Updated: Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 10:36 am
Uploaded: Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 9:57 am
Palo Alto Little League tries for cell tower again
Residents split over Verizon plan
A community meeting held Thursday by the Palo Alto Little League and Verizon Wireless over a proposed cell antenna at the baseball field on Middlefield Road cleared up misconceptions about the project, but it was not a home run.
The five-foot-tall antenna, which is the fourth iteration since 2010 of a proposed cell tower at 3675 Middlefield Road, would sit atop an existing 60-foot light pole at the back of the playing field. Verizon needs the antenna to fill gaps in its coverage in the area -- representatives from the cell company said customers have complained of poor reception and dropped calls.
Little League board members maintain they signed a contract with Verizon for the antenna because increasing expenses and city fees, as well as a need to refurbish the aging facility, has pushed registration fees nearly out of range for players and their families.
Verizon has agreed to pay the league $24,000 for the first year with a 3 percent annual increase. The initial lease lasts for five years, with five-year renewal options for up to 25 years. The company has revised its design and plan from two poles to one, and would substitute a noisy generator with fuel cells to power the installation.
Some residents have consistently opposed putting any tower at the site, fearing it could give off harmful radiation, would be unsightly and could lower property values. But others said cell towers are part of modern reality and there is a need for better coverage in the area.
The current design would place the tower at the back of the right outfield. A 500-square-foot cinder-block structure would hold the equipment behind an existing building, and it would be lower than the current structure, Verizon officials said.
Bill Hammett, a radio-signals expert and engineer, said the tower would emit a radio-frequency exposure of .6 percent of allowable federal standards at ground level.
"There is no question this facility will meet (safety) standards," he said.
Little League President Kristin Foss said the lease with Verizon would provide a steady income for the league in the coming years. At $260 per year, Palo Alto's Little League has one of the highest registration fees in the area. Fees for kids 9 to 12 years old have risen 33 percent since 2012, and 24 percent for children ages 5 to 8, she said.
"The bathrooms are in poor condition, the dugouts have no shade. We have to climb fences to put tarps on top in the summer, and it's horrible when it rains. We need to replace the floors in the batting cages every few years," she said. The board paid $45,000 to upgrade its sprinkler system, she added.
The high cost is due in part to the league's ownership of the field, which other leagues do not have. City fees for lighting, electricity and water have consistently increased year after year, she said.
But some neighbors said that since the league offers premium accommodations by having its own field, registrants should be willing to pay the higher costs for membership, or an added fee for improvements.
Jason Yotopoulos, a resident who opposes the cell equipment, said the league could find another way to raise needed funds. Neighbors would help raise funds or find a benefactor if the league agreed to abandon its cell-tower plans, he said.
But Foss said such efforts have been attempted in the past, and they have not produced consistent results.
Barb Cooley said she was not convinced by that argument.
"I would love to partner with the ball park and generate the funds they need," she said.
Yotopoulos also questioned if the 62-year-old ballpark should be altered. The property was purchased in the early 1950s by four residents, and it is eligible as a California Historic Resources site, he said.
"For us to take this historic property, which is registered as such, and put a 65-foot cell tower on it, is a little bit of a travesty," said Jason Yotopoulos, an outspoken opponent of the plan.
Charnel James, senior land planner for NSA Wireless, which is designing the cell facilities, said the tower has already passed a Section 106 historic review.
Ken Allen, president of the Adobe Meadow Neighborhood Association and disaster services volunteer, said the tower would add to community safety by providing reliable coverage. That doesn't exist today, he said.
"My wife had three dropped calls today at the corner of Waverley Street and Loma Verde," he said.
Verizon and NSA officials said the are no plans to add additional antennas to the site. But Cooley remained unconvinced by the meeting.
"If anything, it's concerning. I feel Verizon and NSA do this for a living. I felt they dodged about putting up additional cell towers," she said.
Chris Durand, NSA Wireless vice president, said the company has resubmitted an application that shows the new pole configuration. The proposal is expected to go before the city's Architectural Review Board.
But Yotopoulos and Cooley said they have a problem with that procedure.
"This is a planning issue. If this makes it to the ARB to be reviewed for aesthetic reasons, then Palo Alto is not following nits municipal code," he said.
