County Planning Commission green-lights public safety radio network upgrade

File photo by David Minsky
RADIO REVISIONS: New Cuyama is among a handful of communities in Santa Barbara County with public safety radio network tower sites that will be enhanced thanks to a recent decision from the County Planning Commission.

The radio network Santa Barbara County emergency services and other departments rely on is getting a significant upgrade.

Although the radio tower enhancement project was unanimously approved by the county Planning Commission, it initially faced some scrutiny. Planning Commissioner C. Michael Cooney pulled the item from the commission’s May 3 consent agenda for additional review.

“It was a little bit startling to me that we were making these decisions basically by consent, because I do think they impact the environment to some degree,” Cooney said of the project, which includes the construction of multiple radio towers. “I reviewed the item over the weekend, and what concerned me about it is the number of tall towers, 100 feet or more, in many of these proposed developments.”

Cooney said he wanted to pull the item for clarity on the necessity of the proposed enhancements, set for nine public safety radio network sites in both rural and urban areas in Los Alamos, Los Olivos, New Cuyama, Tepusquet, and other unincorporated communities.

The proposed radio towers in the project range between 75 and 125 feet tall.

“There’s no denying that the ability to send radio signals long-distance requires these towers to be high,” Cooney said. “But I did think it is worthwhile to hear justification for the public, for the public’s benefit as to why they may be seeing these in the near future in their neighborhood.”

County Planner Ben Singer said that some of the proposed sites have existing towers in need of modifications, while other sites require construction of new towers. 

Patrick Zuroske, assistant director of Santa Barbara County General Services, described the enhancements project as essential and said that there are “multiple areas throughout the county where our reception and performance is less than ideal.”

“We’ve been working on this project for approximately five years,” Zuroske added. “We’ve gone through an extensive design process to make sure that we can close many of the service gaps that exist throughout the system.”

Planning Commissioner Vincent Martinez asked staff if any of the project’s nine radio towers would be available for commercial purposes as well, open to being utilized by cellular communications companies and other entities.

General Services Project Manager Zahid Masood said that the nine towers included in the proposal would be available for government agencies to use, but not available for commercial entities.

The proposed enhancements were ultimately approved with a 5-0 vote from the county Planning Commission. 

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