PINOLE -- A lease with Verizon Wireless to build a cellphone tower in Pinole Valley Park could be rescinded by the City Council in as little as two weeks because of concerns that the project would violate terms of a federal grant restricting the use of the land.
The deal, approved by the council in July, had come under fire from a well-organized and vocal residents group, mostly over aesthetic and health concerns about electromagnetic waves. One member of the group, Sal Spataro, then contacted the state, questioning whether the city was violating conditions of a federal grant administered by the state Department of Parks and Recreation.
The city acquired the land that would become Pinole Valley Park in the 1970s, in part with the help of a federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant administered by the state, and has received several other grants for the park in ensuing years.
The state agency notified the city last month that the grant conditions prohibit commercial and other nonrecreational uses in the park. The city could get around the ban through a lengthy conversion process that includes environmental and other studies and would require the city to acquire replacement property of similar size, value and convenience for recreational use, in addition to providing a comparable "view shed," which could require acquiring yet more land.
The lease with Verizon is for up to 25 years, starting at $2,200 a month, on about 1,000 square feet along Adobe Road in the easternmost section of the park, where the communications giant wants to build a 78-foot-tall cellphone tower.
The state agency also informed the city that it violated grant terms when it carved out a piece of the park in the early 2000s to build the Pinole Valley fire station, which is currently shuttered.
Council members on Tuesday agreed to separate the two issues and put the cell tower lease question on the fast track, reasoning that because the antenna does not yet exist while the fire station does makes the latter a more complicated issue. The question of whether to rescind the Verizon lease is expected to be on the Oct. 15 council agenda.
Verizon has threatened to sue to hold the city to the terms of the lease, but city officials now say the discovery of the state grant conditions could change the legal situation.
Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato, in an email Wednesday, said the company had not had an opportunity to review any action taken by the City Council the previous night, but added, "Verizon Wireless anticipates working with the city to resolve any issues necessary for the parties to amicably fulfill their mutual obligations."
Jack Meehan, a former Pinole mayor, noted Tuesday that completion of the various steps of the conversion process were "the conditions requisite, the conditions precedent."
Because the city did not go through that process, "it means there is no lease," Meehan said. "It means it's void, or voidable."
City officials, acknowledging that the Verizon lease episode was riddled with mistakes, asked for more time to gather facts and make sure more mistakes do not occur in the aftermath.
But several residents said the council had all the facts to make a decision right away.
"Why not put it to rest right now?" Meehan said.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.