News

Palo Alto looks to distance cell antennas from homes, schools

By pursuing new restrictions, City Council tries to allay resident fears about wireless communication facilities

Seeking to strike a balance between federal requirements and resident concerns, Palo Alto approved on Monday night new rules for reviewing the flurry of applications that the city has been receiving from telecommunication companies seeking to install antennas on local streetlights and utility poles.

By a 6-0 vote, with Councilman Greg Tanaka absent, the council adopted a set of "objective standards" for wireless communication facilities, including a menu of preferred design alternatives for radio equipment and antennas. And in a nod to the dozens of residents who have raised alarms about the proliferation of cellular facilities on their blocks, the council launched a new effort to further restrict where such technology can be installed and to explore "minimum distance" requirements for wireless equipment in relation to local schools and homes.

With Councilman Tom DuBois taking the lead, the council instructed staff to return with a list of preferred locations and minimum-distance requirements, which will consider zoning designations (a preference for commercial and industrial zones over residential ones), local context (choosing heavily traveled arterial streets over neighborhood blocks) and types of installation. DuBois' motion, which the council pared down before ultimately endorsing, also called for staff to clearly define the conditions under which an applicant can deem conformity with the city's requirement "infeasible" and request exceptions.

The council directed staff to return within a year with the new requirements, which other cities have also been exploring in recent months in response to an increasing number of wireless facility applications. Palo Alto has received three applications for the facilities this year with a total of 24 nodes, Planning Director Jonathan Lait told the council Monday night. It expects applications for up to an additional 100 nodes, he said.

For the council, the direction came with a sense of urgency. The Federal Communications Commission issued an order last September requiring cities to adopt "objective" criteria for reviewing wireless communication facilities applications and to make a decision on "small wireless facilities" proposals within 60 to 90 days. While the FCC ruling is facing challenges both in courts and on Capitol Hill, where U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo authored a bill to repeal it, it remains the law of the land. And it gave cities until Monday to come up with new regulations, which the city must be able to apply "without exercise of personal judgment."

Staff confirmed that after Monday, the city will no longer have the power to deny wireless applications based on the city's existing set of aesthetic findings, which apply to all types of new developments.

"If we don't do it tonight, tomorrow it's the wild, wild west," Mayor Eric Filseth said, citing the importance of passing the new standards and updating the city's rules without delay.

His colleagues agreed and voted 6-0 to approve the criteria, which includes the city's four preferred designs: underground vaults; cylindrical pole-mounted "shrouds"; boxy "sunshields" for radio equipment attached to the side of poles; and equipment that can hide behind existing street signs. They also approved an ordinance updating existing laws on wireless communication facilities to account for recent changes in federal laws.

The council's vote followed an extensive debate over how far the council should go in regulating wireless communication facilities. DuBois and Councilwoman Lydia Kou both favored more regulation, with Kou advocating for regular inspections of wireless equipment and DuBois suggesting that the city create objective standards for underground vaults, identify private properties that could be suitable hosts for wireless facilities, explore city buildings that could be suitable locations for the new technology and add clauses pertaining to maintenance and repairs of wireless equipment.

While the council ultimately did not move ahead with these proposals, it supported DuBois' suggestion that the city considers minimum-distance requirements, as requested by many of the roughly two dozen residents who addressed the council on the topic.

"For me, the main issue is really aesthetics citywide but particularly when near homes and schools," DuBois said. "We want to make sure it doesn't impact the public right-of-way."

Kou urged her colleagues to "maintain control of what can and cannot happen in our town." Under her urging, the council voted 5-1, with Councilwoman Liz Kniss dissenting, to direct staff to explore best practices for inspecting wireless facilities for compliance with noise rules and other laws.

Almost every resident that spoke urged more regulations, including a role for the city's Architectural Review Board in evaluating all wireless facility applications. The new rules split applications into three tiers and gives the planning director the sole authority for approving the least intrusive projects (classified as "Tier 1"). For Tier 2 and Tier 3 equipment, the planning director has the option of referring the application to the Architectural Review Board, though he is under no obligation to accept the board's recommendation.