Posted by Ballpark Neighbor
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 2, 2014 at 4:36 pm
As a neighbor and meeting participant, there are a number of misconceptions and errors in this article and the comment thread.
1) The only people at the meeting that discussed radiation safety were the consultant brought by NSA/Verizon and one of the Little League board members. All of the insults about radiation and "tin hats" that are directed at the neighbors are misplaced and irrelevant.
2) While some financial numbers are presented in the article, it is significantly less than the full picture. The article fails to mention the Little League's $250,000 cash reserve. It mentions they paid $45,000 for new sprinklers, but fails to mention that were it not for that expense they would have added another $40,000 to their cash reserves. All that cash and they don't do much at all in the way of fundraising. What in the world are they saving all that cash for while claiming they can't afford to fix the bathroom? By owning their own ~$8 million property, the league has significantly lower field rental costs (and no contention!), unlike other kids' sports in Palo Alto. Interestingly, the financial slide that they presented at the meeting has disappeared from the version they have posted on their website.
3) The woes of uncovered players and spectator seating and effects of rain are issues shared by all other outdoor sports, including girls softball and all soccer, lacrosse, football, etc... leagues.
4) Most importantly, the biggest concerns raised by neighbors are the overall impact of this project, not just the existence of a single 65' pole. Once a cell tower is in place at a site, federal law (Middle Class Tax Relief And Job Creation Act of 2012, section 6409) states, " State or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station." The term, "substantially change" as applied to wireless communications towers is defined in FCC.Public-Notice-on-6409-4, and essentially would allow Verizon to add multiple 20 foot extensions in height, change the three foot wide antennae enclosure to a 20 foot wide appurtenance, and add three additional equipment cabinets with hydrogen fuel cell batteries. In addition, once Verizon has a cell tower at this site, other carriers can request additional towers and sue the city for discrimination if they are denied (Telecommunications Act of 1996). What the neighbors don't want, is an "antenna farm" with 100' plus cell towers. When specific questions were asked about the possibility of adding height or additional poles Charnell James did her best to respond in a way that seemed to answer the question, but in fact simply avoided it. When asked if other carriers could co-locate on the pole, she gave a lengthy dissertation on why none would WANT to - when pressed she finally acknowledged they COULD. When asked if the pole could be made taller without any further public review, she said the city ordinance is a max height of 65' - she didn't mention the ability for the city to grant variances to it's ordinances (such as they did to install the 60' light poles where the city ordinance dictated no taller than 12'), nor did she acknowledge the complex language in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that basically makes local ordinances irrelevant to communications facilities. And when asked if additional towers could be added more easily at this site once a single tower was in place, she again tried to avoid answering directly. The bottom line is that once a tower goes in, the ballpark will be a prime target for every other carrier, and will be quite profitable for Verizon to lease out additional space on the existing pole, while it makes the pole taller and maintains the "top spot." This property that is zoned Single Family Residential may very well become an ugly antenna farm, and no one will be able to stop it. As an example from Jeffersonville, Indiana, where Crown Castle requested to increase the height of an existing tower despite community objections, "Corporation Attorney Les Merkley said the board had no choice but to favorably recommend the variance to the finance committee because the federal government regulates wireless towers.
"In six years as the attorney representing BZA and the planning commission, I've only lost one suit and it was for a cell tower," Merkley said. "I became very familiar with these laws, and right or wrong, it's pretty much pre-empted by federal law."
Again, this property is zoned R1 Single Family Residential, and only operates as a ballpark under a variance granted by the city. If (more like when) this property is sold how can it be developed into Single Family Homes with cell tower(s) and access easements across it? More likely, a developer will request a zoning change and we will get more high-density housing in an SFR neighborhood - another Maybell.
5) The neighbors have consistently asked the City for a overall wireless plan, which the federal government does allow and would provide a sensible approach to providing wireless coverage without a random proliferation of cell towers based on carriers' profits instead of resident needs. And yes, all of the neighbors opposed to the ballpark cell tower use cell phones, are in high tech, and are intelligent and rational. In fact, most of us are Verizon customers who do not experience any issue with our service.
I'm sure I will now be attacked for my "paranoia" and for being a "hypocrite," but everything I have said is verifiable fact. It does require some effort educate yourselves and act intelligently, but I would hope at least the reasonable among us would be up to it.