“We interrupt our continuing narrative about spectrum utilization for a breaking news story!”

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The Curmudgeon has received word about and has done a little investigating on an evolving issue.  It’s the sort of thing that has to make you scratch your head and wonder just exactly where we have taken ourselves.  It’s the kind of matter that causes you to feel a bit queasy inside.

We’re back for the moment in the world of Amateur radio (disclaimer: the Curmudgeon is a licensee in the Amateur Radio Service).  And we are located in the City of San Diego, California, which is home to about 3,700 ARS licensees.  Its enlightened city government has, essentially on its own initiative, written a draft zoning ordinance that would forbid the construction of all new ARS (only) antennas taller than a height of 30 feet AGL.  Period!  Well — almost period.  An enterprising ham would still have the right to file an application for a property development permit for a proposed new, 30+ foot, non-conforming antenna structure; it’s the same permit issued for construction of shopping malls and golf courses.  And it requires an $8,000 application fee, etc., etc.

Hams, of course, are the traditional telecommunications “first responders,” on the air with ad-hoc equipment lash-ups and with both prior-established and spontaneous nets operating during and after natural or man-made disasters.  This is just when everyone else is trying to assess the damage to communications systems, to make repairs, and to re-start service.  The hams were there after Katrina, and they are on duty today after the Haitian earthquake.  No one doubts their sincerity or their usefulness.  Local governments in the San Diego area have even included established Amateur communications systems into their disaster planning.  And well they should: the region lies in an earthquake zone, is prone to spectacular back country brush fires, and is even open to large storms and the subsequent flooding and mudslides during recurrent El Nino weather events.

Note also that this proposed ordinance applies specifically and solely to ARS licensees.  It does not mention commercial two-way radio, cellular base stations, broadcasters, short-wave radio listeners, over-the-air TV viewers, CBers, or even owners of home weather stations.  These other folks can build as tall as they want, contingent only on filing for and receiving structural building permits.  No, San Diego is vindictively punishing just its hams.

So what has caused San Diego city government to declare war on its own citizens?  Most likely it was something that, in the Curmudgeon’s opinion, was a tremendously stupid mistake.  A local ham, fueled with far more money and ambition than common sense, proposed, somehow was issued building permits for, and built a huge antenna installation at his home.  Unfortunately, that home is located in about the most “exclusive” (read: expensive) neighborhood in the city, and the installation is grossly oversized for the lot on which it resides and for the neighborhood in which it is located.  It does damage to the aesthetics of the neighborhood.  A structure that size should have been built in a rural area, not in the city.

While hams do need tall antenna structures, prudence and common sense would dictate some voluntary limits as to sizes and heights for those in primarily residential areas.  (For non-ham readers, the taller the tower is, the more radiation-efficient are high-frequency [“short wave”] antennas mounted atop it, and also the greater the line-of-sight to the horizon for VHF/UHF antennas.)  Very tall towers, in the Curmudgeon’s opinion, do not belong in city residential neighborhoods.  But ARS towers of lesser height, properly constructed, do.  And so also says the FCC, both houses of the U.S. Congress, and the State of California.  San Diego, obviously, thinks otherwise.

Meanwhile, “back in the hood” the ham steadfastly refused to admit that he had created a problem, and his neighbors launched into orbit when “the monster” began climbing toward the stars.  Unfortunately the neighbors, being members of the higher economic classes, had little difficulty gaining the ears of city governmental officials or of obtaining skilled legal counsel to press their points.  And city government responded to their outcry by drafting the proposed ordinance.

The local hams, of course, have no intention of just standing on the sidelines and watching this travesty unfold. They have organized, have brought experienced professional help into the battle, and have been joined by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL, Amateur radio’s national organization) and its legal counsel.  Together they are lobbying the city government and the various departments that have their hands in the drafting of the ordinance.  It would not be prudent to disclose the hams’ plans in print, however, but the effort is well underway.

