Wildwood Canyon Radio Tower Application Unresolved

A decade after an Oxnard-based radio station operator first sought clearance to erect a 140-foot high broadcasting tower in Oak Glen in the heights above Yucaipa’s Wildwood Canyon Park, the board of supervisors this week fell short of resolving whether or not the project, reduced to less than one-third that height, should be approved in the environmentally sensitive area.
The project has a significant procedural history, during which the scale of the project has been significantly reduced. It is yet the position of the project’s opponents that the 38-acre location Lazer Broadcasting Corporation acquired for the placement of the antenna, despite the height and size reductions, is an inappropriate one for such a use.
The original project application was filed in 2007 when only one of the current five members of the board of supervisors, Josie Gonzales, was on the panel. That application proposed a steel lattice tower, 140 feet in height, and a 250 square foot equipment shelter with a 500-gallon fuel tank and back-up generator. The original project called for a zoning variance to reduce the vegetation-free zone surrounding the tower. On November 6, 2008, the county planning commission approved the project and adopted a mitigated negative declaration in lieu of requiring that a full environmental impact report for the project be undertaken, in so doing stating that any adverse impacts from the project could either be redressed by requirements imposed upon the applicant as a consequence of the project approval or were so insignificant as to be negligible. A group composed primarily of Yucaipa and Oak Glen residents, calling themselves Citizens for Preservation of Rural Living, disagreed with the planning commission’s assessment and appealed the approval of the project. The board of supervisors, which then consisted of Gonzales, Gary Ovitt, Brad Mitzelfelt, Neil Derry and Paul Biane, conducted a public hearing on January 27, 2009 and continued its consideration until March 3, 2009, at which point the board granted the appeal and denied the project with prejudice, meaning that the applicant would have to wait at least one year to re-file the application. The vote was 4-0, with Biane absent. The project application was re-filed on May 6, 2010. The original design was initially modified to reduce the steel tower height to 43 feet. Later, the proposed material was modified to a wooden pole. The variance for a reduced fuel modification zone was also proposed in the revised project. Staff initially presented the application to the planning commission on March 17, 2011 with a recommendation for denial, based on the previous denial with prejudice by the board. The staff report recommending denial did not include a California Environmental Quality Act document, which is not required for denial of a project. The planning commission continued the item to May 5, 2011, at which hearing the planning commission stated an intention to approve the project and directed staff to prepare an environmental analysis and return to the planning commission with findings for approval of the project. Staff engaged an environmental impact analysis consultant to prepare another mitigated negative declaration to analyze the revised project, with an emphasis on the analysis of potential visual impacts, especially impacts on views from Wildwood Canyon State Park. On September 20, 2012, the planning commission adopted the mitigated negative declaration and approved the project. Citizens for Preservation of Rural Living appealed to the board of supervisors, then consisting of Ovitt, Gonzales, Derry, Mitzelfelt and Janice Rutherford. On November 27, 2012 the board of supervisors heard the appeal in a public hearing and denied the appeal and approved the project by a vote of 4-0 with supervisor Rutherford absent.
Subsequently, Citizens for Preservation of Rural Living filed a lawsuit against the county, citing the California Environmental Quality Act. That suit resulted in a court order for the county to vacate the project approval and to prepare an environmental impact report. An environmental impact report was prepared to address the impacts on visual and recreational resources, land use and fire safety, as specified in the court order. Staff recommended that the board, which at that time consisted of Gonzales, Rutherford, Curt Hagman, Robert Lovingood and James Ramos, set aside the previous project approval, certify the environmental impact report and re-approve the project in a public hearing on April 18, 2017. The previous project approval was vacated by a vote of 4-0-1. Supervisor Rutherford abstained because she was not present during a portion of the hearing. A motion to continue the item to allow her to review a video of the proceedings that took place before she arrived and vote on the item failed. The vote on staff’s recommendation to certify the environmental impact report was 2-2-1, with supervisors Gonzales and Hagman in favor, supervisors Lovingood and Ramos opposed, and supervisor Rutherford abstaining. The supervisors who voted against certification of the environmental impact report voiced concerns about the adequacy of the analysis of visual impacts and project alternatives. Since a majority vote is necessary to certify an environmental impact report and take final action on the project, the only final action by the board of supervisors on April 18, 2017 was to set aside the previous approval of the project.
After the April 18, 2017 board hearing, the applicant requested a hearing by the planning commission on the conditional use permit application. The planning commission held a public hearing on November 9, 2017. The county’s environmental impact report consultant, Lilburn Corporation, prepared a memo to respond to issues raised by the board in its discussion of adequacy of the environmental impact report at the board’s hearing on April 18, 2017. Considering the staff report on the project, the environmental impact report, the clarification provided in the Lilburn memo, and testimony from the applicant and the public, the planning commission certified the environmental impact report and approved the project with a vote of 3-1, with commissioner Paul F. Smith opposed and commissioner Nan Rider absent. Citizens for Preservation of Rural Living appealed that action to the board of supervisors.
