Palo Alto mulls revisions to cell tower policies

City considers allowing companies to install tall towers on city facilities

Seeking to improve porous cell-phone coverage and meet a growing demand for wireless service, Palo Alto officials will consider on Monday whether the city should look to large cell towers on city land or smaller antennas in residential neighborhoods for assistance.

The problem of spotty cell reception has been frustrating Palo Alto technologists and polarizing local residents for years but has become more prominent in the past year, as AT&T plowed forth with its plan to install 80 antennas around the city. These antennas are part of the company's "distributed antenna system" (DAS), aimed at boosting wireless coverage. The company decided to install the system after its earlier proposal to install a large "macro" tower at a church in Crescent Park ran into community resistance.

On Monday, June 25, the City Council will consider which option is better -- a few macro towers mounted on city facilities, a network of smaller DAS antennas or a hybrid option involving both types of wireless equipment.

According to a report from Margaret Monroe, a management specialist in the Planning and Community Environment Department, macro towers already exist at three local fire stations, in one case disguised as a fake tree. Now staff is seeking the council's direction on whether to allow electric utility stations and possibly the roof of City Hall to support cell towers from multiple proposals.

"The intent of such an approach is to allow the City to better dictate the location of tower facilities and to minimize the need for DAS and other antenna facilities in other parts of the community," Monroe wrote.

The Monday meeting will include a presentation from a company that specializes in both types of wireless equipment, Crown Castle. The company is scheduled to present its assessment of opportunities and constraints to using city facilities for wireless equipment.

Though far more subtle than macro towers, DAS equipment drew substantial opposition from neighborhoods last year, when AT&T unveiled its proposal. Dozens of residents opposed the company's efforts to put up antennas on existing utility poles, calling the equipment unsightly and potentially unsafe. Many other residents decry the embarrassingly poor cell service in a city that takes such pride at being in the vanguard of technological innovation.

The council approved the first 19 of these towers in December. Three other AT&T applications, which call for about 60 more antennas, are now in process, according to Monroe.

If the city elects to focus on macro towers, it would have to revise its zoning regulations. This would include raising of height limits on public land to allow heights of 75 feet to 125 feet.

The council meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a closed session. Regular meeting will follow at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.


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Posted by What's-In-A-Name?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2012 at 8:29 am

> a large "macro" tower at a church in Crescent Park
> ran into community resistance.

Is "macro" really the best term for cell phone towers that are taller than x feet? What does AT&T called them?

Like this comment
Posted by hypocrites
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 8:37 am

How many of the hypocrites that oppose cell phone towers own cell phones themselves? If all those hypocrites just cancelled their cell phone contracts, there would be plenty of bandwidth for the rest of us.

Like this comment
Posted by blondie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 25, 2012 at 8:52 am

Yet another delay...PLEASE make a decision and move on this.
Analysis paralysis. Again.

Like this comment
Posted by No Hypocrisy Here
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 10:46 am

To "hypocrites:" Many of the opponents of these big, ugly cell towers are indeed technology-saavy cell phone users, but that does not make them hypocrites. The City needs to figure out how to provide the needed bandwidth with an overall plan, as opposed to leaving our City at the mercy of all of the competing telecomms who have no interest other than their own financials. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, etc will just keep putting up more and more towers in order to compete with each other, regardless of the impact to our city streets and residents. Those that advocate more and more towers for the benefit of their personal coverage are short-sighted. Realize these big "fake trees" will often be much bigger that the natural trees surrounding them, will many times REPLACE existing real trees, and require a large compound around them that includes generators and fuel tanks.

We need to look at the big picture and create a comprehensive plan, like other tech-saavy cities have done. We can do better than to allow AT&T and Verizon to turn our community into an increasingly industrial environment.

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Posted by Don
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2012 at 12:11 pm

At least the complaints are no longer extensively devoted to radiation fears. Science is being accepted that the level of transmit and receive microwave signals are very low for antennas and phones.

