News

Wireless facilities meet fuzzy reception in Palo Alto

Antenna proposals on the rise, but city still working out its master plan

From lanky poles masquerading as light fixtures to modest spikes hiding in the rooftops or jutting out of utility poles, cell antennas have been proliferating in Palo Alto over the past year, trying to keep pace with the city's growing population and swelling digital demands.

They come in different shapes and sizes and they target just about every neighborhood, from Downtown North to Greenmeadow. Some plans go through years of revisions and stoke neighborhood debate before winning approval, such as AT&T's proposal for a "distributed antenna system" two years ago and Verizon's recent plan for a cell tower at a ballpark on Middlefield Road.

The latter, which the City Council approved on Dec. 15, proved particularly thorny, with five years of revisions and an appeals process that pitted neighbor against neighbor in south Palo Alto. The council's vote allows Verizon to replace a 60-foot-tall light pole with a 65-foot-tall pole that would support three antennas in the Palo Alto Little League ballpark. The new pole's diameter would be 18 inches, 6 more than the existing pole's.

Last month's swift council decision came after a torrent of comments from both advocates of the plan, who slammed the opposition for stoking speculative fears about the dangers of cell equipment, and critics, who charged Verizon with placing tiny sluggers and schoolchildren in danger.

Joe Caporaletti, a member of the Adobe Meadow Neighborhood Association, which supported the antenna plan, accused opponents of "imaginative fears."

"It's become clear to me that the (opponents') purpose is to stop it permanently," Caporaletti said.

Kristen Foss, board president of Palo Alto Little League, said tower opponents had been trying to delay the project with a variety of strategies, from complaining about the light impact of the new pole to attempting to designate the ballpark a historical structure. The latter proposal even involved the grandson of baseball legend Ty Cobb, but it fizzled in front of the city's Historic Resources Board.

"They've been trying anything they can find to try to shut Little League down," Foss said.

Opponents countered that a baseball field is not the proper location for a cell tower. Willie Lai told the council that he would not consent for his children to be "part of a long-term experiment." Jason Yotoupolis, who filed an appeal against Verizon, said that the company failed in its obligation to find the least intrusive location for its new equipment.

"The radius coverage of a tower this high is many miles, so moving such a wireless facility just a quarter mile down the road to an industrial warehouse facility shouldn't be much of an inconvenience," Yotoupolis said.

In December, some 100 people showed up at the council meeting to ask that the council have a full discussion of the topic, rather than merely vote on it through the consent calendar.

While eight council members agreed to keep the item on consent, Greg Schmid dissented, observing that it's very rare for the council to see that many people in the audience for a consent-calendar item.

"There is a pretty clear division between those who support and those who oppose," Schmid said in advocating a full discussion. "It's been a divisive issue, and I think it's very important that we reach closure on this."

The bitter dispute over the Verizon tower is precisely the type of controversy that the council had hoped to avoid when it approved an $81,000 contract last April for the creation of a citywide master plan for wireless facilities. The company, Anthem Telecom, was charged with assessing the city's wireless communication needs, create a plan for meeting those needs and develop a strategy for implementing and managing an infrastructure program for the needed facilities.

In urging the council to reject Verizon's application, Yotoupolis argued that the city should wait until the master plan is completed before considering such proposals.

"The city is spending $80,000 on a wireless-communication plan and yet at the same time proposing an ad hoc 'Ready, fire, aim' approach," he said.

But when it comes to wireless equipment, the city's planning effort is struggling to keep up with the telecom companies. The city's contract estimates the consultant's work to take 72 weeks and the planning staff expects the report to be completed by the end of this year, said Jonathan Lait, the city's assistant planning director.

"They (the consultants) are interested in understanding more about some of the other utilities in the area and what their expansion needs are in the Palo Alto," Lait said. "They are conducting that research and doing that work now."

Meanwhile, applications continue to file in. When the new year launched, eight applications for wireless equipment were in the pipeline. On Jan. 6, the city approved two of these applications, at 3600 Bayshore Road and at 925 Commercial Street. Each included three panel antennas and radio equipment. As of last week, the city had applications pending at 1891 Page Mill Road (two rooftop antennas); 180 El Camino Real (16 rooftop antennas at the Pottery Barn building at Stanford Shopping Center); 675 El Camino Real (three rooftop antennas at a hotel); 2701 Middlefield Road (replacement of three rooftop antennas); and 801 Middlefield Road (AT&T antennas on a utility pole).

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by Check Your Wireless Bill
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 15, 2015 at 10:47 am

Check your latest wireless bill. My Verizon Wireless bill rose this month entirely due to taxes and fees.

Thanks. Palo ALto. And please remind me again how long the city has been working on a broadband plan. It's at least 10 years, maybe longer.


4 people like this
Posted by Welcome Verizon
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2015 at 10:50 am

We are thrilled to see the PA City Council finally approve the Verizon cell tower at the Palo Alto Little League Ball park on Middlefield Rd. Thank goodness the City of PA can move on and stop wasting valuable time and energy on this non-issue when we have so many other real pressing issues in PA to address (particularly since the Verizon antennae will only be five feet taller than the existing pole). PA needs this. Time to move forward. Welcome Verizon!


6 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 15, 2015 at 10:54 am

How many of the anti-cell-tower people themselves own cell phones? You can't have it both ways. If you use a cell phone, you are a shameless hypocrite for trying to ban cell phone towers.


4 people like this
Posted by Check Your Wireless Bill
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 15, 2015 at 11:09 am

I'm not objecting to the tower, just to the City's belief that they're entitled to an ever-growing share of everything.

The PA fee/tax is by far the largest fee charged on the monthly bill.