When the board of supervisors took the matter up on Tuesday February 13, they did so after having to walk a gauntlet of Citizens for Preservation of Rural Living members bearing 30 inch by 18 inch placards that said, “Stop The Tower Now” to get into the building. After arriving, the supervisors adjourned to a closed session prior to the public portion of the regularly scheduled board meeting in which one of the topics under discussion was the lawsuit Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Living v. County of San Bernardino Case No. CIVDS1213273.
As part of the staff report for the meeting, Tom Hudson, the county’s director of its land use services department and Terri Rahhal, the county’s planning director, laid out what they called “summaries of the main points in the Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Living appeal, and staff responses” for the board’s consideration.
According to Hudson and Rahhal, one of the appellant’s contentions is that the “environmental impact report should not be certified because it fails to respond to the court order in the case of Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Living v. County of San Bernardino, including failure to address an appropriate range of alternatives and failure to analyze potential impacts to biotic resources and cultural resources and potentially significant geotechnical hazards.”
Hudson and Rahhall dispute this, asserting, “The environmental impact report complies with the court order and with California Environmental Quality Act, as documented in the California Environmental Quality Act findings and as clarified in the August 31, 2017 memo from Lilburn Corporation to the planning commission.”
Another of the appellant’s contentions is, according to Hudson and Rahhall, “that the county has not enforced provisions of the development code related to analysis of biotic resources and geologic hazards.”
In response, Hudson and Rahhall contend, “The project analysis has gone through numerous technical reviews for compliance with the county development code, California Environmental Quality Act and other state regulations that protect biotic resources and that protect the public from geologic hazards. These analyses are detailed in the environmental impact report and summarized in the California Environmental Quality Act findings.”
Another of the appellant’s contentions is, according to Hudson and Rahhall, that “the findings for approval of the project do not adequately address open space goals and policies of the county general plan and the Oak Glen Community Plan.” In response, Hudson and Rahhall contend “The California Environmental Quality Act findings and the findings for project approval adopted by the planning commission do address consistency with open space goals and policies of the general plan and the Oak Glen Community Plan. All aspects of the project review process, including the visual impact analyses, modifications to the antenna design, provisions made to ensure minimal disturbance of the site and measures approved to preclude future development of the site, have been focused on respecting current and future enjoyment of the open space in the surrounding area, particularly in Wildwood Canyon State Park.”
Another of the appellant’s contentions is, according to Hudson and Rahhall, that “the planning commission approval of the project is defective due to errors and omissions related to not recognizing adverse impacts on Wildwood Canyon State Park. In response, Hudson and Rahhall contend “The previous staff responses cover this point.”
Lazer Broadcasting Corporation owns and operates 18 Spanish Language Radio Stations in 10 California markets, including KXRS-FM 105.7 in Hemet, KXSB-FM 101.7 in Big Bear, KSBQ-AM 1480 in Santa Maria, KZER-AM 1250 in Santa Barbara, KLJR-FM 96.7 in Santa Paula, KOXR-AM 910 in Oxnard, KBTW-FM 104.5 in Lenwood, KLMM-FM 94.1 in Morro Bay, KLUN-FM 103.1 in Paso Robles, KCAL-AM 1410 in Redlands, KXLM-FM 102.9 in Oxnard, KSRN-FM 107.7 in Kings Beach, KSSB-FM 100.9 in Calipatria, KXSM-FM 93.5 in Hollister, KXZM-FM 93.7 in Felton, KSRT-FM 107.1 in Cloverdale, KJOR-FM 104.1 in Windsor, KXTT-FM 94.9 in Maricopa and KEAL-FM 106.5 in Taft. Lazer features a regional Mexican format known as ‘’Radio Lazer,’’ adult hits known as ‘’La Mejor,’’ and traditional Mexican ranchero music known as ‘’La Mexicana.’’
Lazer corporate officials say they are committed to the Oak Glen site because though they have considered seven potential sites at which to mount a booster to extend its reach to somewhere on the order of 1.5 million listeners, six of which have been approved by the Federal Communications Commission, the one overlooking Wildwood Canyon Park is the only one which will meet the company’s coverage needs. They touted the system as one which will ensure that Spanish-language emergency warnings can reach a significant portion of the Southland’s population.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Jesus Arate, the promotions director for Lazer Broadcasting, said, “I highly support this project. Lots of people will benefit. I attended a couple of events in the City of Yucaipa, an art and music festival, an autumn festival and a winter festival,” adding he heard “lots of comments from the people who approached me. They said, ‘Are you the radio station that is trying to put a radio tower in my town?’ And I said, ‘It’s not a tower. It’s a telephone pole.’ So, there’s a lot of misinformation for lots of residents in the City of Yucaipa. Hispanics approach me, also, saying that for some reason they signed [approval appeal] support letters without knowing what they were signing, or they made it seem like it was a huge tower, like an electrical tower. So there’s a lot of misinformation out there. I think lots of people will benefit in the case of an emergency, like a fire, like an earthquake, like a road accident or something like that. I would urge the board of supervisors to consider and approve this project for the benefit of over a million new listeners that would take advantage of this telephone pole. We complied with all the requirements. We have experts on the planning commission who approved this project. We complied and we followed all the rules that you guys gave us.”
