Editorial: Antenna angst unwarranted

AT&T's low-power distributed antenna system should be approved

The debate over whether to allow ATT to improve cell service in Palo Alto using small antenna positioned on the top of existing utility poles will finally come to a head later this month.

Several residents have appealed the approvals for already granted by the Architectural Review Board and Planning Director Curtis Williams to the City Council, which will decide the matter at its meeting on Jan. 23.

Supporters complain about the notoriously bad and under-built AT&T network in Palo Alto and the need for this epicenter of technology to provide reliable cell service. The large number of iPhone and iPad owners in our community put unusual demands on the current system, and AT&T is desperately trying to put in place the needed and long overdue infrastructure.

Ironically, Palo Alto's dense canopy of trees is one of the factors that impairs the reliability of cell service, according to ATT officials.

The appellants, largely people who live next to one of the 19 utility poles initially proposed for the antennas, object on a variety of grounds, including concern over radiation, noise and visual impact.

Federal law constrains local authorities when considering cell phone antenna systems, and specifically prohibits any consideration of health impacts and radiation. Most experts agree that the distributed antenna system (DAS) technology actually reduces radio wave emissions because cell phones use less power when connecting to a close-by DAS than a cell tower.

AT&T consultants claim that a DAS antenna gives off very little radiation, up to 200 times lower than the Federal Communications Commission threshold, or about 3 watts when operating at maximum power. According to the October 2010 study by Hammett and Edison, broadcast and wireless engineers, the antenna would produce about 0.5 percent of the FCC limit. Output in other directions, including a Wi-Fi antenna mounted 63 feet above a street, would be far less at ground level, the experts said.

Because of the federal pre-emption on the health issue, the city's only real regulatory authority relates to the aesthetics of the antenna and related equipment.

When the Architectural Review Board voted to approve the plan, it attached a long list of conditions to minimize the impact of the equipment, including use of trees whenever possible to screen the equipment from view and using colors to make the antennas less conspicuous. The company had already agreed to reduce the number of antennas on each pole from two to one.

We fail to see the aesthetic problems with placing an antenna on top of a relatively small number of 60-foot or higher utility poles. In most parts of town with overhead utilities, street trees already obscure the upper reaches of the poles.

A more legitimate concern is the power units that will be mounted lower on the poles and their visual and noise impact. The company's plan to install battery backups on the utility poles generated a wide-ranging discussion at the ARB meeting, with most concerns expressed about the sound the battery cabinets would make.

An attorney for AT&T said the company would be willing to remove the battery boxes from the proposal, but he stressed the importance of backup power during an emergency or power outage.

Ultimately, the board approved the boxes, but added a condition requiring that AT&T test the equipment's noise level to make sure it complies with local regulations. We are satisfied with this resolution and the ARB's conclusions and other conditions.

With the appeal, by dozens of residents, the plan will get a full airing before the City Council, probably Jan. 23. While we believe the plan should be approved, we hope that future applications for more DAS antennas can go through a better and less antagonistic process.

Next month the Council is scheduled to begin a discussion with planners about how to develop such a framework, action we called for in a March 18 editorial last year. Model ordinances to govern cellular infrastructure are already in place in several Bay Area cities, including Berkeley and Richmond. Palo Alto could be the next to find a way to reduce the bickering over a technology that is now embedded in our culture and is considered much safer than driving your automobile on the freeway.

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Like this comment
Posted by Don
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 8, 2012 at 6:59 pm

In my opinion, the noise is the most valid objection. It is a particularly penetrating and irritating noise. If AT&T could solve that issue, I'd be in favor of the antennas.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

How about them freight trains?

Like this comment
Posted by Noise is a problem
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 8, 2012 at 10:15 pm

When you can't think of an answer, just change the subject. Right, Walter?

Like this comment
Posted by ugly
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Despite what most people claim, the ugly factor is the main reason that most people oppose neighborhood antennas. The ugly factor can also lead to reduced home values. Does AT&T have photos of what these things are going to look like?

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I will say that during the 2010 EPA aviation accident involving the tragic loss of the Telsa employees - which knocked out power to Palo Alto - it was extremely reassuring to still have cell service for the first few hours after the emergency. This is directly thanks to the back up power available to these cell towers. I distinctly recall still being about to make calls at around 11am-12pm on that day near City Hall using my cell phone.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm

I can't believe all the uproar of these publically benefitical cell antennas. 99% of the people will not even notice any changes to the poles. I travel to San Jose, and there are dozens of these antennas in San Jose. Unless you're looking for them, you'd just drive right past without a worry. They're painted the same color as the utility poles and they extend the overall height about 2-3 feet higher than the pole. The battery back up 'noise' will be a cooling fan that draws air into the battery enclosure to reduce moisture and cool the electronics and battery. More noice will be generated in the installation of these benefitical cell antenna that the amount of noise generated every year.

