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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Fruitful tower talks avoided lawsuits

What, no lawsuit?

Spokane City Council Member Mike Allen in March gave odds of 99 percent the city would be sued when a unanimous council imposed a six-month moratorium on cell phone tower construction. The action halted projects already in the works, a step bound to provoke service providers trying to boost capacity and eliminate blind spots in their networks.

There was also the problem of federal law that requires localities to respond within five months to applications for new tower locations and gives them very little authority to deny one if the companies say they need one.

So taking on the likes of AT&T and Verizon when the law is on their side is not a step taken lightly.

But the companies did not run off to the courthouse, instead choosing to work with the city on guidelines that could be applied to future tower construction, particularly in residential areas where they become what most consider to be eyesores.

The city hired a consultant, and Cliff-Cannon neighborhood resident Patricia Hansen put up her own funds to hire an attorney.

She had tried for more than a year to focus the council’s attention on the proliferation of cell towers — there are 40 within the city limits — and rounding up support and signatures from neighbors.

The combination of community organizing and money well-spend on attorneys which, as council member Jon Snyder noted, is not always the case, did the trick.

After six months of congenial negotiating that continued right up to the council vote on Monday, the companies, the city and Hansen’s attorney delivered an agreement that allows the city to develop a “hierarchy” of locations and require “stealth towers” that blend as best as possible into the surroundings. How blended? If intended to resemble a tree, it must be a native tree.

As to hierarchy, existing structures — water towers, street and traffic lights, etc. — will be at the top of the list, but many of those are at capacity. And how much more capacity will be necessary is very much an open question.

Allen notes that eight years ago 80 percent of cell traffic was talk or texting. Today, capacity-hogging data make up 80 percent of the traffic. Much of that demand is coming from the households and neighborhoods that most object to the tower next door, Cliff-Cannon among them.

The technology, doubtless, will advance and increase the capacity of the existing cell infrastructure. But consumers hungry for more services and applications will continue to push networks to their limit.

Americans’ capacity for distraction seems unlimited.

Technology issues aside, the impressive aspect of these negotiations was the willingness by all parties, particularly the service providers, to work toward what should be a long-term solution instead of a case-by-case showdown.

There almost certainly will be conflicts in the future, but at least there is a framework for finding a resolution, with no more dropped connections.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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