David Cruz, the president of the California Latino Megaquake Preparedness Coalition, said “We’re working throughout California to make people in this state more aware of proper procedures during times of emergency, to give vital information to a large number of people as quickly as we can. In the darkness of night, radio is so important to helping people know which roads to take. Radio is so important. What I would ask you ladies and gentlemen would be to consider that this project can be wonderful for the community and I do take into account that you’re concerned about the appearance of the area and the significance of the area. You have my respect on that. What I have seen is a project that has developed over time, and our coalition is here today in support of the project and I hope this community can come together and move forward together.”
Gregory Ramirez, the general counsel to Lazer Broadcasting, said the request to erect the tower is best considered as a property rights matter. As long as the proponent stays within the confines of the code and law, the property owner is at liberty to develop property as is deemed fit, he said.
The attorney representing Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Living, John Mirau, however, said the board had discretion to approve or disapprove the project, and that the permitting process should not be a slam dunk for Lazer Broadcasting. “One of the things they say is they have the right to do it as a matter of right,” said Mirau. “Actually, they don’t. That’s why we’re here. It’s a conditional use permit. They do not have the right to do it. They have to go through the conditional use permit process, which weighs the community advantages and disadvantages, requires certain findings, that the property is unusual [in having features] that other properties can’t satisfy, etcetera.”
Dick Riddell, who has been on the Yucaipa City Council for a quarter of a century and was on the planning commission prior to that, said, “In all my time in public service there, and I’m probably as well known and get around as much as anybody in Yucaipa, there’s never been an issue that has disturbed the people and has upset the people as much as this radio pole. In all the coffeehouses, the restaurants, other public places, the topic is this radio pole, wherever people congregate to talk and speak. There are signs all over town to stop this pole. It’s really got the people upset. For the life of me, I don’t know why an organization, a business like Lazer Broadcasting that serves the public, why they haven’t voluntarily withdrawn this. There’s probably 100,000 people, at least, in Yucaipa and the surrounding comm[unities] that are upset over this. I don’t know why they haven’t voluntarily withdrawn it. But since they have not, I urgently urge the board of supervisors to do the right thing, do the smart thing, deny this project once and for all and put closure to this thing. This project should be denied. If it is approved, people are going to be disturbed about it for years and years and years to come.”
Dr. Ruben Guerra, the chairman of the Latin Business Association, said “I am here in support of the Lazer Broadcasting request before you. Your decision to approve Lazer’s request is an important step forward. It will help more Latinos who speak Spanish to receive important information that affects their well-being.”
Cecilia Johns, a Yuciapa resident, said the effort to put a tower onto the parkland was a manifestation of “arrogance. You seem to be choosing between what may be good for one business over what is good for an entire community, including the community of Mother Nature. We all have seen the fires in the last several months. This is nothing more than arrogant business power versus everyday citizens. Thousands of citizens, by signing our petition, have voiced their fears, reservations and objections to this project. Are you really going to arrogantly ignore all of us in favor of one business and their ridiculous claims? We did not buy 20,000 signatures. We stood in front of the markets, the post office and intersections. Where is the democracy that this country is so proud of that we want to export it to the rest of the world? Are you even listening to people who actually live in Yucaipa, raise their families in Yucaipa, build Yucaipa and preserve Yucaipa, or are you only interested in promoting yourselves as pro-business?”
The board of supervisors, seemingly overwhelmed by the conflict between what Lazer Broadcasting was asking for coupled with county staff’s and the planning commission’s approval of the project set against the local populace’s opposition to the project, proved incapable of making an immediate determination, and continued the matter to March 20.
Supervisor James Ramos, in whose district the proposed project is located, sounded as if he were leaning against allowing the tower to be erected. He said that in considering the matter, his colleagues should ponder that “This is a local issue and trying to figure out what is best for the local community. And when you talk about the open spaces and development plans, those issues are there, an understanding of the aesthetics, of this pristine location, of the hikers that have testified here today, that it is important to the local community, and to make sure we are listening to the local voice because it’s about local control at the end of the day.”
Both supervisors Curt Hagman and Josie Gonzales appear to favor Lazer. Thus, it is likely that the vote of Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford will be key to the fate of the tower proposal. Consistently in the past, the Second District supervisor – first Biane and then Rutherford – was absent or abstained during the board’s votes on the project.
Mark Gutglueck

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