Santa Clara County judge gives green light to Little League cell tower

Ruling allows Verizon to proceed with Palo Alto council-approved facility

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.

Related content:

Court halts construction of cell tower at Little League park

Wireless facilities meet fuzzy reception in Palo Alto

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1 person likes this
Posted by Absent constituent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 19, 2016 at 2:06 pm

Where is there an island that close to the cell tower? Meadow? No. Middlefield. Definitely not. Charleston. Nope. Even if that actually happened, maybe the girl wanted her privacy. Plus I suppose that the resident went and talked to this teenage girl at night while she was on her phone and asked her why she was in the middle? Sounds like a fibber and glad that the judge relies on hearsay. Glad we have such a sound legal system.

31 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 21, 2016 at 11:31 am

FINALLY! Most of the Adobe Meadow neighborhood has wanted this cell tower for years. But, two households across the street from the Little League Park have fought and fought. I'm surprised that 'dozens' of people argued against this. A poll taken by the Adobe Meadow Neighborhood Association a year or so ago showed overwhelming support for placing the tower at the Little League Park.

1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2016 at 12:43 pm

This is outrageous, and it's hardly the first time the city/county/state has turned a blind eye to the city's victimized residents. Citizens need to band together to push through a "Somebody Else's Backyard" ordinance to cover necessary improvements that everyone wants somewhere else.

19 people like this
Posted by Fabulous
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2016 at 1:02 pm

FANTASTIC! Finally. Our family is so happy to see that reason and the law has prevailed. We are very happy that a couple selfish households (not dozens) can no longer obstruct something our city and the majority of residents have needed and wanted for years.

4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2016 at 1:17 pm

Can someone tell me why only Verizon gets to use this tower? Why can't the different companies share a smaller set of towers, thus reducing the ugliness around town?

3 people like this
Posted by June
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2016 at 2:05 pm

The Green alarmists have been defeated, finally, on an important issue. I am happy for Palo Alto Little League...they have received some justice, after all this struggle. I hope the opponents were assessed some legal fees, as a deterent.

5 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2016 at 3:24 pm

I'm thrilled. How soon can they get this tower up? I have to stand in my driveway to get any bars on my cell phone.

3 people like this
Posted by Wassup
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2016 at 6:44 pm

Nearly everyone in town complains about the cell phone dead zone that is Palo Alto, but no one wants another cell tower anywhere in town. There aren't any a.ternatives, unless you want to drive to Mountain View whenever you need to use your cell phone.

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

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