Jeanne Fleming, whose grassroots group United Neighbors unsuccessfully appealed an application from Verizon earlier this year, was one of many residents who stressed the need to have a public review process for wireless applications.

"United Neighbors is firmly in favor of improved cell service," Fleming said. "What we're asking you to do tonight is to make sure that upgrading our wireless infrastructure is done responsibly, safely and in a way that doesn't compromise the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

"The first step is to strengthen, not weaken, our wireless ordinance."

Dozens of residents had emailed the council in recent weeks voicing similar sentiments. Parris Schmidt, a Barron Park resident, wrote to the council that "residents of Palo Alto do not want hundreds of pounds of unsightly, noisy, unsafe equipment on utility poles right next to our homes or our schools."

"This issue directly impacts our neighborhoods, and therefore, residents must retain their voice in these decisions through the local public hearing process," Schmidt wrote.

Representatives from telecom companies also took issue with the new rules and argued — both in person and in written correspondence — that the city's proposed rules are too restrictive.

Jeffrey Slade, assistant vice president and senior legal counsel at AT&T, submitted a letter calling for the council to strike from the ordinance all requirements for public notice and community meetings, calling them "burdensome," "unreasonable" and problematic when it comes to meeting the timelines for application reviews.

Slade also took issue with the city's design guidelines, including its preference for underground vaults for radio equipment.

"AT&T has the right to place facilities in the public rights-of-way, and this prohibition may violate that right," Slade wrote. "In addition, this prohibition is unlawful to the extent it is more burdensome than restrictions imposed on other infrastructure deployments."

DuBois had initially proposed that staff return with the new criteria for preferred locations within six months, though Vice Mayor Adrian Fine successfully lobbied his colleagues to expand the timeline to a year. Fine's proposal for the time extension passed by a 4-2 vote, with DuBois and Kou dissenting.

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Comments

44 people like this
Posted by Some Progress
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 16, 2019 at 7:05 am

This is badly needed progress. I wish it had gone further, but am very happy with these gains. Thanks to Councilman DuBois for his leadership on this and Councilwoman Kou for determination. And to Jeanne and Tina for all their work on the issue.

What I don’t like is Councilman’s Adrian Fine’s contribution, which was to ensure that nothing would happen for a year with the new rules! That’s lousy. In that years delay, applications for more cell towers can be submitted and approved on a hurry-up basis under the old rules.

Of course Kou and DuBois voted “No” on this delay but lost. Adrian Fine always seems to side with big corporations or developers over residents - be it telecom companies, AJ Capital investors at the President Hotel, or office growth.




33 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 16, 2019 at 8:19 am

Agree with the poster above that DuBois and Kou did a
Great job leading on this issue and addressing concerns of residents.
Also agree that Fine votes to favor big corporations and developers despite what he said when running for office.
During the last election he claimed to be representing residents interests and has consistently voted against residents.
I also think that the by phone participation is Tanaka was questionable. The connection was so bad we couldn’t understand him and it is not clear he could follow what was going on.
The Council has really expanded the use of telephonic participation in recent years beyond the stated intentions
In their procedural guidelines.
It is supposed to allow council members who are called away fir an unscheduled emergency to participate not for scheduled vacations and business trips!


18 people like this
Posted by resident with poor cell service
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2019 at 8:51 am

Keeping these antennas out of residential areas really discriminates against those of us in southern Palo Alto that have poor cell service. The nearest business area is several blocks away. If the city prohibits new antennas from my neighborhood, will our service continue to be terrible?


6 people like this
Posted by Amazing
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 16, 2019 at 9:14 am

Did any of you earlier commenters _watch_ the meeting?

Council member Fine asked staff if they could return a good product in 6 months, and they said "no". When your team tells you they can't do a good job, you change the scope or timeline. Also, as the article notes, 4 council members voted to give staff a year and not 6 months. But then again, this is Palo Alto Online, so it's totally cool to bash people without reason.

