Menifee City Council reluctantly approves the 70-foot AT&T cell tower proposed in Wheatfield Park

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After months of deliberation and a lawsuit now filed by AT&T, the Menifee City Council reluctantly gave the go ahead for the telecommunications company to build their proposed 70-foot high cell tower in Valley-Wide’s Wheatfield Park during the Wednesday, Aug. 5, regular city council meeting.

The cell tower that will be housed in a 70-high clock tower in the middle of the park located in the city at 30627 Menifee Road is owned and operated by the Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District. Though owned by the recreation district, any permanent structure on the property needs to be approved by the city and follow its city building and safety codes. The cell tower, which was carefully designed to fit in with the architecture and follow city codes, initially received the OK from the city planning commission but an outcry from the area residents brought the council to waive the planning commission recommendation, saying AT&T should find a better place to build the tower.

AT&T said there were too many areas surrounding the park where calls were being dropped and it was hindering local public safety agency responses to accidents and crimes and a tower at the park would resolve those coverage problems. They also argued federal law would allow them to place their towers or equipment wherever needed to better provide communication to the most people, essential businesses and services and during major emergencies.

AT&T said refusal from Mt. San Jacinto College to build on their Menifee Campus, a nearby property owner and from the Bell Mountain Middle School where another tower is already located was found inadequate for the needed additional cellphone coverage, making it impossible to change the location.

Still, the council decided to continue the AT&T Wheatfield Cell Tower hearings until Wednesday and the approval of the required conditional use permits until a better location could be found. AT&T filed a lawsuit against the city, which means according to the city’s attorney Jeff Melching, the city should “remand” their decision.

He said his firm looked over the lawsuit and determined AT&T would most likely win at a high legal cost to the city and if they won, they could build the tower any way they wanted at the location, ignoring the prior use and construction agreements made with the city.

“It is clear we have risk,” Melching said. “AT&T has risk, but the city has more risk.”

With that, the council discussed the ramifications of continuing their decision to override the planning commission’s recommendation for approval.

District 3 councilmember Lesa Sobek said, “We have our hands tied,” before agreeing to letting AT&T go ahead and build the tower in the park.

Councilmember Matthew Liesemeyer from District 2 said, “I ask for the city’s forgiveness, but the cost of litigation is too high. We don’t have much of a choice.”

He voted to let the tower be built.

District 4 Councilmember Dean Deines shaking his head said, “It is frustrating,” and voted yes to the AT&T project.

Mayor Bill Zimmerman said, “I don’t want it here,” but whatever judgment the court handed down, it would still be true that the property it will be built on “is not our property.” Asked if Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District had an input on the matter, the staff said they offered none.

The final decision made by the council was to remand their initial denial and give AT&T the conditional use permit they sought.

Melching said up to this point the cost of reviewing the lawsuit was minimal but would increase substantially, win or lose, if it went before the court.

A lengthy discussion on a proposed Menifee legislative platform followed the Wheatfield tower discussion. The legislative platform was designed to adopt official city positions on matters affecting the city at the local, regional, state and federal levels. The approval will allow city staff and legislative advocates to address and track issues in a timely manner pursuant to established procedures. The legislative program consists of the legislative platform, policy and procedures to coordinate advocacy efforts to influence results, legislative history and legislative tracking, according to the staff report.

After giving their approval of the legislative platform, the staff was handed a list of issues in different categories for them to either support or deny.

Specifically, the procedure allows the staff and council to give their opinion on: “legislation at both the state and federal levels may be supported or opposed based on the approved legislative platform. In addition, positions of ‘support if amended’ and ‘oppose unless amended’ may be conveyed if concurrent with the platform. The city may also provide a letter of concern or interest without taking a formal position on the legislation.

“The city manager will review requests to take positions on an issue. For approved requests in accordance with the platform, a communication will be prepared for the mayor’s approval and signature. Requests inconsistent with the platform or silent on issues will be placed on a city council agenda for consideration,” according to the staff report.

Many of those issues brought questions from different members of the council, resulting in some being returned to the staff for further study or being held until more information was gleaned and reported to council. The platform, according to staff, would help provide the council’s views in a much more timely manner to other county, state and federal government agencies in hopes of making a difference in their decisions.

Menifee and many other cities in the Inland Empire are members of the League of California Cities that also provides timely information about legislation that could affect the residents of the region, the counties and cities.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.