permit application for a tower in the Eel River Canyon north of Potter Valley was continued to the next meeting because seven property owners next to the cell phone tower site are too close, and some of those owners said they were never approached about the deal.

While the public can have three minutes each, AT&T and Epic got as much time as they wanted to describe what a great job they were planning to do. I wondered if these folks had been trained by snake oil salesmen before they became communication industry spokespersons. Their companies could do no wrong, they said. Also, there was one-time money/grants attached to these proposals and if they were not approved TODAY someone, someplace else would get the financing and not Mendocino County. I think that’s why the commissioners approved four or five tower proposals that day. Free Money for infrastructure improvements.

Comptche citizens politely pointed out the Comptche tower might be a start but we wanted minutes to clearly show that this tower does NOT meet the needs of the community and does NOT solve telecommunications needs. It’s a START. At least we could get that into the minutes. Also WHY didn’t these companies reach out to the volunteer fire department for suggestions on a site for the tower? MRC owns thousands of acres surrounding Comptche and will get their rent money for the site wherever it is built.

My daughter, who is a naturalist, was worried about rainwater running down 7,000 feet of new road into the headwaters of the Albion River. She stood to speak her mind. She was told Fish & Game said the permit was OK and she should not worry. End of conversation. 

Driving home afterwards over Comptche-Ukiah Road we watched a torrent of muddy water flowing down an active logging road. It gushed over the road, jumped the curb, and dropped straight into the creek below.

This tower, when built, will have a generator that turns on when power goes out. Problem? If memory serves me the fuel tank can run for three days before it runs out. Sheriff Tom Allman has told the Comptche disaster-planning group we’d be lucky to see help from the county in perhaps 10 days after a major disaster. I politely asked AT&T and Epic if they would be sending a fuel truck to Comptche to re-fill a generator in the midst of a countywide disaster so we locals could have our “new” cell phone service functioning. No answer.

So the Planning Commission approved the tower and note will be made that this does not meet the community needs and six citizens had their say. Many people had sent in written comments. Our opinions were heard. AT&T says they will send someone to the next disaster-planning meeting.

Life goes on.

CORRECTION: It has been kindly pointed out to Katy Tahja by the powers that be that it won’t be 7,000’ feet of new road, it will be 7,000’ feet of widened pre-existing rough logging road for the cell tower access in Comptche. The road already there will be trenched to place an underground cable to the tower.


  1. izzy May 23, 2019

    “The Commissioners started the discussion by saying that the state believes cell phones do not damage human health and they don’t want to discuss beliefs that they do.”

    “Beliefs”? This is not the subject of a religious debate. There are literally thousands of published scientific studies, from around the globe and going back a couple of centuries, that show EMF radiation has demonstrated biological effects, many of which are not healthy. As with much else, we pay lip service to science, until it tells us something we don’t want to hear.

    • George Hollister May 23, 2019

      There are statistical correlations for many things, it’s infinite. But just because there is a well established correlation, does not mean causation has been established. The correlation first needs to be tested with a scientific experiment, and then needs to be open to more testing indefinitely into the future. Too often what we see is correlations being presented as tested and verified science, when that is far from the case. Cell phones and cancer, vaccines and autism, Roundup and cancer, CO2 and climate change, talcum powder and cancer, pesticides and bee decline, pesticides and amphibian decline, etc., etc., etc. If we go back 1000 years, it was Jews caused plague, and we burned witches, too. So I guess we have made progress.

      Humans inherently use correlations, like we do many things. And these correlations become part of our world view. But this is not science, so what should it be called other than belief?

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