After nearly a year of heated discussion, a network of wireless antennas was finally approved for Montecito on Tuesday, despite lingering concerns that the system will impair views, lower property values, and cause health woes for residents of the rural, wealthy community.
The County of Santa Barbara’s Board of Supervisors, however, did not have much choice in the matter — federal law precludes blocking telecommunications infrastructure due to health concerns, and county staff had addressed the aesthetic concerns by putting most of the network’s hardware in underground vaults.
But that didn’t stop the wireless company’s representative from playing hardball before the vote, as NextG’s slick-haired, pinstripe-suited attorney, Patrick Ryan, reminded the board that his company — which has successfully set up other wireless nodes from Goleta to Carpinteria without much hassle — could appeal the denial of all the permits if they didn’t vote his way.
Such threats did not sit well with 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who represents Montecito and criticized the “extortive nature” of Ryan’s threats. “I’m going home tonight and I’m taking five showers because it just feels terrible and yucky what you’re saying,” said an angry Carbajal. “It’s not a good way of interacting with the community where you’re doing business.”
Public commenters included attorney Marc Chytilo, who is representing eight Montecito families that reside amidst the network. He argued that the antennas, which cannot be undergrounded, will continue to impair both private and public views, that the undergrounding process does not protect cultural resources, and that there are alternative sites available. But the supervisors moved forward with a reluctant approval — specifically, undergrounding six sites and letting two remain on the power poles with an opportunity for NextG to negotiate new locations.
Both Carbajal and 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno also pledged to change the county’s telecommunications ordinance to better protect schools, parks, and other public places. NextG’s attorney then came through with his end of the bargain, and withdrew applications for two more sites, promising, “We do not intend to resubmit.”