Challenging the installation of a cellular telecommunications tower in an “environmentally sensitive habitat area” on the Marina Peninsula, a local coastal watchdog group has filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), alleging they violated the California Coastal Act.

In the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court July 21st, the Playa del Rey-based nonprofit organization Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network (CLEAN) alleges that the telecommunication company T-Mobile and DWP failed to obtain a coastal development permit when installing the 55-foot cell tower and other equipment.

The utility pole, located at Jib Street and Pacific Avenue in the Marina Peninsula community of Los Angeles, is in the Ballona Lagoon Marine Preserve and within the coastal zone. The California Coastal Act requires that any development within the coastal zone obtain a coastal development permit.

But the lawsuit claims that the defendants did not get a permit from the City of Los Angeles and the California Coastal Commission when T-Mobile replaced a 45-foot empty utility pole with telecommunications equipment on city property nearly two years ago.

The complaint calls for the defendants to be assessed fines of $30,000 for alleged violation of the Coastal Act and another $1,000 to $15,000 for each day the alleged violation continues.

“We look forward to bringing relief to both the sensitive habitat of the area, as well as to the visual blight of the installation in the coastal zone by seeking to have this installation removed and placed in a more appropriate location, with a valid permit,” said Marcia Hanscom, Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network managing director.

The California Coastal Commission notified T-Mobile in September last year that the pole installation was in violation of the Coastal Act and that the company would need to get a coastal development permit, according to the complaint.

Hanscom, a local environmentalist, noted that the cell tower is just one of many “encroachments” that have been installed by private parties in the lagoon area in recent years.

“We’re very concerned about the ecological integrity of the Ballona Lagoon area,” Hanscom said. “It’s an environmentally sensitive habitat area and that whole area needs to be protected.

“This is a very clear message to people that you can’t put up structures in the coastal zone without a permit.”

The Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network filed the complaint after the Marina Peninsula Neighborhood Association claimed that neighbors did not receive notice of the utility pole construction.

The association determined that T-Mobile installed the pole, and after investigating the installation process, members learned that the company allegedly did not obtain proper permits, Neighborhood Association member Mark Winter said.

“What we found was a broken regulatory process with little accountability and no enforcement action,” Winter said. “T-Mobile swept into our community without any permits and installed a new pole and equipment without regard for either the law or public process.”

A T-Mobile spokesperson said the company could not comment on pending litigation.

Carol Tucker, Department of Water and Power spokeswoman, also declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Winter noted that Marina Peninsula neighbors were concerned with the tower installation because it’s in a “critical habitat area” and evidence has shown that wires, poles and additional equipment can have a significant impact on birds and other wildlife.

“We’ve been struggling to keep the area free of additional wires and equipment,” Winter said.

He added that it was unfortunate that a lawsuit needed to be filed to ensure that the permit process was followed.

“It’s frustrating that we have to rely on the legal process to achieve basic enforcement of what’s on the books,” Winter said.

Hanscom said the plaintiffs have called for the cell tower to be removed and, once a permit is obtained, they are willing to work with the applicant to find another location in a less impacted area.

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