Radiated power decreases about the square of the distance from a source (it is recommended that people hold the phones at least an inch from their ears), so people are shifting their complaints to aesthetics. At least this is subjective and not non-scientific.

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Posted by hypocrites
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm

No one believes that tower radiation nonsense. Radiation is a much bigger problem when you are holding your cell phone right next to your brain. That whole issue was a big whine or smokescreen.

Now that people are admitting that their real complaint is the ugly factor, the cell phone companies can work with residents rationally. We need to let the cell phone companies build their antennas into all existing structures, like church towers, athletic field lights, fire houses, and school roofs. Antennas add minimal ugliness when added to existing giant structures.

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I would much prefer macro towere on City property than 80 smaller antennas (DAS) in neighborhoods around the City. My preference is based entirely on asthetics.

If the larger macro towers work - go for it.

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Posted by No Hypocrisy Here
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I know it's more fun to spew rhetoric and accuse people of being dishonest, but many people have more than one objection to the cell towers. Science is as good as what is know as of this time, but not everyone is quite as quick to conclude that science won't tell us something different 20 years from now. The primary "radiation" concern is the much larger volume of RF that children are being exposed to than ever before. Science has time and again shown us that "insults" to children's developing brains and bodies have far more impact than they do on adults.

It's so funny that people have come to believe they NEED high-bandwidth available to them on every inch of the earth, at all cost. A little compromise and understanding on all sides would benefit everyone.

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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I was wondering why there was a shortage of tinfoil in the supermarkets near the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood.

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Posted by College Terrace Mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 25, 2012 at 2:25 pm

My Verizon phone is and always has worked well. I do not want the tower near my home, our collective health is too important.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm

> our collective health is too important.

What are you talking about? There have been many high level studies, by the federal government, which deny any such helath effects. There have been many low level junk science studies that suggest that there are such negative effects. Please be specific.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm

One thing I don't hear much about is the noise factor. Am not sure people realize that these antennas are not only unsightly, but produce noise as well (I became aware of this only recently). AT&T's current plan incorporates noise levels acceptable in commercial, rather than residential, areas, using the justification that the poles sit on city-owned land and thus are not residential. The acceptable dB difference between commercial and residential is significant.

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Posted by Jared Bernstein
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Does anyone know when AT&T will actually install the 80 antennas around the city as part of the its "distributed antenna system" (DAS)?

One was supposed to be near me (in the 1300 block of Webster), but I still cannot get a reliable signal at home...

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Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 25, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I never have any connection issues in Monteverde CR (the middle of a rain forest) and I did not have any issues on the Yangzee River (except in in one gorge). Reception is a little spotty in PA - I guess it is a third world city/

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2012 at 9:05 am

Alphonso - I agree with you, the only place I have cell service problems is in Palo Alto (with AT&T). Another family member has a Verizon phones which works just fine.

Like this comment
Posted by Oops!!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Thank heavens I kept my DSL and land linea because my kids have to go out to the front yard to use their cell phones!!!

Like this comment
Posted by AT&T sucks
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 27, 2012 at 2:23 pm

AT&T is the only cell company with lousy coverage in Palo Alto, right? If you live in one of those dead zones, why did you pick AT&T anyway? Just switch to Verizon and quit whining.

Is there anywhere in the Bay Area where AT&T has superior coverage to Verizon?

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Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2012 at 11:24 am

City Council: PLEASE DO NOT OVERLOOK THE POOR CELLULAR COVERAGE IN THE FOOTHILLS. Most cellular phone, except for Verizon, have very poor coverage west of Hwy 280. Verizon still has significant dead spots. With a good percentage of the city in the foothills all the way up to Skyline Blvd, please do not leave us in the dark ages.

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Posted by No Hypocrisy Here
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Agree completely with AT&T sucks - I had AT&T for years and had to go outside to use my phone. I switched to Verizon and I no longer have any coverage issues anywhere in Palo Alto (or elsewhere). Problem solved!

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 6, 2017 at 2:19 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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