News

Wi-Fi antennas approved for downtown Palo Alto

City Council gives green light to AT&T proposal to place two Wi-Fi antennas on Hotel President balcony

Palo Altans treasure their privacy, even at the expense of wireless reception.

So when AT&T proposed installing two Wi-Fi antennas on the balcony of Hotel President in downtown Palo Alto, dozens of Hotel residents came out to Monday night's City Council meeting to protest the plan.

Despite the residents' concerns about the potential health and privacy impacts of the new antennas, the council voted 8-1, with Karen Holman dissenting, to give AT&T permission. The company claimed that the new equipment is necessary to keep up with swelling demand for wireless services downtown. The company already has antennas on the roof of the seven-story building.

"This is the least intrusive means for filling the increasing gap in capacity that AT&T has identified in this downtown area," AT&T attorney Paul Albritton told the council Monday.

The council's approval followed recommendations from planning staff and the Planning and Transportation Commission, which voted 5-1 to support the project. The planning commission also required AT&T to submit evidence that the new technology's radiation would be within federal guidelines and asked the company to install and maintain the new technology without entering residents' apartments.

AT&T brought back a report from its consultant indicating that the antennas' radio-frequency emissions would be at 5.7 percent of the Federal Communication Commission's standards for health and safety. AT&T also pledged to use a cherry picker to install the new technology, obviating the need to enter residents' apartments.

That was enough to satisfy the council, which heard the residents' concerns but ultimately sided with AT&T.

"Good Wi-Fi and cellular access is something we need in Palo Alto," Councilman Greg Scharff said. "It's a balancing of interests.

"We may have struck the right balance here with the planning commission's actions and (planning) director's approval."

Residents, however, saw things differently and asked with the council to kill the proposal. T.J. Loebbakka characterized the AT&T plan as little more than a scheme to reap financial gain at the expense of the residents. Mary Riordan said she was concerned about maintenance workers being right outside her window, invading her privacy. Another resident, Michelle Kraus, agreed.

"We don't want a precedent set that curtails tenants' privacy rights as pertains to commercial side-businesses," Kraus said.

Albritton said the number of wireless users nationally has been skyrocketing since 2003, going from fewer than 100 million seven years ago to about 300 million today. He said AT&T projected that, without the new antennas, the area around the Hotel President would reach its maximum capacity for cell phones and data usage in 2012.

The proposal for Hotel President is one of two recent AT&T projects to encounter opposition from Palo Alto residents. The company's plan to install a cell tower at St. Albert the Great Church on Channing Avenue also attracted scrutiny and some opposition from area residents. One resident, Stephen Stuart, threatened to end the City of Palo Alto's free Internet connection (which he had helped arrange in 1994) after city planners gave the proposal the green light.

Leon Beauchman, director of the Wireless Communications Initiative for Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, urged the council to work with wireless providers and the community to improve wireless reception throughout the city.

"It has been suggested that if you just move this some place else, this issue will go away," Beauchman told the council. "I think you realize that, this being Palo Alto, if you move this somewhere else you'll just have a different group of people sitting there."

Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd was one of several council members who said the AT&T proposal is appropriate and merits support.

"Having Palo Alto become known as an area where we don't have dead zones is very critical for our economic development and our emergency preparations," Shepherd said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Henry
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:06 am

Sorry residents of Hotel President. I am going to enjoy the Wi-Fi service Downtown. I do feel bad for you that you have to be exposed to the extra radio-frequency emission 24 hours a day. It is at 5.7 percent of the federal limit, so hopefully that will not harm you too much. I feel bad for your lost of privacy also, but think of yourself as doing a public good. Thank you.


Like this comment
Posted by Joey
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 5, 2011 at 6:11 am

Thanks Henry!
I hope I can install an antenna right next to your children's bedroom so that you may only be exposed to 5.7% of the federal limit and suffer no loss of privacy.


Like this comment
Posted by ran for it
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 5, 2011 at 8:44 am

Your complaints are only welcome in Palo Alto when you hit the right tax bracket


Like this comment
Posted by Great!
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2011 at 10:34 am

Great news! Someone can actually make a decision - the right decision - in Palo Alto? There IS hope after all!


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2011 at 10:43 am

The role of the management of the President Hotel has not gotten much "press". Is the Hotel being compensated in any way? If so, why don't the tenets ask the owners to purchase a microwave radiation measurement device, and install it in the hall near the antennas, so that people can see the radiation levels?

