News

City Council rejects appeal, allows Verizon to install wireless equipment

Council also orders more outreach to Channing House residents

This image submitted as part of Verizon's application shows the proposed shrouds that would be installed on a pole at 1221 Middlefield Road, which would include three 5G antennas. Rendering courtesy city of Palo Alto.

Rejecting an appeal from a group of residents, the Palo Alto City Council approved last week a plan by Verizon to install wireless equipment on three city poles.

In doing so, however, the council found that Verizon had failed to comply with public noticing requirements when it did not issue letters to residents of Channing House, a senior community located near Verizon's proposed antenna at 850 Webster Ave.

By a 4-2 vote, with council members Lydia Kou and Greer Stone dissenting and Mayor Tom DuBois absent, the council conditioned its June 22 approval on Verizon providing additional outreach to Channing House, including a participation session. Kou and Stone voted to accept the appeal and reject Verizon's application.

The notification issue was one of 19 that the citizens group, United Neighbors, listed in its appeal of Verizon's plan to install "nodes" — consisting of radios and antennas — at poles near 853 Middlefield Road, 1221 Middlefield Road and 850 Webster. Paul Albritton, an attorney representing Verizon, said that the application team was surprised to learn that the firm that handles its mailings had failed to notify the roughly 200 residents of Channing House.

Jeanne Fleming, founder of United Neighbors, said that the company's failure to notify residents should be grounds for rejection.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Join

"Even if senior city staff and Verizon view the code requirement as an inconvenient and irrelevant set of marks to hit, for residents, the notifications of proposed projects and the community meetings are vital," Fleming said. "Vital for bringing the application process out from behind the closed doors and into public view. Vital for having the application process be transparent."

Appellants and council members also took issue with the proposed design — namely, the shrouds that would cover Verizon's 5G equipment. The city's design guidelines require antennas and equipment on top of the pole to be covered by "a single integrated shroud." Verizon has argued that a single shroud covering all the antennas in its node would diminish the wireless signal and has instead proposed a design in which each antenna has a separate small shroud. United Neighbors argued that this is a violation.

Fleming noted that the council's recently approved guidelines intended to make new wireless equipment inconspicuous.

"What Verizon has proposed is the opposite of inconspicuous," Fleming said. "They want to stick either two or three shrouds on top of a slender streetlight pole."

Kou and Stone both concurred and supported rejecting Verizon's proposal in part because of the design issues. Stone suggested that the company's application requests too many exceptions, while Kou argued that Verizon's multiple-shroud design should be vetted by the Architectural Review Board before the application is approved. She also deemed Verizon's lapse of notices unacceptable.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

"I believe residents have expectations," Kou said. "When they're living here, they have expectations to ensure their quality of life and to know what will come and impact them in one manner or another. These notices are in place for a reason, and people need to know when these kinds of impactful matters will come into their lives."

The council majority, however, sided with Planning Director Jonathan Lait, who approved Verizon's plan and accepted its argument that strictly following the "single-shroud" design would impact service. Albritton, Verizon's attorney, noted that the city's guidelines provide for situations in which antennas cannot penetrate through a shroud. In such cases, he said, a single-shroud is not required.

"We‘ve gone out of our way to provide a small shroud to hide the cabling on each individual antenna, working staff, but the adjustment this provided for in your guidelines anticipates 5G service and that you cannot shroud it," Albritton said.

The Tuesday hearing wasn't the first time that the council found itself weighing — and splitting over — complex legal, technical and design issues pertaining to wireless equipment. In 2019, a challenge by United Neighbors to a proposal from AT&T for seven wireless nodes failed by a single vote (the council moved at that time, after a long debate, to permit five of the seven nodes in the AT&T proposal). The council has also responded to a recent uptick in wireless applications — and residents' appeals — by upgrading the city's design standards to require wireless facilities to either be shrouded or installed underground.

That effort continues to evolve, with planning staff preparing to return to the council in the fall with proposed changes to the wireless ordinance that "more objectively weight different objective criteria while also imparting additional subjective criteria," according to a report from the Department of Planning and Development Services.

"I think that there is a frustration on the council that we're not being able to judge these applications based upon the subjective standards that we expect to get in the coming months," Vice Mayor Pat Burt said. "Absent that, we're faced with a narrow legal determination … on whether the case for denial can be made on the basis of the other issues that the appellant raised."

Four of the six council members present concluded that they cannot make that determination. Council member Alison Cormack, who made the motion to reject the appeal and approve the Verizon plan, concurred with all her colleagues that the company failed to meet the noticing requirements and attached a condition mandating additional outreach to Channing House. But she, Burt and council members Eric Filseth and Greg Tanaka also backed Planning Director Lait's decision, allowing Verizon to proceed with the project.

"I don't feel it's conclusive enough to uphold the appeal," Filseth said, referring to the design issues raised by United Neighbors.

A front row seat to local high school sports.

Check out our new newsletter, the Playbook.

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Your support is vital to us continuing to bring you city government news. Become a member today.