AT&T and City Council - PLEASE DO NOT OVER LOOK THE PALO ALTO FOOTHILLS! AT&T coverage is very spotty or non existant. In an emergency AT&T cell users have to move around to find the right spot to make an emergency 9-1-1 call.

Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 10, 2012 at 7:50 pm

It is shocking that folks in Silicon Valley can still be so ignorant of science and the scientific method. . . Aesthetics and Noise are just covers for the the appellants' real concern, RADIATION. I've spoken to folks on the Architectural Review Committe in Palo Alto and they admitted that when they have spoken face-to-face with the appellants, the real issue is health and radiation. UGH! Get educated. Or, at least throw out your cell phones and stop being such hypocrites!

Like this comment
Posted by How-Bout-Them-Trains?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2012 at 8:27 pm

> How about them freight trains?

Ditto .. You can hear those trains up to a mile away, at night, and maybe a half mile, or more, during the day. Funny, those folks complaining about the 45dB "noise" from these antennas don't seem to have much of a problem with "them trains".

> it was extremely reassuring to still have cell
> service for the first few hours after the emergency

While true, all of the analog lines in Palo Alto were functional. Telephone/Data lines that were digital were out.

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2012 at 6:01 am

"Most experts agree that the distributed antenna system (DAS) technology actually reduces radio wave emissions because cell phones use less power when connecting to a close-by DAS than a cell tower."


Nearly all researchers agree on this point: more DAS reduce the need for any given cell phone to 'reach' for coverage. If all other variables are fixed, 'reaching' for coverage generates more radiation at the hand-set. We all need to reduce such phone radiation. With all other variables fixed, more DAS reduce cell hand-set radiation.

So, more DAS is a matter of public health: more DAS -- not less -- will reduce hand-set radiation.

I respectfully urge the Council to deny each and every appeal filed to date, whether timely or not, approve AT&T's current application, and work with AT&T and other carriers with speed and urgency to facilitate the installation of additional DAS throughout our City.

Like this comment
Posted by guest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2012 at 7:15 am

I've been in a city having, amongst other things, the tallest building in the world (built in about 4 years); and a cheap and spotlessly clean subway system where, everyday, I observed riders giving up seats not only for women and elderly, but for their male companions too. I read in the local paper that over 90% of businesses polled in a survey said that they intent to hire in the first quarter of 2012.

I return to another area, having filthy public transport, coarse riders, unkept roads, rampant un/under employment, and endless local process over whether to permit a few antennas.

This town is so self-absorbed that it can't see that it, the state, maybe the nation, is in decline.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2012 at 7:54 am

On the subject of landlines in an emergency, on the infamous 12 hour power loss due to the EPA plane accident, I just plugged in my old cord phone instead of my cordless phone and it worked fine all day.

Cordless phones do not work in a power outage, but the old cord phones do. I keep my old one handy with the phone book, just in case.

Like this comment
Posted by Craig "DAS Man" Stanziano
a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2012 at 8:01 am

Two cents about fan noise... Having been engaged in 100's of DAS Right of Way deployments the noise concern has always been a topic of discussion. The compelling compliant has always been what I like to refer to as "contrast noise". This is the sudden change from background or ambient noise conditions to the new DAS noise condition. This typically sudden noise change is very noticeable especially when contending with low background/ambient noise conditions. So, when considering the cooling solution, application of a gradual fan start where the desired CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute)rating is reached over a time period to be determined, not instantaneously. OF course, this will mean longer duration's but if you don't noise it who cares!

Like this comment
Posted by Poles are the problem
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 11, 2012 at 9:13 am

Installing the transmitters on the poles makes them permanent. It's a shame that a city with such beautiful trees and high property values puts up with overhead power lines that should have been undergrounded long ago. Responding to the critics of Palo Alto's supposed self centered attitude, I do not think it is wrong to stick up for keeping our town beautiful.

Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2012 at 10:49 am

I am totally in agreement with the editorial. The antennas should be installed as proposed.

Like this comment
Posted by Inga
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 11, 2012 at 11:38 am

This article was to the point. We need better reception in PA. My concern is when are we going to get rid of the poles and put the lines underground. A subject that was discussed 10 years ago.

