News

Palo Alto bans new cell towers next to public schools

City Council creates 300-foot setback requirement for new wireless communication facilities

Bowing to concerns from a group of residents, the Palo Alto City Council agreed this week to ban new wireless antennas from being installed on poles within 300 feet of public schools.

The council voted 6-1, with Lydia Kou dissenting, to revise its rules for wireless communication facilities, which are becoming increasingly common and controversial in neighborhoods throughout Palo Alto. The city has already approved dozens of wireless antennas and has more than 100 in the pipeline.

The resolution that the council passed also eliminated a provision pertaining to the placement of wireless equipment in relation to second-story windows. The provision specified that wireless equipment on multistory buildings not be placed in a "horizontal plane," which is defined as a "45-degree angle extending 50 feet from the center point of upper story windows, doors, balconies and other openings."

Planning staff had determined that the standard would "result in little practical impact" because an applicant could easily comply with it by shifting the equipment by just a few inches. As such, the requirement presents "a limited restriction on placement of WCFs (wireless communication facilities)," a report from the City Attorney's Office states.

Kou had urged more stringent requirements, including a 1,000-foot setback from schools for new wireless equipment and a 300-foot setback near residences. She also opposed the deletion of the clause pertaining to placement of the equipment in relation to upper-story windows. Her proposal fizzled after no other council member supported it.

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As at prior discussions of wireless equipment, the council heard from several community members raising concerns about the health impacts of the telecommunication technology. John Melnychuk said he is concerned not just about the aesthetics of wireless equipment but also about its impact on children.

Jerry Fan, a Barron Park resident whose house is next to an antenna site, told the council that his children go to Barron Park Elementary School, which is close to another new antenna site. He said he was concerned about his children "spending 24 hours a day next to a radiation-beaming cell tower."

But resident Jeff Saunders took the opposite view and questioned the scientific assumptions of those opposing the new cell equipment. More cell towers, he said, means "less overall radiation" because having a tower in close proximity means that a resident's cellphone doesn't have to radiate as much to reach that tower.

"If you have a higher density of cell antennas, each of those antennas radiates at a lower power and, more importantly, this radiates at a lower power," Saunders said, holding up a phone.

The council did not weigh in on the health impacts of the new equipment (its ability to do so is limited by Telecommunications Act of 1996, which restricts cities' ability to regulate radio-frequently emissions). Instead, council members focused on aesthetics. Councilman Tom DuBois, who supported the 300-foot setback requirements for schools, noted that even with the change, the city still has an issue with poles that are located directly in front of someone's house. He asked staff to come back at a later date with design standards that limit having wireless equipment installed on these poles.

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"I'd really like to see an aesthetic preference to choose poles near property lines, not in the middle of someone's front yard," DuBois said.

The new rules will not apply to pending applications or to previously approved projects, according to the staff report.

The new ban falls below the limit outlined in a resolution on placing cell towers near school district campuses that was supported by the Palo Alto Board of Education on Tuesday. The resolution calls for the cell towers to be set back by 1,500 feet from schools and asks the city to notify the district of proposed projects near school sites.

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Palo Alto bans new cell towers next to public schools

City Council creates 300-foot setback requirement for new wireless communication facilities

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jun 19, 2019, 4:20 pm

Bowing to concerns from a group of residents, the Palo Alto City Council agreed this week to ban new wireless antennas from being installed on poles within 300 feet of public schools.

The council voted 6-1, with Lydia Kou dissenting, to revise its rules for wireless communication facilities, which are becoming increasingly common and controversial in neighborhoods throughout Palo Alto. The city has already approved dozens of wireless antennas and has more than 100 in the pipeline.

The resolution that the council passed also eliminated a provision pertaining to the placement of wireless equipment in relation to second-story windows. The provision specified that wireless equipment on multistory buildings not be placed in a "horizontal plane," which is defined as a "45-degree angle extending 50 feet from the center point of upper story windows, doors, balconies and other openings."

Planning staff had determined that the standard would "result in little practical impact" because an applicant could easily comply with it by shifting the equipment by just a few inches. As such, the requirement presents "a limited restriction on placement of WCFs (wireless communication facilities)," a report from the City Attorney's Office states.

Kou had urged more stringent requirements, including a 1,000-foot setback from schools for new wireless equipment and a 300-foot setback near residences. She also opposed the deletion of the clause pertaining to placement of the equipment in relation to upper-story windows. Her proposal fizzled after no other council member supported it.

