Seeking to improve porous cell-phone coverage and meet a growing demand for wireless service, Palo Alto officials will consider on Monday whether the city should look to large cell towers on city land or smaller antennas in residential neighborhoods for assistance.
The problem of spotty cell reception has been frustrating Palo Alto technologists and polarizing local residents for years but has become more prominent in the past year, as AT&T plowed forth with its plan to install 80 antennas around the city. These antennas are part of the company's "distributed antenna system" (DAS), aimed at boosting wireless coverage. The company decided to install the system after its earlier proposal to install a large "macro" tower at a church in Crescent Park ran into community resistance.
On Monday, June 25, the City Council will consider which option is better -- a few macro towers mounted on city facilities, a network of smaller DAS antennas or a hybrid option involving both types of wireless equipment.
According to a report from Margaret Monroe, a management specialist in the Planning and Community Environment Department, macro towers already exist at three local fire stations, in one case disguised as a fake tree. Now staff is seeking the council's direction on whether to allow electric utility stations and possibly the roof of City Hall to support cell towers from multiple proposals.
"The intent of such an approach is to allow the City to better dictate the location of tower facilities and to minimize the need for DAS and other antenna facilities in other parts of the community," Monroe wrote.
The Monday meeting will include a presentation from a company that specializes in both types of wireless equipment, Crown Castle. The company is scheduled to present its assessment of opportunities and constraints to using city facilities for wireless equipment.
Though far more subtle than macro towers, DAS equipment drew substantial opposition from neighborhoods last year, when AT&T unveiled its proposal. Dozens of residents opposed the company's efforts to put up antennas on existing utility poles, calling the equipment unsightly and potentially unsafe. Many other residents decry the embarrassingly poor cell service in a city that takes such pride at being in the vanguard of technological innovation.
The council approved the first 19 of these towers in December. Three other AT&T applications, which call for about 60 more antennas, are now in process, according to Monroe.
If the city elects to focus on macro towers, it would have to revise its zoning regulations. This would include raising of height limits on public land to allow heights of 75 feet to 125 feet.
The council meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a closed session. Regular meeting will follow at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.