HANFORD — Hanford City Council chambers erupted in applause Tuesday night after council members voted to kill a proposal to put a cellphone tower in Hidden Valley Park.
The vote was 3-2, with Councilman Russ Curry, Councilman David Ayers and Vice Mayor Francisco Ramirez voting against the idea.
Mayor Justin Mendes and Councilman Gary Pannett voted for it.
The vote came after impassioned testimony from Hanford resident Jack Willis, who lives near the proposed tower location.
Willis was there Tuesday night asking the council to reverse a 4-1 decision by the Hanford Planning Commission on April 12 to allow the tower.
Willis and other opponents of the tower’s proposed location were in a celebratory mood after the vote.
“I am surprised and elated,” said Willis, a retired English teacher. “I just can’t believe it.”
“I love it,” said Lynda Mays.
Mays said she lives near the park and frequently takes her grandson there to play.
“I didn’t want it spoiled,” she said. “I don’t think Hidden Valley Park is the place to put it. It’s a public space.”
The vote came despite testimony from Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever that installing the tower would improve police service in that area of Hanford.
Sever told councilmembers that his officers increasingly rely on mobile devices to respond to calls.
Sever said dropped calls are a problem.
“I do think we need additional cell tower infrastructure in Hanford,” Sever said in an interview. “I hope that Verizon is still interested in putting one in. It’s needed.”
“We’re disappointed in the decision and are evaluating our next steps,” said Verizon Spokeswoman Heidi Flato in a written statement.
Flato said the location “would have added much-needed data capacity and greatly improved our network performance in the downtown Hanford area.”
One of the concerns Willis and other opponents had going into the meeting was about possible cancer risk from radio frequency waves the tower would generate.
That was quickly shot down by Hanford City Attorney Ty Mizote Tuesday night.
Mizote said that federal law barred the city from denying the application on radiofrequency grounds if the conditional use permit application met Federal Communications Commission guidelines for acceptable radio frequency emissions.
City planners testified that the proposed tower complied with the guidelines.
But Hanford residents brought up other arguments against the idea.
Mickey Stoddard, a member of the Hanford Parks and Recreation Commission, complained that the proposal went directly to the planning commission without first going through the parks and recreation commission for input.
“I’m concerned about the steps taken or not taken,” Stoddard said. “I suggest that you refer this back to the parks and recreation commission so that you can follow your own municipal code.”
Stoddard argued that the code requires anything relating to city parks and recreation programs to go before the planning commission.
However, city staff said that the code requires conditional use permit applications to go straight to the planning commission.
Stoddard’s argument seemed to affect councilmembers who ultimately voted against the proposal.
Both Curry and Ramirez wondered why it didn’t go to the parks and recreation commission for consideration.
Paul Albritton, a lawyer advocating for the proposal on behalf of Verizon, said the tower, which would have been disguised as a fake tree with metal branches, was compatible with the park.
Albritton also testified that the two existing Verizon cell towers serving north Hanford are “overloaded.”
He said adding the tower would improve the capacity of “the entire Hanford network.”
Verizon would have paid the city $24,000 a year for at least 15 years to lease the spot in the park where the tower would have gone, according to Darlene Mata, community development director for Hanford.
The money would likely have been put in the parks and recreation budget, according to Mata.
All told, five local residents spoke against the proposal during the public comment portion of the public hearing. Sever was the only one to walk up to the microphone and speak in favor of it.