A bitter neighborhood dispute over a new cell tower at the Little League field on Middlefield Road came to a resolution earlier this month when a judge ruled that Verizon can proceed with installing the new equipment.
The fate of the cell tower, which was proposed by Verizon and approved by the City Council in December 2014, has been up in the air since June 2015, when Judge Carrie Zepeda issued an injunction halting the project. Zepeda ruled that there were inconsistencies in the city's approval permits, dealing a blow to Verizon and to Little League Baseball of Palo Alto, which has been lobbying the city to approve the project.
Though the proposed tower, at 65 feet, is only 5 feet taller than an existing light pole it would be replacing, dozens of residents from nearby neighborhoods argued that it would have a negative effect on neighborhood aesthetics and pose a threat to public health. Many others testified over a series of emotional meetings that the new facility is badly needed in the area of south Palo Alto where cell reception is often spotty.
A new decision from Santa Clara County Judge Socrates Peter Manoukian sides squarely with the latter camp and rejects every argument that the cell tower's opponents had levied against the project. Petitioners, he wrote in the March 9 decision, "have failed to show that the impact to the neighborhood will be anything other than trivial." He also noted that the neighborhood contains "similar infrastructure in close proximity, including nearby utility poles, an electrical substation on the adjacent parcel, and two other cell towers within a block of the project."
Manoukian disagreed with the petitioners' assertion that placing a cell tower in a residential neighborhood would conflict with the city's Comprehensive Plan, calling this argument "without merit" and noting that utility structures "are very much a normal part of residential areas, and are certainly not inconsistent with residential use." He also tossed aside an argument from opponents that the Little League field is a historical resource that must be preserved in its original condition.
This argument, which the city's Historical Resources Board considered and rejected, "misrepresents the facts," Manoukian wrote.
"The only historical experts who studied the site concluded repeatedly that it has no historic significance, and that even if it did, the cell tower would have no averse impact on any historic character," Manoukian wrote.
The judgment by Manoukian rejects a request for injunction by the two petitioning groups: Clear Light Ventures, Inc. and Parents and Neighbors Against Little League Cell Tower. The injunction would have invalidated the city's permits for the new cell tower.
The City Council approved the request from Verizon and Little League Baseball of Palo Alto for the new cell tower on Dec. 15, after hearing from dozens of residents representing both sides.
Willie Lai, one of the opponents, told the council at that meeting that while he is not opposed to cell towers, he believes the Little League field is "not a suitable location" both because of the large number of children who play there and because of the field's proximity to Fairmeadow and Hoover elementary schools and JLS Middle School.
"I'm certainly not consenting for my children to be part of a long-term experiment," Lai said.
Supporters of the project accused opponents of fear-mongering and claimed that the new facility is badly needed to address the cellular dead zones in their neighborhood.
Joe Caporaletti, a neighborhood residents, said he's seen "a teenage girl sitting in an island in the middle of the street, talking on the cell phone after dark because that's where she can get coverage on her cell phone" (a quote the new judgment cites in his ruling in discussing the coverage gap).
Kristin Foss, president of Little League Baseball of Palo Alto, said opponents have been trying to throw every imaginable argument into the debate to halt the project.
"They've been trying anything they can find to try to shut Little League down," Foss told the council at the Dec. 15, 2014 meeting.