Typical HAM Radio Tower

The typical outcome from such a clash of interests should be some sort of compromise on the part of the contending parties, i.e., “You can legally build your tower up to XX feet above ground with just a building permit, but if you want to go any higher you will need to file more detailed environmental plans and to obtain a special permit.”  Most of the ham population believes that XX ought to be somewhere between 65 and 80 feet, not the city-proposed and essentially stifling 30 feet.  Those Amateur-proposed figures are not randomly drawn from a hat; there are good and sufficient engineering reasons underlying them.

But there are no signs of a compromise developing.  Sources have told the Curmudgeon that the city is interested only in passing the ordinance as currently written.  They will not consider engineering arguments, and they seem not particularly interested in the views of even their own and other local agencies’ disaster preparedness staffs.  So it appears that the homeowners could win the day, but any new ordinance will certainly be headed immediately into litigation.

Thus a city government which has huge current deficits in its own operating and its employees’ pension budgets, which oversees crumbling roads, water and sewer lines, and which has ever-shrinking Public Safety department staffs, will squander its limited funds in litigating against a group of volunteers who provide actual, cash-valued services and equipment to the city.  These contributions are estimated as annual city staff labor savings of $2.5 million and “in-lieu” one-time communications equipment savings of $6 million.

This thing is an outrage! And it could set a horrible precedent for other myopic cities and towns to follow as well.  But it certainly will unleash some local politician, running for re-election, to boast: “Our city libraries may be open only half the number of hours they once were, and if you have an emergency our fire department will get to your house whenever they can fit it in, but, by George, there aren’t going to be any 35 foot-high ham antennas in your neighborhood!”

And, by the way, whatever did happen to the people’s right to use the spectrum that they collectively own?

What do you think?

“Let’s keep SAN DIEGO safe for RF!”

The Old RF Curmudgeon

7 Comments on "“We interrupt our continuing narrative about spectrum utilization for a breaking news story!”"

  1. Susi White February 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm · Reply

    It is an unfortunate thing that the Amateur in question does not seek to find a happy meeting ground. Did Haiti teach San Diego nothing? If you can not transmit outside the city you will get no help. Does City Government think they are so above “mother earth”, that their citizens won’t need help with the next earthquake? There was one this morning in Baja California, is that not close enough.

    Aside from the fact that most amateur oprerators will help others in need even if it is not an emergency. Seems that it is time to “replace” city government with folks who can think of others in our struggling times of lack of money. Glad they would rather spend the money in litigatiion instead of repairing roads.

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  2. Ted Storke February 1, 2010 at 8:18 pm · Reply

    city government is suppose to work for US….Not the other way around.
    They spend time telling us what we can and can’t do. We should be the ones telling them what we want them to do.

    Amateur radio kd6akt

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  3. dah didit didah February 2, 2010 at 3:17 am · Reply

    Someone will need to sue in District Court – and they’ll win due to the emphasis that Dept. of Homeland Security has placed on Amateur radio communication. The city cannot disregard engineering principles – they rely on them for the construction aspect of the tower but not the principles related to efficiency & performance? Good Luck…it’ll take a District Court lawsuit it sounds like. Unless you can educate the City Council. Been there – done that – in Las Vegas.

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  4. Dave Kiwerski February 2, 2010 at 11:21 am · Reply

    It’s a pity to read about incidents like this. The amateur operator in question should have worked with his/her neighbours. This creates ill-will between everybody. It’s so hard to right a wrong after the damage has been done.

    Amateur radio WP2AAT

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  5. Bob Plugh March 24, 2010 at 2:13 pm · Reply

    Do you KNOW if he did or did not try to work with his neighbors? You can NOT assume anything. I WILL make specific note, however, that he DID install an antenna that can be raised and lowered so that when it is NOT in use, it will not be nearly as visible. Why has NO ONE ELSE mentioned this? Why do people always chime in AGAINST the ham – even other hams!

    I personally consider that a damn good ham. He most likely had to pay MORE for a setup like that than to just put one up at 85′ and let it sit there.

