Verizon text messages deemed ‘offensive’ by Nevada City cell tower opponents
Verizon Wireless had stepped up its effort to sway popular opinion in Nevada City regarding its cell antenna project, by sending text messages to clients rallying their support.
“Reply YES to this text to show your support for the improved Verizon Wireless service in Nevada City,” the message states. “Add a message to tell the City that you support a rooftop facility on the County Probation Building at 109 North Pine Street. Include your email address for updates.”
Heidi Flato, Verizon’s public relations manager for Northern California, said it’s not uncommon for the communications giant to reach out to its customers in order to gauge their support for network improvements in its services areas.
She said the survey results would be shared with Nevada City officials in future discussions regarding the proposed cell antennas.
“Typically when we are pursuing a project, and we are going through the permitting approval, we will share that information with the local jurisdiction so they can understand the support from the community,” she said, “that our customers are asking for better service.”
The use permit application from Verizon Wireless included plans to erect eight cell antennas on the top of a downtown building that house Friar Tuck’s restaurant and the Nevada County Probation Department.
The structure is located at 109 North Pine St., and is co-owned by the county, as well as private owners Kenneth and Kay Baker, and Gary and Patricia Tintle.
Despite receiving the go-ahead from Nevada County and Grass Valley to construct cell towers on Lower Colfax Road and in the Glenbrook Basin, respectively, the company has not made significant progress on its Nevada City project, due to protests from community members.
The latest public hearing, held Aug. 15, resulted in a 4-0 vote by Planning Commissioners to reconsider the project on Sept. 15 after a lengthy debate during which residents discussed concern about radiation, depreciation of property value, and inconsistency with general plan as their reason for objection.
Commissioners also directed staff to prepare two reports, one with findings that support the denial of the project, and the other with findings that support its approval. The latter report will include the condition that the project will not compromise the national historical registry status of Nevada City, officials said.
David Adams, a vocal opponent of the cell antennas, said the text message poll only allows the users to vote “YES”.
“It’s not an accurate survey. We don’t even know if they are even going to count the votes correctly, or what use is going to be made out of them,” said Adams, who is not a Verizon user. “It’s not an independent poll-taking agency or anything like that. It’s just a publicity trick by Verizon. ”
The cell tower project would have a direct personal effect on Gary and Clarinda Stollery, who own Toad Hall Book Shop, a building located at 108 North Pine St., right across from the Friar Tuck’s building, Gary Stollery said.
Stollery, 76, was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2011 and prostate cancer in 2012. During the same year, his wife, Clarinda, 72, had surgery for melanoma. The couple kept their cancer at bay by taking medication and having regular screenings.
“I don’t want to take the chance for either of us to get cancer,” Gary Stollery said. “At our age, we are not going to retire, we need the income, and we’d like to see something and do something.”
Flato said Verizon has implemented and follows a comprehensive compliance program to ensure it meets the safety guidelines imposed by Federal Communications Commission. Verizon facilities typically operate within a fraction of emission levels that the FCC has deemed safe, she said.
“Rather than depreciate property values, there is growing evidence homebuyers are demanding reliable cellular coverage in their homes,” she added.
Headed for city council
Flato said the survey results have not been released. When asked about the lack of reply options for the survey, Flato said the poll simply asked customers to reply “YES” to show support for improved Verizon Wireless service in Nevada City.
“There was an option to include a brief message to let the city know that they are in support of the proposed Verizon facility,” Flato said. “Customers are not charged for receiving or replying to the text message.”
Nevertheless, only one of 14 messages city staff had received from residents by Friday, regarding the survey, voiced support for the project, all other letters expressed anger or frustration over the “text message tactic.”
“Verizon inappropriately sent uninvited texts to get citizens to say YES to their contested towers on Friar Tucks. An offensive campaign … Using my phone and time to garner support, they also rejected texts that said NO,” wrote Jan Jorgensen Cercone. “How ‘uncommunity’ minded and unfair is that?”
“Don’t approve of the new Verizon cell tower projected to be built,” urged Cru Dorsey in another letter.
The responses from residents are available on the city website.
Adams anticipates a lengthy discourse on the issue.
“Our thought is regardless of what the decision is, it’s going to be appealed to the city council,” Adams said. “Either we are going to appeal it, or Verizon is going to appeal it.”
Wolfson echoed Adams’ comment, adding that Verizon representatives have already consulted staff on the appeal process.
“Either way we are going to the city council on this one,” she said.
To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, please email email@example.com, or call 530-477-4236.
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