As at prior discussions of wireless equipment, the council heard from several community members raising concerns about the health impacts of the telecommunication technology. John Melnychuk said he is concerned not just about the aesthetics of wireless equipment but also about its impact on children.

Jerry Fan, a Barron Park resident whose house is next to an antenna site, told the council that his children go to Barron Park Elementary School, which is close to another new antenna site. He said he was concerned about his children "spending 24 hours a day next to a radiation-beaming cell tower."

But resident Jeff Saunders took the opposite view and questioned the scientific assumptions of those opposing the new cell equipment. More cell towers, he said, means "less overall radiation" because having a tower in close proximity means that a resident's cellphone doesn't have to radiate as much to reach that tower.

"If you have a higher density of cell antennas, each of those antennas radiates at a lower power and, more importantly, this radiates at a lower power," Saunders said, holding up a phone.

The council did not weigh in on the health impacts of the new equipment (its ability to do so is limited by Telecommunications Act of 1996, which restricts cities' ability to regulate radio-frequently emissions). Instead, council members focused on aesthetics. Councilman Tom DuBois, who supported the 300-foot setback requirements for schools, noted that even with the change, the city still has an issue with poles that are located directly in front of someone's house. He asked staff to come back at a later date with design standards that limit having wireless equipment installed on these poles.

"I'd really like to see an aesthetic preference to choose poles near property lines, not in the middle of someone's front yard," DuBois said.

The new rules will not apply to pending applications or to previously approved projects, according to the staff report.

The new ban falls below the limit outlined in a resolution on placing cell towers near school district campuses that was supported by the Palo Alto Board of Education on Tuesday. The resolution calls for the cell towers to be set back by 1,500 feet from schools and asks the city to notify the district of proposed projects near school sites.

Comments

parent
Gunn High School
on Jun 19, 2019 at 5:34 pm
parent, Gunn High School
on Jun 19, 2019 at 5:34 pm
23 people like this

This is just dumb. We hear about emergency situations at schools all the time. If we ban cell phone antennas near schools, then reception is going to be terrible near schools. How do people call out during an emergency situation? Poor cellular coverage is equivalent to banning cellphones in school zones.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2019 at 5:44 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2019 at 5:44 pm
21 people like this

There are dead zones all over town. We need to get better cell signals in all neighborhoods. Who are these "residents" who are preventing this? In a big disaster we will need all our cell phones. In a big power outage, we will need all our cell phones. We have no pay phones and communication is key when family emergencies or other serious events take place.


LOL
Crescent Park
on Jun 19, 2019 at 6:35 pm
LOL, Crescent Park
on Jun 19, 2019 at 6:35 pm
23 people like this

No Surprise that the council placed oiling the squeaky wheel over science. I am Surprised that Lydia didn't try to ban cell phone towers in Palo alto.


Anonymous
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2019 at 10:07 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2019 at 10:07 pm
2 people like this

Some of the issue for homeowners is the potential blight and ugliness of multiples of these devices/fixtures.


SickAndTired
Midtown
on Jun 20, 2019 at 11:30 am
SickAndTired, Midtown
on Jun 20, 2019 at 11:30 am
22 people like this

I'm sorry, but I am sick and tired of this: "OH MY GOD my cell phone has to work perfectly and have 5-bar reception no matter where I am." attitude.
"MY have-to-be-connected-anywhere-24-hours-day is MORE IMPORTANT than anything else."

Do I believe the signals are rotting our brains? No.
Do I believe that there will be unintended consequences that we will not discover until much later? Yes.
Do I believe that our culture and society is being damaged by our constant possession and use of cellphones? Yes.

But, hey, that's just me it seems.


Do UR Homework
Midtown
on Jun 20, 2019 at 1:52 pm
Do UR Homework, Midtown
on Jun 20, 2019 at 1:52 pm
21 people like this

"In a big disaster we will need all our cell phones. In a big power outage, we will need all our cell phones"

In a really big disaster the cell phone go out too. Cell towers are powered by electricity, not magical thinking.


Joe
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2019 at 2:36 pm
Joe, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2019 at 2:36 pm
7 people like this

If the Council has decided to bow down to those technophobes claiming that wireless is the work of Satan - could it only be a matter of time before the Council bans all wireless technology from Palo Alto?