    Hams should start to make a list of cities, counties, whatever, that enact legislation like this and, refuse to take part in any type of communications – emergency or otherwise including training/practice/coordination of ANY type. There are PLENTY of areas that need, want, and APPRECIATE our help and yes, I have PERSONALLY put in quite a number of hours in community service. If I lived in SD I would personally donate to any opponent of the idiots that are trying to pass this legislation and forget about me helping (in SD) until it goes away.

    They need help for a marathon – sorry – go PAY for someone to do it. They need help with something else – FORGET IT – let them PAY for it elsewhere. A few of these and maybe they’ll appreciate the ham community a bit more – after all – it is EASY to just take for granted something you do NOT have to pay for.

    Maybe with a little luck that neighbor that complained will go down in the next big earthquake and no hams will be around to help him.


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  6. Rick LeFevers May 14, 2010 at 9:05 pm · Reply

    Repeat after me…

    I will not give up any more of my rights.
    I own my land and will do whatever I want with it or on it as long as I am not polluting the environment or harming my neighbors in a meaningful way.
    If my neighbors do not like my antennas they have no right to ban me to the rural areas, let them move to the country – since it seems to all about the view anyway.

    If I want to be the kind of guy who will not put up an antenna because it might block my neighbors’ view or because they just do not want me too, guess what, I can be that guy. However if I want to put up a 199’ tower with an array running up and down its entire length, as long as the engineering is safe, it should be my business and I should be able to be that guy on my land as well.

    No one asked me when they installed a nuclear medicine office up the street two blocks from my house.
    No one asked me when the porn shop opened up a mile away.
    No one asked me when they allowed the pizza store up the street to get a liquor license.
    No one asked me when my neighbor pulled a 40’ RV into the side of his house and I lost 2 hours of sunshine every evening.
    No one asked me when last October when they rang my doorbell all beggars night asking for candy and that’s at my house.

    Oh yeah, they all had to get permits for all this stuff for sure, I know that, or maybe they didn’t even need them. These are businesses and residents and as long as they pay what they need to pay they get what they want. No politician will ever stop them no matter how strongly the community protests. Oh I am sure if it were a neighborhood with multi-million dollar homes they could pay off or threaten enough officials and hire enough lawyers to get their way but in my neighborhood we are not rich so we do not have such opportunity. We just have to put up with what someone else decides.

    And guess what, I am all for it. They are not doing anything illegal, they bought land and they should be able to do what they want. The point is, just because I am not rich you should not be able to tell me what I can do as a hobby on my own land which I paid for with my own earnings. It is rubbish. Anything else is one set of rules for the rich neighborhoods and another set of rules for my neighborhood.

    So now, as it turns out, one of their own happens to be a ham operator and wants to put up a tower. And guess what, he has the money and the wherewithal to pull it off against anyone who tries to stop him. Oh my!

    Telling ham operators to move out to a rural area is what is stupid my friends. Hey, if you are rich and you want a beautiful view guess what, the land is cheaper in the rural areas and the view which seems to be what it is all about is much better, so why don’t you move out there?

    See, the point is we are not communists. You should not be forced to do things just because it is for the “greater good” of the community as you or your group sees it – that should be voluntary.

    Well, I say two things.

    First of all, to the surrounding neighbors and the city officials, how does it feel to have someone else use money and power to manipulate the system to get what they want when it is not what you want?

    And to the ham operator, more power to you. I know you are rich and I am not but if we ever meet, I’ll buy the coffee.

    73 de KJ7R

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  7. Brian February 10, 2011 at 1:55 am · Reply

    I believe I saw somewhere that he did not try to talk to the neighbors. I believe that he did not talk to the neighbors because he KNEW they would go ballistic. It’s a bit like trying to send diplomats to N Korea to talk about the upcoming joint military drill. Pointless.

    I want to see what how ticked off the neighbors get when the big storm hits and they have no power, no cell phone service, the roads wash out (so they are stuck in their “beautiful” neighborhood) … and he is running his house and radio on his backup power system. Bet they complain about the noise from his backup generator.

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