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.