I'm also amazed that @Anon mentions without a HINT of irony that Council Member Tanaka had trouble dialing in.


15 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2019 at 9:18 am

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

What a contradictory mess perhaps best described in the lyrics of REM.

"There's the progress we have found
A way to talk around the problem
Building towered foresight
Isn't anything at all
Buy the sky and sell the sky and bleed the sky and tell the sky"

5G will provide the ability offer safe, reliable high speed internet access wirelessly to the entire city over the cellular network. It is essential to enable driver-less vehicles and other smart applications. Other parts of the world in Africa and South America have successfully used this strategy with previous generations of technology to leap frog their society forward. What could be done in Silicon Valley?

Consumers will also finally be able to cut the chord to the cable companies to have greater choice of a half dozen service providers and a better selection of content. The increased competition and shared network also dramatically lowers the cost of providing services. $50/mos for voice, data and internet is not un-realistic.

The truth is a small number of extremists are brow beating the city council in an effort to delay, obstruct and burden the roll out of critical infrastructure. Palo Alto will be the last to get it and it will cost much more than necessary.

So if you want your high speed MTV, you will need to go to China or a Red State to get it. Just like everything else, California will lead with both outdated policies and outdated infrastructure.


19 people like this
Posted by Cell Phones/Towers = A New Health Threat
a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2019 at 10:02 am

If Palo Alto is striving to distance cellphone towers from residents and schools, that means they are DANGEROUS to one's health.

Cellphones/towers could very well be the 21st century asbestos.

Time to bring back landline/pay phones with pre-paid call usage cards.

All these people walking around with cellphones locked to their heads...their everyday lives can't all be that important.

More along the lines of being 'self-important'.


10 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

Well, if you believe that then I guess you will be the first to give up your cell phone, TV, Remote control, Computer, Laptop, WiFI router, stereo radio, solar panels, lamps and flashlights.

They are all based on the same theory of electromagnetic radiation which states that wavelengths in that area of the spectrum are harmless. They have no ability to make changes at the atomic level and thus no known mechanism to affect cellular biology except in the form of heat.

Of course, if you can think of a new theory and can prove it then I highly suggest you file your papers right away. You will be first in line for the next Nobel prize in physics. It would be something so monumental that it would be akin to Einstein's modification of Newton's theory of gravity.

Unfortunately, in order to stay true to your beliefs you will need to write them down on pen and paper and then mail them to Stockholm to find out.


12 people like this
Posted by Basic Applied Physics
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 16, 2019 at 12:29 pm

> They are all based on the same theory of electromagnetic radiation which states that wavelengths in that area of the spectrum are harmless. They have no ability to make changes at the atomic level and thus no known mechanism to affect cellular biology except in the form of heat.

^^^ unproven...for example, madam curie did not learn or realize that radioactivity was harmful to human health until it was too late.

why do you think radioactive luminosity is no longer used on wristwatches?

any kind of radiation or RF emission is potentially dangerous.

the more exposed = the more danger.

these future cellphone tower sites are being scrutinized because of liability concerns & health hazards.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2019 at 12:31 pm

We have already lost most payphones in the World and the trend for people giving up landlines is growing all the time. Cell phone technology is no longer a luxury but a necessity for all of us.

It really is embarrassing how poor our coverage is compared to the rest of the world. We are Silicon Valley but our basic infrastructure is so behind the times. Good cell phone coverage is now basic infrastructure. When selling a home it has to be disclosed whether coverage is poor in the home. That means that having a bad signal can reduce the value of the home and make it harder to sell.

Should this type of conversation still be taking place?


4 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 16, 2019 at 1:03 pm

@Cell Phones/Towers = A New Health Threat

PACC approved the distance requirement to appease residents who don't understand the technology. It in no was can be viewed as endorsing the belief that cellular technology is dangerous. See Hormesis for example.


8 people like this
Posted by Covering Their Bases
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2019 at 1:28 pm

>> PACC approved the distance requirement to appease residents who don't understand the technology. It in no was can be viewed as endorsing the belief that cellular technology is dangerous.

