South County cell tower plan is on hold

A 60-foot-tall fake eucalyptus tree proposed as a cell phone tower for South County will not take root anytime soon, felled by an arcane discussion about whether it is allowed under county regulations.

After discussing it at length, the Planning Commission said it needed more clarity about the guidelines before it could approve AT&T’s Mobility LLC’s “unmanned wireless communication facility” at 2080 Los Berros Road, on the Bartleson Ranch, 250 feet west of Highway 101.

The proposal called for nine panel antennas mounted at a maximum height of 60 feet above grade on the faux eucalyptus tree. It also would include outbuildings.

It would be the county’s first fake eucalyptus tree.

One neighbor objected to the tree on aesthetic grounds. She said the “62-foot, green, funky-looking eucalyptus tree” would dwarf other nearby trees and would be perpetually green, even when the hills turn brown during California’s summer months.

“You’re not going to not see it,” she said.

While sympathetic, planning commissioners said there was another question: ambiguity about whether this particular fake tree is allowed on this particular parcel.

County guidelines were largely formulated in the 1990s before the use of cell phones exploded, said Tricia Knight, representing AT&T. She said that today, cell phones outnumber landlines.

Commissioner Carlyn Christianson agreed, adding that cell phones’ availability has become a public safety issue.

However, Christianson and other commissioners said the county needs to clarify the confusion, and they directed their planning staff to clarify the county’s cell phone tower rules and regulations.

As of last August, there were 160 cell sites in unincorporated San Luis Obispo County, 14 approved but not built and 24 being processed. Those numbers do not include sites within the county’s seven unincorporated cities.