The Hotel could also chose not to rent those apartments that are closest to the antennas in the future. Certainly if one/two apartments were empty, there were be fewer complaints from the tenets about "privacy" invastion when AT&T needs to access the antennas. AT&T could pay the rent on the empty apartment.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 5, 2011 at 10:58 am

Jeez. People freak out over the strangest things. One guy says oh, that sounds dangerous and everybody jumps on the bandwagon. There is not one shred of clinical evidence that proves any danger what-so-ever from these things. Not one. At least not one credible source. I'm not saying we should put them up everywhere, but they have to go up somewhere.

Of course all the people freaked out are probably also the same people that believed the blond bombshell who went on Oprah saying that vaccines gave her kid autism. Suddenly no one is giving their kids vaccines anymore and wondering why on earth their kid got the whooping cough.

When we believe Oprah above our pediatricians, and parnoid-conspiracy-theorists above science and evidence, we are all in trouble.

Meanwhile, this country is involved in three wars abroad, our schools are declining at an alarming rate (war is apparently more important), Japan is dumping huge amounts of radio active water into the Pacific, and the worst thing the people of Palo Alto can think to worry about is a cell phone antenna.

For such a highly educated city there sure are a lot of ignorant folks running around.


Like this comment
Posted by No surprise
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 5, 2011 at 11:11 am

Gee, the architects on the PlanningCommission sided with a developer.
I am so surprised.


Like this comment
Posted by Happy resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2011 at 11:31 am

It's worse to use a cell phone. For folks complaining about this, please use sound data.

How refreshing that council put the needs of the whole community OVER the wishes (& unfound fears) of a handful of NIMBY's.

To City Council: WAY TO GO! There is hope.


Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:02 pm

When it comes to Palo Alto, the WANTS of the many outweigh the NEEDS of the few.

This has been true for the past, the now and the future...

Your obvious solution: ALL CITY OWNED PROPERTY ( public buildings, offices and utility yards ) should be where these radiation generators need to be located. Give your MAYOR, the cops and council critters the chance to show how safe they are...

They ARE safe, right? Then there should be no problem implementing this solution....


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Hate to tell you but the mayor and council don't spend much time at city hall - they all have day jobs. Cops are out in the field during hte bulk of their working day (driving cars loaded with antenna). So installing these in City Hall (which already has a bunch of antenna on it, if you look up)would not prove much of your point.

But yes, I would say bring one down and put it on my office building. Heck, pay me some good solid money and you can have part of my back yard. Once again, there is no credible evidence that these things are dangerous. There is a considerable amount of evidence stating these things are not dangerous.


Like this comment
Posted by hatecellphones
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:24 pm

How costly these things are, and how resistant people are to investigating all the costs when each new toy is launched. All the time suffering local govts will now have to spend on this-- a special tax on cell phones anyone?


Like this comment
Posted by Nat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Herb Borock brought up a good point before the City Council last night. He said that having these antennas on people's balconies is a use of private space for a commercial purpose. And my understanding is that none of the residents of the hotel would benefit.
How many of us would like an antenna on our house or porch which doesn't benefit ourselves but others in the neighborhood?

Bob Moss also suggested that the reason the hotel was picked by AT&T rather than a tall commercial building is that it was cheaper. The hotel owner would not charge as much as, say, a corporate entity like a bank.

What I missed is why the antennas can't be placed on the roof of the hotel rather than on people's balconies.


Like this comment
Posted by Read-The-Lease
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm

> He said that having these antennas on people's balconies is a
> use of private space for a commercial purpose.

Mr. Borock is not a property owner, much less a hotel owner. It's doubtful that Mr. Borock has ever read a lease agreement between the President Hotel and the tenents. Perhaps Mr. Borock is read this document, and then report back to us what rights the tenents have when it comes to balcony use, and what rights the Hotel reserves.

Tenets don't own the apartments they lease, so the idea of "privacy" is somewhat limited compared to a homeowner.


Like this comment
Posted by Jim Arnish
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm

The level of complete ignorance when it comes to understanding technology here in the heart of silicon valley never ceases to amaze me. So many of these people objecting don't seem to understand the concept of RF emission and its relationship to distance and don't even understand the differences between cell towers and WiFi antennas. All they believe is that its bad for you because somebody somewhere told them.

They throw around the term "radiation" like its a bad thing, without understanding that its all relative. Folks, bananas are more radioactive than most foods because of their high concentration of potassium, yet I don't see anyone protesting outside of Whole Foods to rid Palo Alto of bananas!!

