Whatever you think about Verizon’s proposal to build a 70-foot cell tower in North Baker City, you should be troubled by one claim in the appeal the company filed after the Baker City Planning Commission voted 5-2 on Dec. 4 to deny Verizon a conditional-use permit.

That appeal was submitted by E. Michael Connors, a Portland attorney representing Verizon.

The Baker City Council will consider that appeal during a public hearing Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1655 First St.

Near the end of the appeal, Connors writes that if the City Council agrees with the Planning Commission majority and rejects the appeal, “It would be virtually impossible for Verizon to site a tower to resolve the significant gap in coverage and capacity in the City. That would be a clear-cut violation of the Federal Telecommunications Act.”

In other words, Baker City officials can’t deny Verizon’s application without breaking a federal law.

This is a noxious concept — one that doesn’t merely erode but utterly obliterates the longstanding, and vital, precept of local control. Cities and counties have development ordinances so their elected and appointed officials, acting on behalf of, and often with testimony from, citizens, can influence what’s built in their communities, and where.

If, as Connors suggests, Baker City can’t reject this cell tower without violating a federal law, then the city would as well surrender its authority and allow towers to go up wherever is most convenient for the builder. That’s a dismal prospect, whether this particular tower is built or not.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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