Like this comment
Posted by VerizonWireless customer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2012 at 11:51 am

What I don't understand is why we need to use public resources to support one (rather monopolistic) company... VerizonWireless service works just fine in most parts of Palo Alto while AT&T is spotty -- why? Why doesn't Verizon need these antennae? Are we being asked to capitulate on aesthetics to serve one company and give it an unfair advantage over another in the "free market" when one may have less intrusive technology?

Like this comment
Posted by Stuart Berman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 11, 2012 at 1:19 pm

I urge the city to approve these antennas immediately. The proposed improvement to cell phone coverage in Palo Alto has been too long in coming.

Like this comment
Posted by Leland Manor Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Thank God we don't have "above ground utilities" and likewise no poles for these Godawful antennae. When everyone comes down with cancer sometime in the future and all these techies say "we didn't know that this would be the result" I can happily say that I did not contribute to companies such as ATT to despoil our environment and destroy our health. I got another one of ATT's postage paid cards urging the City of Palo Alto to allow them to do their will. I sent it back to ATT with a message that I am clearly not in favor and those of you who are not in favor can do the same. ATT will have to pay to retrieve these cards that do nothing to support their cause.

Like this comment
Posted by Dropped call
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I support the attennas because we have never had adequate cell coverage from either Verizon or AT&T, over a period of 8 years. Now my wife and I have to go outside with our iPhone, as we did with our Samsung Verizon phone before, to hold a reliable conversation.

VerizonWireless customer, obviously you don't live in our neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by we know cars cause cancer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2012 at 2:13 pm

so why not ban cars instead of cell phones antenna's that have never been proven to cause any health impacts. Put up the antennas, cell phones have been around for decades and the cancer rate has not increased amongst cell phone users. Empirical data has proven the safety of these devices. This is about as foolish as the people that falsely claim vaccines are an issue. Remember the claims that we were all going to die as the year from Y2k issues? Why not address the real health risks out there and instead of chasing the fad illness cause du jour?

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Didn't Palo Alto have a plan to underground all its utility wires? Is that effort officially dead? Because if the utility wires are underground, what happens to the poles and antennae?

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 11, 2012 at 5:12 pm

As a physician, I am appalled by elected representatives having making such flagrant efforts to harm our health with the EMF from these proposed devices and from the county's desire to put floride in the water. I think any representative that votes for these measures should be voted out as their intent appears to be to make residents ill.

Like this comment
Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2012 at 7:37 pm

I too hope the council speedily approves this long overdue improvement.

I guess I should not be too surprised that there seems to be some overlap between the opponent of cell towers and the opponents of fluoridization. Sigh.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2012 at 8:38 am

I support the AT&T proposal and think the city council should approve it.

Like this comment
Posted by Jerryl
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 12, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Verizon Customer:
Verizon does NOT have good coverage throughout Palo Alto. They, too, are applying to put transceivers on poles in areas of spotty coverage. In that case also (Little League Ballpark light stanchions) neighbors ignorant about the relative strengths of cellular band radiation from the towers vs. from the phones themselves right next to their bodies are protesting and engaging in delaying tactics based on various claims unrelated to their real objections.

Under grounding questioners:
By the time the city finds the funds to progress much farther on under grounding of utilities it is a pretty good bet that we will have gotten years of improved cellular coverage from the DAS installations and AT&T will be ready to replace them with longer term solutions. We need DAS now because better towers are not likely in time to be of much help to current customers.

Like this comment
Posted by peninsula commuter
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2012 at 8:41 am

The "ugly factor" is certainly an issue now. During the installation of these antennas, the electric shutdowns required to install them will be an issue for nearby residents. After they are installed, unexpected outages due to equipment failure (think "wind loading") or maintenance errors (contractors working above high voltage wires)will be an issue for even more residents.

But no worries, eventually ALL of the City's electric system will be underground and the pole top antennas will go away.

Like this comment
Posted by peninsula commuter
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2012 at 8:45 am

Forgot to add, I am a Verizon customer and I have good or great cell coverage everywhere I go in Palo Alto. Verizon somehow manages to achieve this without ugly pole top antennas. Go figure.

Like this comment
Posted by Old PA homeowner
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Let em do it. It's all just NIMBY, for no valid reason

Like this comment
Posted by CellTowerOutsideMyWindow
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Does anybody get concerned about the people living in homes about 50 feet from the cell towers? What is the strength of the electro-magnetic/microwave radiation?

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

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