Your cordless phone in your house probably emits more radiation than a cellphone, because it doesn't adjust based upon signal strength, yet I never see people in Palo Alto walking around their house with 30 feet of spiral phone cable following them, like we all did back in the eighties.

Either do the research to realize the amounts being discussed are negligible or stop whining. But NOT doing research and whining is really idiotic.


Like this comment
Posted by Jazmin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm

We may not own the apartments but we would like to have the privacy that any person request to have in their "homes".

We are not against technology but it was hard to understand why not select an office building where people works just a partial time instead of a building where persons and kids are all around the whole day & night.

About the radiation we respect other persons opinions but our opinions to prefer not have radiation that close.


Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm

"About the radiation we respect other persons opinions but our opinions to prefer not have radiation that close."

Jazmin--I suggest you read Mr Arnish's comment above. Read up on "radiation" and then comment. Your comment about not wanting "radiation that close" makes no sense whatsoever given the facts.


Like this comment
Posted by hatecellphones
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 5, 2011 at 4:50 pm

The Stuarts really live across the street from the church? Checking Google Street View - does not look like a place Google wealth would have bought into -


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I thought the points about radiation and the need to locate the transmitters on the hotel balcony were covered in last night's City Council meeting. Briefly each transmitter will point in opposite directions down University Ave. If they were on the roof, not all of the street would be covered because a solid part of the building would shield the transmission. Ergo, dead spots.

Microwave energy is attenuated by atmosphere as well as solid objects. To reach all receivers in the city one would need to transmit many kilowatts of power which could really be a possible health problem. Hence lots of low power transmitters (about one watt) will be used instead. In this case that energy is only 5.7% of the Federal limit and is rapidly attenuated the further one is from the transmitter. That's why there are dead spots.


Like this comment
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm

While i think it's great that Downtown PA has better coverage, i'm wondering why they chose the Hotel President.

I note that there is a taller building, skyscraper, opposite on University, occupied by legions of attorneys and other folk who prey on the masses. Why not there? Why choose a historic building - only to mar the sense of balance of the balcony? Have you no shame?

But of course, the architects, and the city council, insist on erecting buildings that appear to have been drawn by a child, with no sense of beauty - i must say, the Woolworth replacement building - has no enduring value, and will be destroyed in a few years - it could have been built in any suburban office park.

It's time to sack the City Council. Long in bed with the chamber of commerce, and out of tune with residents who elected them.


Like this comment
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 5, 2011 at 9:01 pm

What about the distributed antenna system to be placed on telephone poles?


Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 5, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I think AT&T should put antennas and towers next to the homes of our city council's members. Preferably near the bedrooms of their children.


Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 6, 2011 at 7:46 am

"I think AT&T should put antennas and towers next to the homes of our city council's members. Preferably near the bedrooms of their children."

Is the above comment to really be taken seriously? Elizabeth needs to get together with Jazmin and read up about "radiation". It is comments like the above that suggest that people are gripped with hysteria on some subjects, while ignoring the facts and listening to bogus pronouncements from people ignorant on the subject that they are ranting about.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2011 at 11:20 am

Wondering asks, "What about the distributed antenna system to be placed on telephone poles?"

Keeps the reduction of transmitted power to a watt or less. Much safer and easier to control as well as filling in dead spots.

Lisa: As said in the Council presentation, other buildings cannot provide complete coverage of the University Ave. area. Tall does not equate to complete coverage.


Like this comment
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm

It is not a part of the City's task to ask whether the site selected by the applicant is the "best" site. The only issues that the City is supposed to consider is whether the application itself meets the legal tests.

It goes without saying that if the City could dictate the site, this would become a political football as various sites and neighborhoods lobby for their own interest. AT&T at least has issues of coverage and expense in mind, both of which are relevant to consumers.

The applicant also gave some very good reasons for selecting the Hotel President site. They did share some of their due-diligence search for other sites with the City.


Like this comment
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Mr. Boroc's comment about the antennas not benefiting the residents was interesting. However, this is an issue of tenant law. Not all reasons for entering a tenant's apartment will result in a "benefit" to that tenant, but may still be allowed by the lease.

A more important point is that it is not within the City's authoring to permit (or preclude) entry to someone's apartment. This is between the landlord and the tenant. This finally did come out in the discussion.

The City should confine its work to the issues that are in the City's legal authority and competence on the issuance of permits.


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

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