City's cell-tower plan meets cool reception from AT&T

Palo Alto to explore zoning revisions to encourage large cell towers on city property

A proposal by Palo Alto officials to create a citywide plan for cell towers is unlikely to prevent AT&T from installing dozens of antennas at local neighborhoods in the coming months, the company informed the city in a letter Monday.

The City Council on Monday directed staff to solicit proposals from communication companies that would help the city come up with the wireless-communication plan. The plan will likely rely largely on large "macro" cell towers on the city's substations to boost Palo Alto's cell reception and data capacity and could prompt revisions to the zoning ordinance to make these towers legal.

The plan is Palo Alto's response to a proposal by AT&T to install about 80 small antennas on existing utility poles throughout the city. The company's plan, which drew heavy criticism from some residents in the affected neighborhoods, took a major leap forward last year when the council approved the first 20 antennas in AT&T's "distributed antenna system." But in recent discussions, council members have been leaning toward allowing fewer towers of larger sizes rather than the scattering of DAS equipment.

The council last week heard a presentation from one vendor of communications equipment, Crown Castle, and learned that three macro towers could blanket the entire city with cell coverage, though these towers would have to be between 225 and 280 feet in height. According to Crown Castle, the city could also opt for six smaller towers (about 100 feet high) and 21 DAS antenna.

The council voted 8-0 Monday night, with Gail Price absent, to support a staff proposal to solicit proposals from communication companies and explore zoning changes. But the plan is unlikely to deter AT&T from pursuing its controversial DAS strategy. The company's attorney, John di Bene, submitted a letter to the city Monday arguing that the proposal to install the macro towers would not "obviate the need for the pending DAS nodes and additional macro sites to address coverage and capacity needs within the city."

"AT&T's current network investments in the city are necessary irrespective of whether the city-owned macro sites become available in the future," di Bene wrote.

Attorney Paul Albritton, who has been representing AT&T at recent public hearings in Palo Alto, echoed a similar sentiment in his own letter to the council. He, like di Bene, pointed out in this letter that federal regulations bar the city from restricting AT&T to set up its DAS nodes. He also argued that it is too "optimistic" to expect the city to revise its height limits to allow the cell towers in a "timely manner."

"One again, while AT&T appreciates staff's proactive approach to these issues, the City cannot consider macro facilities at City-owned substations to be a timely alternative for existing network expansion plans," Albritton wrote.

The council swiftly approved the staff proposal Monday, with Councilman Larry Klein saying that it clearly lays out what the city is trying to accomplish when it comes to cell equipment. Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd agreed.

"I'm excited that we're moving forward on this," Shepherd said. "This is a good thing for Palo Alto."


Like this comment
Posted by Jared Bernstein
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 3, 2012 at 11:00 am

So, I'm still waiting for the little antenna near my house. Does anyone know when ATT (nee SBC) will put them up? I'm hoping it'll improve the communication aspect of my life.

Like this comment
Posted by ATT sucks
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 3, 2012 at 11:09 am

Boycott AT&T!
I dumped AT&T a couple of years ago. Verizon is so much more reliable.

Like this comment
Posted by Clueless-in-PA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm

> But the plan is unlikely to deter AT&T from pursuing its
> controversial DAS strategy.

Controversial to whom? Has anyone even seen one of the DAS antennas on poles here in PA? Has anyone gone to any of the towns where these antennas are installed and found that people are getting sick, and that housing prices have flat-lined? NO!

It's amazing how utterly ignorant so many people living in this town are.

The City Council should stay out of this--there isn't one person on the Dias that has a clue about this sort of telecommunications system.

Like this comment
Posted by Not in my backyard
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Clueless says: "Controversial to whom? Has anyone even seen one of the DAS antennas on poles here in PA?" Yes, a demonstration antenna was put up on East Bayshore by the Municipal yard - ugly thing!!!