2 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2015 at 11:14 am

@Parent...Shameless hypocrite may be a bit over the top. Most people who are opposed to cell phone towers don't want them near their children's play areas or next to their homes because of potential health hazards. Until there is concrete evidence that emissions from towers do no harm, there will be people who oppose them whether they use cell phones or not.

My neighbor is a PhD physicist who has installed satellite towers for the government all over the world for years. When a proposed tower about 100 feet from his and my homes was in the works years ago, he calculated that the frequencies generated by the tower would be equivalent to holding a phone 6 inches from year ear 24/7.

Still think they're hypocrites?


Like this comment
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2015 at 11:16 am

Sorry....6 inches FROM you ear.


5 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2015 at 12:00 pm

KP is a registered user.

@38 year resident...Not true - He should double check his figures. We have two towers on one of our properties and have plenty of reports (required by the city) showing much less than his calculations.

@ parent...I concur!! Hypocrites!

The ballpark is a great place for a tower...they would get minimum $2000.00 a month (much needed for improvements...ummm SHADE over the dugouts! just for starters.), it can be disguised, so it doesn't look like a cell tower, and we would get better reception in our area!


1 person likes this
Posted by CW
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 15, 2015 at 12:32 pm

To "Check Your Wireless Bill" ... there was a very interesting article the other day in the Daily Post about how the city of Palo Alto and many other cities were collecting too much in taxes on wireless bills. A lawsuit claimed the city owed $1 million to customers. So, yes, check your wireless bill and hope that the city is asking for the right amount.


1 person likes this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2015 at 4:06 pm

So the ballpark tower has been approved. Anyone know how soon it will be up and functioning. I have Verizon and have TERRIBLE reception at my house.


Like this comment
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2015 at 4:50 pm

@KP...the calculations done by my neighbor were accurate for the time in question...nearly 10 years ago. So yes, it was true then. Perhaps frequency emissions have changed. When he presented his information to the engineers representing the phone company at the community meeting, they gagged and could not provide any calculations to disprove what he came up with. The tower was never installed.


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2015 at 5:20 pm

@38 year resident

Sadly no amount of "concrete evidence" is going to change you or anyone else's minds. People have been basting in wireless frequencies for 30+ years, and yet they aren't lurching around like mutants, let alone showing any notable increase in the diseases this radiation is supposed to cause. To anyone with an ounce of rationality, that should be the end of it.


3 people like this
Posted by allen edwards
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2015 at 7:12 pm

"Until there is concrete evidence that emissions from towers do no harm, there will be people who oppose them whether they use cell phones or not."

There is concrete evidence already that these emissions do no harm so the above statement is not true. Fear trumps evidence.

There is a world of difference between ionizing emissions like x-rays, and non ionizing ones like the cell phone frequencies. The very worst that can happen with these lower frequencies is that they will keep you warm. If you don't feel warm, they are not hurting you.

There is also federal law backing this up. You cannot refuse to allow a cell phone tower because of concerns about health. People find that out and start to object to the color or the size.

I used to work designing test equipment for microwave radio. One of the problems they had was homeless people would sleep in the antennas to stay warm. Sucked up some of the energy and hurt the reception. Didn't hurt the people. These were big antennas with very high power and they were inside the antenna. I would definately not recommend that. If you feel warm, you probably are too close. If you don't you are going to be OK.


3 people like this
Posted by kim S.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2015 at 8:29 pm

There is another solution. We don't need to build more cell towers, those people who don't have adequate reception in their homes can use cellular signal boosters. SureCall is one such manufacturer. These signal boosters greatly enhance the reception in your home, car or office. Building more cell towers isn't th anser


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2015 at 9:24 pm

@kim S.

You're in luck because neither you nor I are being asked to or forced to build any cell towers. In order to get better cell reception, you, quite literally, don't have to do anything.


Like this comment
Posted by Check Your Wireless Bill
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 15, 2015 at 9:24 pm

CW wrote:

To "Check Your Wireless Bill" ... there was a very interesting article the other day in the Daily Post about how the city of Palo Alto and many other cities were collecting too much in taxes on wireless bills. A lawsuit claimed the city owed $1 million to customers. So, yes, check your wireless bill and hope that the city is asking for the right amount.


Thanks.

How do we know what the right amount is? Who do we ask? Will the Weekly do a follow-up?


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Sullivan
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 16, 2015 at 10:58 am

The core conflict is whether or not cell towers and wireless radiation are safe. I would love to see the Palo Alto Daily do an article presenting both sides of the argument in a fair and unbiased manner. I slowly changed my entrenched position on this topic over the last decade. Before that, I honestly, had never been presented with both sides of the issue and never took the time to look deeply and re-evaluate my position. I think that would be a great service to the community.


2 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 19, 2015 at 9:51 am

"Until there is concrete evidence that emissions from towers do no harm, there will be people who oppose them whether they use cell phones or not."

There is. Mountains of it. The debate is long over.

This stuff has been studied and studied and studied and studied for 70 years. (Oh, you thought RF radiation was invented when cellphones came out?)

Even the hyper-cautious Europeans have finally given up trying to show some harm from it.

Those "little sluggers" someone mentioned are getting VASTLY more electromagnetic radiation from the fluorescent lights in their school rooms.


The only people still objecting are the uniformed followers of the long-discredited Dr. Henry Lai (who likes to cite studies that don't exist) and the late and never-even-remotly-qualified-weatherman Dr. Neil Cherry.

(Yes, his degree was in meteorology. Look it up.)





Like this comment
Posted by get it right
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 19, 2015 at 10:14 am

"If you use a cell phone, you are a shameless hypocrite for trying to ban cell phone towers."

Not hardly. My phone only uses a few towers.


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

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