City Council rejects appeal, allows Verizon to install wireless equipment

Council also orders more outreach to Channing House residents

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 8:58 am

Rejecting an appeal from a group of residents, the Palo Alto City Council approved last week a plan by Verizon to install wireless equipment on three city poles.

In doing so, however, the council found that Verizon had failed to comply with public noticing requirements when it did not issue letters to residents of Channing House, a senior community located near Verizon's proposed antenna at 850 Webster Ave.

By a 4-2 vote, with council members Lydia Kou and Greer Stone dissenting and Mayor Tom DuBois absent, the council conditioned its June 22 approval on Verizon providing additional outreach to Channing House, including a participation session. Kou and Stone voted to accept the appeal and reject Verizon's application.

The notification issue was one of 19 that the citizens group, United Neighbors, listed in its appeal of Verizon's plan to install "nodes" — consisting of radios and antennas — at poles near 853 Middlefield Road, 1221 Middlefield Road and 850 Webster. Paul Albritton, an attorney representing Verizon, said that the application team was surprised to learn that the firm that handles its mailings had failed to notify the roughly 200 residents of Channing House.

Jeanne Fleming, founder of United Neighbors, said that the company's failure to notify residents should be grounds for rejection.

"Even if senior city staff and Verizon view the code requirement as an inconvenient and irrelevant set of marks to hit, for residents, the notifications of proposed projects and the community meetings are vital," Fleming said. "Vital for bringing the application process out from behind the closed doors and into public view. Vital for having the application process be transparent."

Appellants and council members also took issue with the proposed design — namely, the shrouds that would cover Verizon's 5G equipment. The city's design guidelines require antennas and equipment on top of the pole to be covered by "a single integrated shroud." Verizon has argued that a single shroud covering all the antennas in its node would diminish the wireless signal and has instead proposed a design in which each antenna has a separate small shroud. United Neighbors argued that this is a violation.

Fleming noted that the council's recently approved guidelines intended to make new wireless equipment inconspicuous.

"What Verizon has proposed is the opposite of inconspicuous," Fleming said. "They want to stick either two or three shrouds on top of a slender streetlight pole."

Kou and Stone both concurred and supported rejecting Verizon's proposal in part because of the design issues. Stone suggested that the company's application requests too many exceptions, while Kou argued that Verizon's multiple-shroud design should be vetted by the Architectural Review Board before the application is approved. She also deemed Verizon's lapse of notices unacceptable.

"I believe residents have expectations," Kou said. "When they're living here, they have expectations to ensure their quality of life and to know what will come and impact them in one manner or another. These notices are in place for a reason, and people need to know when these kinds of impactful matters will come into their lives."

The council majority, however, sided with Planning Director Jonathan Lait, who approved Verizon's plan and accepted its argument that strictly following the "single-shroud" design would impact service. Albritton, Verizon's attorney, noted that the city's guidelines provide for situations in which antennas cannot penetrate through a shroud. In such cases, he said, a single-shroud is not required.

"We‘ve gone out of our way to provide a small shroud to hide the cabling on each individual antenna, working staff, but the adjustment this provided for in your guidelines anticipates 5G service and that you cannot shroud it," Albritton said.

The Tuesday hearing wasn't the first time that the council found itself weighing — and splitting over — complex legal, technical and design issues pertaining to wireless equipment. In 2019, a challenge by United Neighbors to a proposal from AT&T for seven wireless nodes failed by a single vote (the council moved at that time, after a long debate, to permit five of the seven nodes in the AT&T proposal). The council has also responded to a recent uptick in wireless applications — and residents' appeals — by upgrading the city's design standards to require wireless facilities to either be shrouded or installed underground.

That effort continues to evolve, with planning staff preparing to return to the council in the fall with proposed changes to the wireless ordinance that "more objectively weight different objective criteria while also imparting additional subjective criteria," according to a report from the Department of Planning and Development Services.

"I think that there is a frustration on the council that we're not being able to judge these applications based upon the subjective standards that we expect to get in the coming months," Vice Mayor Pat Burt said. "Absent that, we're faced with a narrow legal determination … on whether the case for denial can be made on the basis of the other issues that the appellant raised."

Four of the six council members present concluded that they cannot make that determination. Council member Alison Cormack, who made the motion to reject the appeal and approve the Verizon plan, concurred with all her colleagues that the company failed to meet the noticing requirements and attached a condition mandating additional outreach to Channing House. But she, Burt and council members Eric Filseth and Greg Tanaka also backed Planning Director Lait's decision, allowing Verizon to proceed with the project.