I support the antennas being placed at utility service location around Palo Alto but I have a utility pole in my backyard and I don't was AT&T putting an antenna on top of it or any other utility poles in my neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by DDee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm

If this is an example of city planning, all of the executives need to be canned!

What ever happened to establishing a comprehensive framework and then moving out from there?
In Palo Alto, so many things seem to be done by pressure (from ATT and some of its most vociferous clients for example) followed by allowing the horses out of the barn and then, after, some idea of a plan comes along behind the cart bringing up the rear. The city then spends oodles of effort to regain some control over the horses - not always succesfully.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm

You mean that my cell phone might actually work in and around my house in Palo Alto?

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Posted by blondie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 3, 2012 at 5:02 pm

I have been waiting since 1998 to be on my employer's
AT T cell phone plan. PLEASE, I am pleading, groveling
to the cell phone gods - install the darn things and stop
stalling. Analysis paralysis.

Like this comment
Posted by VoxPop
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm

@DDee: Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (largely influenced by the telecommunications industry) states that although communities reserve their rights over the general placement, construction, and modification of towers, they cannot ban them outright. Nor can they unreasonably discriminate among providers, or set zoning regulations based on "the environmental effects of radio-frequency emissions, to the extent that such facilities comply with the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] regulations concerning such emissions." So the city's hands are pretty much tied, especially if the carrier claims an antenna is necessary to close a gap in that carrier's coverage.

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm

"The company's plan, which drew heavy criticism from some residents in the affected neighborhoods ..."

-1; implies or conveys an inaccurate picture.

What about the tremendous support given by many, many Palo Alto residents to AT&T's DAS plan? I, for one, wrote to the City in support; many others did, too. While 'some residents' did launch 'heavy criticism', a fair portion of such criticism was based on flawed research or a well-documented lack of knowledge (or both). The criticism withered, when faced with such flaws and when confronted by the significant support for the proposal shown by so many of us living here in Palo Alto.

I urge the City Council to table this Crown Castle scheme; allow AT&T to furnish and install the DAS pursuant to the prior City approval.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 3, 2012 at 9:15 pm

My employer is kind enough to give me a T-Mobile phone. It doesn't work inside my house.

I'd be willing to pay money to have better cellular service in my house. Put an antenna on the utility pole in my backyard. Sell me one I can set up in my attic and connect to my cable modem. I don't care, just give me the option to have good phone service.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Cell phone boosters can be purchased for very little money--

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

It couldn't hurt to talk to your service provider to see if they have tested any of these devices, and can make a recommendation about one (or more) of these units.

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 5, 2012 at 11:41 am

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Much as I hate to say it, cell towers WILL go up in Palo Alto. Remember the Big, Ugly Dish fight with HOAs and cities? THEY LOST! The FCC has the final word. Any more delays could cause Palo Alto to lose the regulation of tower placement.

100 foot towers scattered through the city is your best compromise. You don't want an aviation landmark with the required beacons and you don't want a transmitter on every utility pole. ( with the resultant noise )

The real irony: the 100 foot towers could be disguised to look like Palo Alto trees...or high tech sculptures in the business areas. ( I've seen both ).

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2012 at 8:40 am

I'm stuck in a 2 year contract with AT&T and have horrible reception at my house. I dropped calls a few times a day and wasn't willing to wait for these proposed towers to be installed given how unreliable they've been in the past. I did some research and got a zBoost YX545 signal booster and it has helped immensely.

Web Link

Based on what I read, you just need a decent signal somewhere outside your house, like on the roof, and then these devices can amplify the signal inside. And like Bill said above, they're not very expensive considering how much you pay for the phones and plans. Might as well be able to use them!

Like this comment
Posted by Georgia
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2013 at 1:42 pm

This Cell Tower is in on our block and several us are not happy, it makes a humming noise
and it is ugly.
And I have heard that these are a health hazard that they can create cancer by the admissions it lets off. Very Concerned about this.

I asked several months back about this and never received an answer from the city nor AT &T.
Since it has been in my cell which carrier is AT&T works slower.

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