A contentious plan by AT&T to mount dozens of antennas on utility poles throughout Palo Alto cruised to the finish line Monday night, Jan. 28, when the city approved the final two phases of the project despite complaints from residents who live near the proposed antenna sites.
With no debate, discussion or dissent, the City Council gave the green light to the third and fourth phases in AT&T's plan, which involves about 75 antennas mostly in residential areas. The quick approval came despite arguments from several residents that the proposed equipment would be loud and unsightly and would bring property values down.
The final two phases involve roughly 40 poles located mostly in the southern half of Palo Alto, including in Barron Park and Greenmeadow neighborhoods. The Planning Department had approved AT&T's plan for these poles in December, but the project returned to the council when the city received appeals from seven residents whose homes are near the proposed antenna sites.
One appellant, Elaine Keller, said the proposed antenna would be adjacent to her backyard and would interfere with the view from her home. She complained that AT&T hadn't offered any alternatives for screening its equipment.
"We don't think anyone should be subjected to it and we're dismayed and disappointed that AT&T and the City of Palo Alto think this is an appropriate site for this," Keller said.
Dorianne and Roy Moss also objected to AT&T's plan, which would include an antenna close to their two-story Eichler home. Dorianne Moss said the new antenna would tower over the existing tree line and urged the council members to "exert their oversight with regards to the aesthetics of that particular node."
"When I open my eyes in the morning I see a tree line," Dorianne Moss said. "The current proposal would be to put a box 9 feet above that."
Roy Moss said the company should be asked to pay for ways to screen its equipment.
"AT&T wants to install the antenna. Let them spend the money and install the planted tree there. It's their responsibility."
Not everyone panned the plan. Earl Caustin, who lives on Louis Road, said he would welcome the new equipment. Caustin said his phone reception dies as soon as he leaves the driveway of his Louis Road home. He called the cell phone coverage in his area "below third world."
"Palo Alto needs a working cell phone system," Caustin said. "It's probably not optimal for everybody in the city and we have to work through it best we can. ... The bottom line is we need a first-world cell phone system in Palo Alto."
AT&T's choice of equipment has changed considerably since the company first proposed bringing a wireless network to the city more than two years ago. Its plan to install a tall cell tower at St. Albert the Great Church in Crescent Park fizzled in the spring of 2011 after intense neighborhood opposition. The company's subsequent plan to install a network of smaller U-shaped antennas as part of a "distributed antenna system" (DAS) also met poor reception from local citizenry and city officials. The company then switched to a less conspicuous DAS system that involves one installation, rather than two.
In December 2011, the city's Architectural Review Board approved the company's latest equipment proposal and added a slew of conditions, including ones calling for AT&T to screen its equipment with trees wherever possible and to test noise and radio-frequency levels of the antennas after installation.
Paul Albritton, AT&T's counsel, told the council Monday that the company has already spent a long time with the architectural board refining the design of the proposed antenna system and coming up with guidelines for choosing poles. These include preferences for locations away from block corners and close to foliage. Albritton also noted that the poles selected by AT&T for the final two phases had already been evaluated and endorsed by the city's Utilities Department, an arborist and a third-party consultant. Changing the pole locations, he said, would prove difficult.
"These are like sprinklers on a lawn. You move one pole, you leave a brown spot and you have to relocate other poles," Albritton said.
The antennas would be installed at utility poles near the following locations:
747 Loma Verde Ave.
3284 Cowper St.
3412 Ross Road/3374 Ross Road
3132 David Ave.
3415 Greer Road
3539 Louis Road
2385 Waverley St.
3094 Greer Road on Maddux Drive
390 El Dorado Ave.
452 Loma Verde Ave.
3524 Waverley St. on East Meadow Drive
3706 Carlson Circle
3757 Corina Way
3915 Louis Road
631 East Meadow Drive
3901 Middlefield Road
412 Ferne Ave.
3945 Nelson Ave.
1772 Hamilton Ave.
109 Lois Lane
4131 El Camino Way
550 Georgia Ave
4101 Park Blvd. (on West Meadow)
4255 Ruthelma Ave.
669 Maybell Ave.
110 East Charleston Drive (on Alma Street)
493 West Charleston Drive
4298 Ponce Drive
429 Monroe Ave.
231 Parkside Drive
Opposite 106 Loma Verde Ave.
516 Barron Ave.
4257 McKellar Lane
320 Lambert Ave.
3989 La Donna Ave.
397 Ventura Ave.
3364 Emerson St.
820 Chimalus Drive
715 Barron Ave.
915 Matadero Ave.