In other words, to protect themselves from future individual & class action lawsuits when residents start developing birth defects, tumors/malignancies etc.


3 people like this
Posted by PASZ controls
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2019 at 2:26 pm

Amazing— you should not be surprised. Every time the weekly reports on a council issue we get posters demeaning kniss, fine and Tanaka,no matter what their stance was an how they voted. You correctly pointed out what really happened, but that does not matter. And the weekly has no problem with those comments. The weekly has become the de facto voice of PASZ and the anti- everything residents and council members.


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2019 at 2:45 pm

Posted by Basic Applied Physics, a resident of Stanford

No offense, but, "resident of Stanford", I guess you aren't in the sciences?

> They are all based on the same theory of electromagnetic radiation which

>> why do you think radioactive luminosity is no longer used on wristwatches?

>> any kind of radiation or RF emission is potentially dangerous.

That you fail to see the difference between cell phone RF, exposure to ionizing radiation, and even consuming Radium (glowing watch dials), seems to indicate a non-science background.

--- However ---

There actually is good reason to think that (non-ionizing) RF radiation may have measurable health effects. Specifically, on male reproductive health:

Web Link

Check out scholar.google.com "effects RF radiation male reproductive health" since 2015. OBTW, seriously, men who are attempting to become fathers should -not- carry their cells phones in their pants pockets. I know this sounds like a joke, but, it isn't. See Google Scholar. OTOH, "inverse square law"-- I'm really not worried about a cell tower 30 feet away.


5 people like this
Posted by Basic Applied Physics
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 16, 2019 at 6:47 pm

> That you fail to see the difference between cell phone RF, exposure to ionizing radiation, and even consuming Radium (glowing watch dials), seems to indicate a non-science background.

Doesn't matter one way or the other. They are all bad.

Like saying one has to be a 'scientist' to differentiate the inherent dangers of exposure to an A-bomb VS everyday exposure to asbestos. Either one will kill you.





3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 16, 2019 at 8:44 pm

"OBTW, seriously, men who are attempting to become fathers should -not- carry their cells phones in their pants pockets."

Oh boy. First tinfoil hats, now tinfoil pants.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2019 at 6:53 am

Posted by Basic Applied Physics, a resident of Stanford

>> Doesn't matter one way or the other. They are all bad.

I hate to break it to you, but, the very walls around you, the ceiling above your head, the floor beneath you are all spraying -infrared radiation- at you right now. Not all wavelengths and signal strengths of electromagnetic radiation are even remotely biologically equivalent.


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North

>> Oh boy. First tinfoil hats, now tinfoil pants.

A product opportunity. You can buy an RF-shielded pocketbook for your passport/RF-enabled ID cards-- why not RF-shielded shorts? Could get a little hot, though.

Or, you could carry your cell phone elsewhere. ;-)


2 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2019 at 8:17 pm

I am surprised we are not all dead from the fluoride in the water. Wasn’t that supposed to kill us? Or vaccines, all the same anti-science paranoia. Let’s just get going on the 5G cell antennas.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2019 at 11:04 am

The city has rented space for cell towers at seemingly every fire station in town. Has anyone asked the firemen what they think about that and the effects on their health?


2 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2019 at 1:21 pm

The Luddites win again. Hope this doesn't happen in MP. Hope you all enjoy the deteriorating Xfinity service.


3 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 19, 2019 at 11:46 pm

Palo Alto is willing to bend over backwards to support deploying infrastructure in a way that appeases the technologically ignorant, but willfully ignores the majority with concerns over under parking and poorly conceived road diets and traffic circles that are not. The big question here is how do we attract adults to run for office, not the amateurs we’ve had fo the last 20 years? That xos the crux of the issue and frankly I thing it is unsolvable. Fine is a slave to Google. Kniss is a slave to, well, Kniss. Only Kou has residents interests at heart. We got rid of Wolbach, lets clean house next election!


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