"I don't feel it's conclusive enough to uphold the appeal," Filseth said, referring to the design issues raised by United Neighbors.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2021 at 10:47 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 10:47 am

Personally speaking, the utilities poles and the various wires hanging from them are a blot on our streetscape already. I don't think adding another box to them will make them less attractive than they already are. Making them inconspiculous is a joke when we already have the ugly poles.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 1, 2021 at 11:58 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 11:58 am

AT&T just put in new lines on the telephone poles. My property is a juncture point. My internet was down for a period which pointed up a number of issues I was unware of - including the war of inernet useage by all of the various IT companies. The squirrels have had a brain change. They argue over the new line and a number have left the scene. Those the use the lines for the Squirrel highway keep trying to bite it. Verizon will not be using lines of wire but will be emanating some type of activity. They need to talk about what is the effect of the transmissions on the oeverall systems and in the vicintiy of the poles.


Benny Cardoza
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 1, 2021 at 1:19 pm
Benny Cardoza, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 1:19 pm

- The squirrels have had a brain change. They argue over the new line and a number have left the scene.

How can you be absolutely sure that the squirrels were debating the issue?

Do you speak squirrelize?


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 1, 2021 at 1:24 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2021 at 1:24 pm

Yes - I have favorites who come in to get their peanuts from a bag. This is their home. I am talking both the grey and black squirels. They come and hang put here. They have to be gone - there are no bodies out there. No bodies on the street side.

Some residual squirrels down the street - homes which have the lines but no big conjunction pieces. It is the conjunction of all of the pieces - Comcast, AT&T, city utility for electricity.


Bland
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2021 at 4:07 pm
Bland, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jul 2, 2021 at 4:07 pm

There is a key point missing from this story. The cell tower at 850 Webster (=Channing House) is unique and should NOT have been approved by Councilmembers Cormack, Filseth, Tanaka and Burt. According to the report prepared by the City’s own expert, this particular cell tower exceeds FCC radiation limits at a height of 28 feet above ground, making it unsafe for humans. There are already two other sources of radiation at Channing House: a T-Mobile macro cell tower on the roof, and an AT&T cell tower in front of Channing House health center. So the addition of a third results in this cell tower uniquely violating FCC thresholds.

The City Staff’s “fix” is to require that this particular Verizon cell tower be shut down whenever work is scheduled to take place in nearby trees or on the utility lines. But there is no provision for blocking access to the pole and nearby trees (i.e., nothing to prevent anyone from climbing them). Nor is there a plan for protecting people in their homes (apartments with balconies are the norm in the area), even though the closest residence is only 45 feet away.

I think City Council should have adhered to the FCC safety threshold requirements and required this particular pole to be relocated. Not doing so sets a bad precedent.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2021 at 6:53 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jul 11, 2021 at 6:53 pm

Kudos to Kou and Stone for voting as they did.

But what's the point in adding the condition that Verizon do additional outreach to Channing House? That is akin to adding insult to injury since the residents have no recourse if they have a concern or objection.

Director Lait's hand in this fuels a concern that he functions w/o much accountability. At the very least he should respect public noticing requirements. A growing number of residents are concerned about the way Senior Staff disregards Residents. The way Lait handled this gives credence to those concerns.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 11, 2021 at 7:47 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jul 11, 2021 at 7:47 pm

This morning at 5:10 AM there was some type of electrical noise outside. Like a charging section being turned on? THe city has to explain the added impact of the new AT&T 5G lines. There must be a lot of electricity that is going through that line.
Things are happening that are not fully discussed before hand - our utility department may not be up to snuff to carry the added impact. Add the Verizon impact. Lots of electricity employed to carry all of this traffic. Someone who knows needs to evaluate the total impact ofall of the activity that is going on.


Arielle Davis
Registered user
Professorville
on Jul 12, 2021 at 8:22 am
Arielle Davis, Professorville
Registered user
on Jul 12, 2021 at 8:22 am

5g is being overhyped by the carriers to sell more 5g phones and service plans.

To date 5g is limited in coverage and the data transfer speed is not much faster than 4g LTE.

Only by mounting more 5g cell towers can 5g communications & data fulfill it's advertised advantages over 4g.

4g will be around for the next ten years or so while gradually being supplanted by 5g.

New cellphone generations emerge every ten years or so but each one lasts for about twenty before eventually being phased out.

1g (analog) is long gone with 2g & 3g (digital) pretty much finished.

6g development is already underway and with its even shorter micro-wavelength, more health concerns will arise but since many of us older folks will already be deceased (or dying) prior to its fullscale implementation around the mid-2040s, who cares?


Loren Pfister
Registered user
another community
on Jul 12, 2021 at 8:50 am
Loren Pfister, another community
Registered user
on Jul 12, 2021 at 8:50 am

The race to 6g development is already underway at several U.S. universities and abroad as we do not want China beating us to the punch.

And yes, while 6g may pose some potential and additional health hazards,many younger people (especially online gamers and social media types) prioritize data speed over health concerns.

Tin hat jokes aside, an anti-radiation headband or helmet could easily become standard faire as the shorter microwaves emanating from 6g towers and countless handsets become more ubiquitous than ever.

This is the price we pay for technological advances as pollution and health endangerments are natural by-products.

Even electric cars can be perceived as eco-unfriendly given that their batteries are extremely toxic and must be recycled or disposed of in a responsible manner.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.