Wi-Fi plan gets tentative nod -- with conditions

Final approval of controversial downtown Palo Alto antennas rests with City Council

A plan to mount two AT&T Wi-Fi antennas on a sixth-floor balcony at Hotel President, located at 488 University Ave. in Palo Alto, received a tentative endorsement from the city Wednesday night -- as well as requirements intended to ease the concerns of hotel residents.

To further the proposal, which has rankled the nerves of some at the hotel apartments, AT&T agreed to conduct a study to measure the emissions within 2 feet of a comparable device and work with city staff to consider antenna placement that would not require AT&T to enter tenant apartments to maintain the device.

The Planning and Transportation Commission voted four to one to conditionally allow the installation, following three and half hours' discussion. Commissioners Lee Lippert and Susan Fineberg were absent. The City Council will also have to give final approval to the plan.

Residents had requested Wednesday's hearing Jan. 14, citing potential health risks and privacy intrusions resulting from installation and maintenance of the 12-inch antennas. AT&T has maintained that the antennas are needed to keep up with the demand on their 3G wireless network. Hotel President renters turned out in force to protest the intrusion the installation.

"I'm … shocked that this entry into our apartments is to support a commercial service that doesn't benefit any of the residents of the building," sixth-floor tenant Jeffrey Jones said.

Federal law prohibits the commission from denying applications for projects that would not emit radio frequencies below limits set by the Federal Communications Commission. The city only has the authority to deny applications based on substantive aesthetic concerns. It must approve applications aimed at filling a gap in a provider's service coverage, said Paul Albritton, a consulting attorney for AT&T. The gaps are responsible for dropped calls and failed data transfers, among other things.

"This is a very elegant, low-powered solution to coverage gaps at this particular site on University Avenue," Albritton said.

Commission members quizzed AT&T representatives on the intensity of emissions from antennas, which would apparently operate at a maximum power output of three watts, compared to a single watt for retail routers, and emit radio frequency outward from the building rather than in all directions.

Exposure on the balcony for two residents whose French doors open onto it would still be 200 times below limits established by the Federal Communications Commission, William Hammett, a consulting engineer for AT&T, said.

"You could hug this antenna and not exceed the federal limits," Hammett said.

Residents requested AT&T consider other commercial spaces, and Commissioner Eduardo Gonzalez voiced concerns about the intrusion on residential space.

AT&T officials said 12 alternative sites were considered downtown and deemed unsuitable because of their distance from the location in need of coverage, the lack of architectural features to disguise the installation, or insufficient access to fiber optic cable, which would then require trenching the busy two-lane downtown street.

AT&T officials said that by locating antennas beneath rather than on the balcony and avoiding tenant apartments, a "bucket truck" would be needed to reach the antennas for maintenance. That would effectively close portions of University Avenue, they said.

But they agreed to the conditions added to the commission's approval installation plans.

"Over the next several weeks, our engineers will work with planning department staff to mitigate potential public impacts," AT&T Strategic Affairs Adviser Lane Kasselman said.

Commission Chair Samir Tuma criticized the public outreach AT&T and the city conducted on the project. While tenants were notified of the proposal in advance of deadlines, the city's planning staff originally relied on an address system that did not send notices to individual residents, staff members said.

"Coming to the public two days before a meeting is a mistake in Palo Alto," Tuma said.

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Like this comment
Posted by give 'em iphones
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 24, 2011 at 9:31 am

I bet if AT&T gave free iphones to people in that building, they would all shut up. A little good will is a lot easier than ramming it down their throats.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2011 at 9:36 am

> "I'm … shocked that this entry into our apartments is to support
> a commercial service that doesn't benefit any of the residents of
> the building," sixth-floor tenant Jeffrey Jones said.

Hmmm .. no one in this building owns a laptop, netbook, iPad, or smart phone with WiFi capability that might be walking on University with their personal electronics and might want better connectivity? Of course there are!

WiFi won't be around that long. This technology will be replaced with something else in 5-7 years.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2011 at 2:29 pm

NIH says cellphones change brain chemistry:

(Reuters) - Spending 50 minutes with a cellphone plastered to your ear is enough to change brain cell activity in the part of the brain closest to the antenna.

But whether that causes any harm is not clear, scientists at the National Institutes of Health said on Tuesday, adding that the study will likely not settle recurring concerns of a link between cellphones and brain cancer.

"What we showed is glucose metabolism (a sign of brain activity) increases in the brain in people who were exposed to a cellphone in the area closet to the antenna," said Dr. Nora Volkow of the NIH, whose study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study was meant to examine how the brain reacts to electromagnetic fields caused by wireless phone signals.

Volkow said she was surprised that the weak electromagnetic radiation from cellphones could affect brain activity, but she said the findings do not shed any light on whether cellphones cause cancer.

"This study does not in any way indicate that. What the study does is to show the human brain is sensitive to electromagnetic radiation from cellphone exposures."

Use of the devices has increased dramatically since they were introduced in the early-to-mid 1980s, with about 5 billion mobile phones now in use worldwide.

Some studies have linked cellphone exposure to an increased risk of brain cancers, but a large study by the World Health Organization was inconclusive.

Volkow's team studied 47 people who had brain scans while a cellphone was turned on for 50 minutes and another while the phone was turned off.

While there was no overall change in brain metabolism, they found a 7 percent increase in brain metabolism in the region closest to the cellphone antenna when the phone was on.

Experts said the results were intriguing, but urged that they be interpreted with caution.

"Although the biological significance, if any, of increased glucose metabolism from acute cellphone exposure is unknown, the results warrant further investigation," Henry Lai of the University of Washington, Seattle, and Dr. Lennart Hardell of University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden, wrote in a commentary in


"Much has to be done to further investigate and understand these effects," they wrote.

Like this comment
Posted by JO
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm

The City keeps promoting high-density housing, yet keeps making it less and less desirable to live in such housing. Residents' health and privacy take a back seat to commercial interests, especially in these high density areas. Who cares about a resident's health and privacy when there is a gap in Wi-Fi coverage on University Ave? Note that AT&T was only asked to "consider" changes in antenna placement -- I wouldn't call that a "requirement."

Like this comment
Posted by don't blame the city
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Blame Apple its iphone owners for causing this problem. Does anyone else have problems with AT&T besides iphone owners?

Like this comment
Posted by ATT gets what ATT wants
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2011 at 3:48 pm

@JO: AT&T was only asked to "consider" changes in antenna placement -- I wouldn't call that a "requirement."
Right. Most, not all, of the Planning Commission are businessmen and they cant even think of denying AT&T anything. I guess they dont remember what a corrupt company it was, and if you study their web site, still is. They will sell you anything as long as you also buy a lot of other things you dont need.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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