By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy
Alarmed by what seemed to be an abrupt disruption of cell phone service to AT&T customers in downtown Laguna Beach last Friday, Aug. 29, city officials returned to work after the three-day weekend poised to act.
In their haste to remedy what seemed an urgent problem, they apparently misinterpreted its cause.
Based on a belief that the lack of service resulted from AT&T’s removal of a cell tower from atop the Artists Theatre at Laguna Beach High School, the City Council passed an urgency ordinance to fast track a temporary cell tower to replace it. Staff had worked frantically to draft the measure only hours before the Council meeting.
City Manager John Pietig said that AT&T has been looking at sites for a replacement tower, such as the church on Temple Terrace, but that process could take three to four months to complete. In the meantime, Mayor Elizabeth Pearson expressed strong concerns about residents being unable to communicate in case of emergencies.
Council member Kelly Boyd expressed concern about people reliant solely on cell phones. So if those people don’t have cell service, “then they’re out of luck,” he said.
The sense of urgency was real. Anecdotal evidence of disruption was not hard to find. A salesperson at a shop on Forest Avenue on Wednesday described customer who became very concerned when her husband failed to pick her up as planned and mysteriously couldn’t be reached by cell phone.
While some residents expressed concerns about public notification of a temporary cell tower, the Council ultimately decided in favor of residents’ need to communicate and approved the urgency ordinance. Though Council member Toni Iseman noted that they needed to look into how losing one cell tower could cause a complete lack of service in Laguna Beach.
Her comments turned out to be prophetic.
Though city officials originally attributed the loss of service to the removed cell tower, Dean West, the school district’s assistant superintendent of business services, confirmed Wednesday that AT&T had removed the tower on or about July 30, a month prior to last week’s interruption of local service. The school district had notified AT&T its lease for the school site would not be renewed 18 months prior to its expiration on May 30, said West. At that time, they were given 60 days to remove the tower.
City officials learned Wednesday AT&T’s antennae site at the Moorehead Reservoir in North Laguna had been experiencing significant problems and that it had been under repair since Friday. “This is likely causing a much more widespread problem than removal of the cell site at the High School,” City Manager John Pietig said in a statement.
He also noted that service has now been restored at the Moorehead site.
In the meantime AT&T officials are working with city staff to find a substitute for the lack of a cell tower at the high school. They are investigating whether a temporary truck or trailer with a 36-foot pole located near the church on Temple Terrace might remedy the service lapse until a permanent tower site is identified, said a statement.
After decommissioning the tower at the high school, AT&T offloaded wire service to neighboring sites, said an AT&T spokeswoman, who confirmed that the company is working with the city to bring in a temporary site to help.
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