Proposed ordinance deemed not ready, but motion to rework it denied on tie-breaking vote by mayor
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
The Ashland City Council wrestled in a quagmire without coming to a solution on a proposed ordinance to regulate small cell wireless facilities Tuesday night.
The facilities — commonly referred to as 5G — have been a point of contention for some residents of Ashland who identify themselves as sensitive to radio frequency radiation emitted by the towers and have asked that the city create an ordinance to regulate 5G.
“This body has had a number of considerations around 5G over the last five years. … We want to maintain as much local control as possible,” said Mayor Tonya Graham.
Tuesday night, an ordinance was offered as a resolution for the council to approve. However, after questions from Graham, Acting City Attorney Doug McGeary stated the ordinance was not yet ready. The proposed ordinance was based on an ordinance created by the League of Oregon Cities for 5G regulation and amended by McGeary at the direction of council to allow for greater local control, according to meeting materials.
Opposition and support for the ordinance were voiced by seven individuals: Three Ashland residents spoke in favor and four representatives of telecommunications companies warned, via Zoom, of repercussions.
“There are critical issues in the ordinance that, if adopted as proposed, would expose the city to legal risk,” said Gregg Busch, a member of AT&T’s outside legal counsel.
Busch referenced a comment letter from the “joint industry” submitted to the city of Ashland. He emphasized the proposed restrictions on cell towers would be in violation of federal law and would require telecommunications companies to build more small cell towers to achieve reliable service.
Kim Allen, speaking for the Wireless Policy Group on behalf of Verizon Wireless, referred to Ashland’s proposed code as, “One of the most restrictive and difficult I have ever seen.” Allen pointed to the city of Ashland’s tourism goals, stating that visitors to Ashland will expect to have connectivity.
Ashland resident Marilyn Lindsay stated that from 1998 to 2018 the telecommunications industry spent $1.2 billion lobbying congress to ensure the passage of laws protecting their own interests, including a law protecting the industry from liability related to the adverse health effects of radio frequency radiation from wireless technology.
“Unfortunately, it is up to local citizens to rally local governments to enact ordinances that go beyond telecom-authored safety models — such as those by the League of Oregon Cities,” Lindsay said.
She urged council to watch a six-minute video by Starling Childs describing the effects of radio frequency radiation on insects, mammals, amphibians and forests.
Ashland resident Kelly Marcotulli referred to the letter from telecommunications companies as bully tactics and asked the City Council to, she said, uphold Ashland’s common values and listen to citizen experts.
When councilors asked about the city’s options for controlling the location and volume of small cell towers, McGeary responded that too many limitations would open the city to risk.
“You run the risk of violating FCC rules or you run the risk of them saying, ‘We’re not interested in going through with this.’ They either challenge you or they simply leave, go to the next town,” he said.
Mayor Graham asked councilors to come to a decision. Councilors variously stated frustration and confusion that after many months of work and the debate of past meetings, the ordinance did not appear to be ready.
“I don’t know where we are, we’re still stuck,” said Councilor Gina DuQuenne.
With the mandated end time for the meeting minutes away, Councilor Paula Hyatt proposed a resolution to bring the League of Oregon City’s model ordinance back for the review of council and a comparison with the amended ordinance in the hopes of finding a legally sound compromise.
Some councilors voiced concern that they did not understand what they were voting for, and with only minutes left on the clock did not have time to ask questions. The meeting concluded with a split vote on Hyatt’s resolution — councilors Eric Hansen, DuQuenne and Dylan Bloom voted in opposition while councilors Hyatt, Jeff Dahle and Bob Kaplan voted in favor. Graham broke the tie with an additional no vote.
Seffinger appointed to Parks Commission
In other council business, council approved the appointment of former parks commissioner and Ashland City Councilor Stefani Seffinger to fill the empty commissioner seat on the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission. All councilors voted in favor with the exception of Bloom, who cited concerns — not with the choice of Seffinger, but because he believed the process to appoint a new commissioner was not as the Ashland City Charter dictated.
Council voted unanimously to approve a study on potential Climate Friendly Areas for the city of Ashland. The study will be submitted to Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development.
Council unanimously approved the purchase of a new street sweeper vehicle and a truck-mounted sewer cleaner for a total cost of $1,058,636.67.
The renewal of Ashland Police Department’s contract with Axon Enterprises for equipment such as digital evidence management, tasers and body cameras was also approved unanimously. Councilor Bob Kaplan remarked he appreciated the contract includes body cameras with a unique feature: When a taser is deployed, every body camera within a 30-meter radius immediately turns on.
Council unanimously approved the purchase of a new $213,209 ambulance for Ashland Fire & Rescue and a 25-year lease for the installation of solar panels on city properties at 90 North Mountain Avenue for a community solar project with Ashland Solar Cooperative.
To view the video of the Sept. 19 council meeting, click here.
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com.