Me 2
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 21, 2019 at 9:16 am
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 21, 2019 at 9:16 am
13 people like this

What's ironic is that the further away your cell phone tower, the *more energy* your cell phone has to use to communicate with it.

In essence, this ruling basically exposes more radiation to Palo Alto children and residents, not less.

[Portion removed.]


musical
Palo Verde
on Jun 21, 2019 at 11:22 am
musical, Palo Verde
on Jun 21, 2019 at 11:22 am
8 people like this

It's your voluntary choice whether to carry an active cell phone 24/7.
There's no escaping proximity to towers.


More Study Needed
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 21, 2019 at 11:38 am
More Study Needed, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 21, 2019 at 11:38 am
9 people like this

[Post removed.]


Stacy's Mom
Charleston Gardens
on Jun 21, 2019 at 12:23 pm
Stacy's Mom, Charleston Gardens
on Jun 21, 2019 at 12:23 pm
12 people like this

Since Kinders and other elementary students rarely if ever carry phones, they'd be getting more radiation from nearby towers than from phones.

I don't get why some people are so energetically against a common sense precaution. Should we raise school zone speed limits, since after all, kids are exposed to traffic everywhere? It makes sense that we'd have conservative rules near schools.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2019 at 12:58 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2019 at 12:58 pm
4 people like this

Posted by Stacy's Mom, a resident of Charleston Gardens

>> Since Kinders and other elementary students rarely if ever carry phones, they'd be getting more radiation from nearby towers than from phones.

They might be getting more from the teacher's cell phone then. It would make an interesting comparison of the "dose" from a much higher duty cycle of a (distant) cell tower vs the "dose" of a much lower duty cycle much higher amplitude nearby cell phone.

Anyone have a good simple visual explanation of inverse-square effects for the general public?

>> I don't get why some people are so energetically against a common sense precaution. Should we raise school zone speed limits, since after all, kids are exposed to traffic everywhere? It makes sense that we'd have conservative rules near schools.

"Conservative" in this case is counter-intuitive. For example, if you don't carry a cell phone yourself, your biggest RF exposure might be from the nearest major FM station. (Uh-oh; I'm not sure I should be talking about that.)


Say What?
Midtown
on Jun 21, 2019 at 5:46 pm
Say What?, Midtown
on Jun 21, 2019 at 5:46 pm
4 people like this

[Post removed.]


Tony
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2019 at 7:53 pm
Tony, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2019 at 7:53 pm
3 people like this

Some of Palo Alto’s fire stations have had cell towers on the property for years. Firefighters have slept “underneath” these towers for years too. I wonder when the first lawsuit by a firefighter will be filed against the city.


Kenny
University South
on Jun 22, 2019 at 11:53 am
Kenny, University South
on Jun 22, 2019 at 11:53 am
8 people like this

The anti-cell tower cadre are the anti-vaxxers of the communications world.
What is really amazing is that the Palo Alto City Council would cave in to paranoia and pseudoscience. Cell phone towers aren't going to lay waste to nearby individuals.


Curmudgeon
Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2019 at 1:40 pm
Curmudgeon, Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2019 at 1:40 pm
13 people like this

"Do I believe the signals are rotting our brains? No."

True for the electromagnetic component. Debatable for the information content.


Alum
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Jun 23, 2019 at 5:53 pm
Alum, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Jun 23, 2019 at 5:53 pm
6 people like this

@Curmudgeon that comment made my day

Paly and Gunn have wireless networks for students to use, and coverage is generally decent around campus (save some of the large open areas). Wonder what the EMF exposure from all of those access points around the school campuses is is and how that stacks up.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2019 at 10:16 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2019 at 10:16 am
6 people like this

Posted by Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School

>> @Curmudgeon that comment made my day

++

>> Paly and Gunn have wireless networks for students to use, and coverage is generally decent around campus (save some of the large open areas). Wonder what the EMF exposure from all of those access points around the school campuses is is and how that stacks up.

Sounds like a proposal for next year's robotics club project. Build a robot that traverses campus and makes fairly RF spectrum measurements including peak and average power in various bands, e.g., TV and FM radio, WiFi, and various cell phone bands. Maybe even measure each specific band and figure out what carrier it is. Program the robot to take measurements at the same set of fixed locations every time, and, take measurements for a month. Then, post the data on a website. Might be able to do most or all of the measurements with a Software Defined Radio. Have fun.


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