The Palo Alto Little League is making a fourth attempt to welcome a cell tower at its ballpark on Middlefield Road, this time proposing to add the antennas to a 65-foot-tall light pole that would also illuminate the playing field.
The proposal, which has met with significant opposition in the past, will come before the city's Architectural Review Board in November, Palo Alto Little League President Mark Burton said.
The plan would add two light poles in the outfield and a back-up emergency generator. One pole would have two antennas. Together with a second, 60-foot pole, the lights would help illuminate the lot's back corner, which is currently dark and unusable at night, he said.
The league would reap $2,100 a month for five years from the arrangement, enough revenue to make improvements to the 60-year-old facility, he said.
Some neighbors who live across from the field oppose the plan, however. Verizon and the Little League are ignoring health studies that indicate the radiation poses a health risk, said Willy Lai and Jason Yotopoulos.
They also oppose additional lighting, which they said will shine light into neighboring homes.
The league first proposed an arrangement with AT&T to add a tower to the ballpark. But stiff neighborhood opposition caused AT&T to withdraw the proposal in 2010.
Verizon Wireless previously proposed a cell tower disguised as a tree, which would have been located at the front of the property, City Senior Planner Russ Reich said.
Neighbors opposed that project, and city staff rejected it. Verizon has now submitted a revision that makes considerable improvements, he said. The proposal ditches the fake tree and moves the backup generator to the rear of the property. Encased in a concrete wall, the generator would only run during power outages and during occasional testing, he said.
Verizon and the Little League held a public meeting Sept. 27 and about 20 people attended, Burton said. Half favored the towers, and half opposed them, he added.
Resident Ken Allen, president of the Adobe Meadow Neighborhood Association, said he supports the plan.
"As a person who is involved in emergency communications, we need a very robust infrastructure for communications. Better and more robust cell coverage is a part of this. AT&T and Verizon have very poor coverage in this part of town. There is a black hole," he said.
Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato said the company does have a significant gap in network coverage around East Meadow Drive and Middlefield. The tower would serve homes and motorists between U.S. Highway 101 and El Camino Real and Page Mill Road and Rengstorff Avenue. A search did not find alternative sites for the tower, she said.
The Adobe Meadow association has not taken a position or a vote on the tower out of respect for members with differing opinions, Allen said. But the association hosted a forum last year with Verizon's contractor, NSA Wireless, and the company followed residents' suggestions of moving the facilities away from Middlefield and getting rid of the ungainly faux tree, he said.
Allen called opponents' fears of excessive radiation unfounded. He personally commissioned an SRI electrical engineer to measure the signal emissions from two Palo Alto cellular poles, he said. The results showed that cell phones themselves put out as much as 25,000 times the signal strength of that emitted by the towers at ground level, he said.
The 2011 tests measured signals from a Sprint PCS tower at the fire station on Middlefield and East Meadow and a cell-tower tree in the Barron Park neighborhood. Several readings across the street from the Sprint pole about 50 meters from the base of the tower and 52 meters from the antennas showed a peak strength of about -30 to -34 dBm, a measurement used to define the power of radio, microwave and fiber-optic networks. Other measurements showed similar readings, including while driving near Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, according to the report, which Allen provided to the Weekly.
But readings of cellphones showed surprising results, he said. A Sprint PCS cellphone gave off readings 100 to 1,000 times higher than the signals from either of the two towers at ground level. The higher reading was when the 4G system was turned on. And readings from an iPhone were 25,000 times greater than signals from either of the two towers. The higher emissions might have been due to the greater distance from any AT&T tower, which causes the phone to put out more power to receive the signal, according to the report.
Two years ago the Palo Alto City Council approved a Distributed Antenna System of small antennas installed on existing utility poles throughout an area for AT&T, and Yotopoulos and Lai said they don't understand why Verizon doesn't use a similar upgrade. Verizon could put its equipment on existing towers, he said.
But Flato said the company considered installing such a system four years ago, and it determined the system would not provide the network coverage needed.
Yotopoulos and Lai also expressed concern that the second light pole in the ballpark could later be used for a second cell tower.
"Adding a second light pole is getting a foot into the door for loading another light pole. It's a little insidious," Yotopoulos said.
Flato said the new lights are for the benefit of the Little League.
"Once the area is lit, there will be an area for an additional batting cage, a practice area, additional seating, a picnic area and team meetings. We have redesigned the site to address concerns expressed by nearby neighbors," she said.
Reich said Verizon's application will undergo review by the Architectural Review Board because of the controversy surrounding it. If the board recommends the proposal, a hearing with the city's planning director would decide its fate. The application would only come before the City Council if there is an appeal, he said.
This story previously stated that peak strength readings were 30 to 34 dBm. The story has been corrected.