AT&T's plan to install antennas on 20 utility poles throughout the city is the first phase in the company's plan to put up 80 such antennas — a network known as a "distributed antenna system." The city's Architectural Review Board and Planning and Community Environment Director Curtis Williams had already approved the application, but these approvals were appealed by project opponents, prompting Monday's council hearing.
According to a report from Current Planning Manager Amy French, the city has received four appeals — one opposing the entire project (all 20 sites), two from residents opposing locations of specific antennas near their houses, and a fourth one from Cooley LLP on behalf on Tench Coxe, who claims that other types of technologies would be more suitable for improving wireless reception.
Paula Rantz argued in her appeal that the AT&T application is "part of a Band-Aid approach and does not represent the spirit of community and activism that Palo Alto is known for."
"There is a reason that Palo Alto is such a beautiful community," Rantz wrote. "It is because of the efforts of all that have come before us, and we need to continue to be involved and have ownership of how our city grows. There is no reason why we cannot create a comprehensive plan for voice, video and data."
The city's approval of the application would have dramatic implications for AT&T's long-term strategy in Palo Alto. If the council were to follow the staff recommendation and approve the application, AT&T would be able to undergo a far less stringent requirement for future phases of its plan. Future antennas would only need to undergo a staff-level review and would not need to go through the types of heated public hearings that have characterized the company's current foray.
In the lead-up to Monday's meeting, the city has received a deluge of letters, many urging the council to approve the AT&T application and improve cell coverage. Opponents have argued that the equipment would lower property values and create noise. Many of those who oppose the plan are urging the city to create a master plan for cell equipment. Kristi McMichael, a Waverley Street resident, is among them.
"I object to this system because I believe it will damage my property value due to its unsightly appearance and noise generating equipment," McMichael wrote. "I request that the City of Palo Alto invest the time and resources to create a comprehensive Wireless Master Plan in the interest of all Palo Alto residents."
Others argued that new wireless equipment is desperately needed in the city.
"That our community, home of Stanford University and so much high tech, should stand in the way of decent cell-phone service is an embarrassment, especially when the opposition so clearly fails to understand the physics of the situation," wrote city resident Eric Stietzel, who then urged the city to approve AT&T's application and "improve the wireless infrastructure that so many of us rely on to stay connected at home, at business, and on the go."
AT&T has already made some adjustments to its application to placate concerns from the city and the community. Whereas a previous design featured U-shaped antennas stretching over utility poles, the current one would include one antenna, creating a more monolithic appearance. Other equipment on the affected utility poles includes a battery cabinet, a power box and a remote-prism cabinet.
The Architectural Review Board, in its Dec. 8 review, also recommended using trees to screen equipment where possible and use colors that would make the equipment more discreet. About 30 people attended that hearing, with about two-thirds of them opposing the project.
The proposed antennas would be located at poles in the following locations:
179 and 595 Lincoln Ave., 1851 Bryant St., 1401 Emerson Ave., 1880 Park Blvd., 134 Park Ave., 109 Coleridge Ave., 1345, 1720 and 2326 Webster St., 1248 and 2101 Waverley St., 968 Dennis Drive, 370 Lowell Ave., 105 Rinconada Ave., 2704 Louis Road; 464 Churchill Ave., 255 North California Ave., 1085 Arrowhead Way, and Oregon Express near Ross Road.