News

Residents urge more restrictions on cell antennas in Palo Alto

As city tweak rules for wireless equipment, some call for city to follow Los Altos' lead

Palo Alto's rapidly shifting rules for installation of wireless communication equipment changed again Monday night when the City Council revised a rule that limited the height at which cellular antennas could be placed on poles.

The prior rule, which the council established on April 15, prohibited wireless communication facilities (WCF) from extending by more than 3 to 6 feet above the height of "similar surrounding poles." The exact distance varied based on the type of design. Thus, equipment enclosed in tapered "shrouds" were prohibited from going more than 3 feet above the pole (or surrounding poles), while equipment in a top-mounted bayonet had to stay within 6 feet.

The council approved by a 5-2 vote, with Councilwoman Lydia Kou and Councilman Greg Tanaka dissenting, a resolution that changes these rules as they pertain to surrounding poles. According to a memo from the office of City Attorney Molly Stump, the April rule created a "conflict" between the city's standards and the streetlight-pole specifications adopted by the Utilities Department.

The memo noted that streetlight poles in downtown would have to be replaced over time, with poles that are between 21 and 23 feet tall making way for ones that are 25 feet tall, in accordance with the city's recent effort to "standardize" the heights. A telecom company would be effectively prohibited from mounting equipment on the replacement poles, which would be taller than the heights of surrounding poles.

In these situations, the memo notes, there would be "insufficient space for pole-top WCF antennae or other equipment." Under the new rules, the equipment still would not be able to extend beyond 6 feet (or less, depending on the design) of the pole on which it is mounted. The restrictions would, however, no longer take into consideration surrounding poles.

While the memo frames the change as a minor clarification, both Kou and Tanaka opposed the change. Kou characterized the rule change as a way to make things easier for applicants, at the expense of residents.

"It just feels like every time an applicant wants something — changing the law here which actually protects the residents — (it) just keeps on changing," Kou said. "Just to get the applicants to be able to get what they want without really considering or fully working to consider the safety and health of the residents."

The revision came less than two months after the city adopted a rule banning the installation of wireless equipment within 300 feet of schools. That change, however, fell well short of what many residents had clamored for, including a 1,000-foot setback from schools and a 300-foot setback from homes. Kou dissented in the June 19 vote as well out of concern that the new limitation didn't go far enough.

Meanwhile, dozens of residents have emailed the council in recent weeks, encouraging the council to follow the example of Los Altos, which recently adopted new limitations on cell equipment being installed in residential neighborhoods. While the new Los Altos rules do not entirely except cell nodes in residential neighborhoods, they do require applicants to demonstrate that they had considered other options for delivering the needed service before proposing the equipment. They also impose a 500-foot setback from schools and a 1,500-foot separation between cell "nodes."

Emboldened by Los Altos' example, Palo Alto residents submitted letters of their own council, noting that it only took a month for Los Altos to act on the issue.

The new Los Altos ordinance, a form letter states, "includes many of the sensible provisions Palo Alto residents have long been asking for -- provisions such as disfavoring cell towers in residential neighborhoods, establishing minimum distances between cell towers, requiring annual safety inspections of equipment and more."

The letter asked council members to finish the job they started on April 15, when they approved the new objective standards for wireless equipment.

"Please immediately revise our Wireless Ordinance so that Palo Alto stops allowing telecommunications companies to install ugly, noisy, potentially hazardous and least-expensive-for-them cell tower equipment anywhere they want in our beautiful, quiet, safe neighborhoods," the letter states.

Some residents added personal notes to the letter. Celia Boyle and Jay Hopkins, who live on Barron Avenue, wrote that they already have two cell towers on the street, with a third one now under consideration across the street from an elementary school.

Kelly Ranger, a mother of two very young children, said she lives about 20 feet from a telephone pole that is now being considered for new equipment. Given that the city had already banned cell nodes near schools, she asked, why isn't it instituting a similar rule near homes?

"Presumably, the setback for schools is to protect our children from potentially harming long term exposure to EMF (electromagnetic field) radiation," she wrote. "So why wouldn't we have similar setbacks for our children's homes where they actually spend the MAJORITY of their time?"

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Comments

32 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Stop the shenanigans which amounts to timewasting. We need to get better signal coverage here in Silicon Valley.


9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2019 at 2:24 pm

When folks make various proposals involving distance, height, etc., I sure wish that there was some discussion of what exposure/harm model they are using. What level of exposure are they seeking to stay under? How does that level of exposure goal compare to various sources, such as, e.g. local TV and FM radio stations?


13 people like this
Posted by We are here, we are here, we are HERE!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2019 at 2:32 pm

Honestly, most City Council members don't live anywhere that will ever be affected by their policies. I'm not necessarily for districts, but I think we need to set aside half the Council seats for south or Oregon. That or maybe we should just secede...


21 people like this
Posted by She is against it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2019 at 4:24 pm

Sounds like the luddites will be out in force to push this. But the question is that there are federal guidelines regarding cell phone equipment placement. Do these proses rules comply with federal rules. Another question is, do these people, that are opposed to cell phone tweets, use cellphones and Wireless equipment? Do they use microwave ovens? Finally, I am shocked that Lydia kuo dissented


20 people like this
Posted by Duh
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Aug 13, 2019 at 5:17 pm

I'd assume all those people complaining about cell phone towers don't have WiFi in their homes? Neither they ever let their children use (or God forbid own) a cell phone? You know, the strength of the EM radiation goes down with square of the distance from the source. WiFi router in your home or cell phone in your pocket (next to you skin) is exposing you to more radiation than a cell phone tower down the street. And yes, that cell phone in your pocket is constantly communicating with the cell phone tower, especially now in the modern age of smart phones.


35 people like this
Posted by risk
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 13, 2019 at 5:34 pm

If you want to minimize risk, don't own a cell phone. A cell phone in your hand or pressed against your head exposes you to much more radiation than these towers. I bet the anti-cell-phone people are reading the same fraudulent websites that encourage them not to vaccinate their children against dangerous diseases.


9 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 14, 2019 at 8:32 am

Whether cell towers cause cancer or not is up to debate. What is not up for debate is that these towers are an eyesore that do not fit in existing residential neighborhoods. Cell towers should only be built in commercial or industrial areas, not close to homes and not close to schools.


14 people like this
Posted by risk
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2019 at 8:48 am

We deserve good cell coverage in residential areas, not just the city's industrial areas. Modern cell antennas are small and easily hidden, their range is less than a mile (farther away than the nearest industrial area to my house).


19 people like this
Posted by Dr. No
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 14, 2019 at 11:17 am

@Juan

Whether cell towers cause cancer is not up for debate. There's currently no definitive evidence that it does. Cell towers are everywhere for the past several decades. We've been exposed and baked everyday in equivalent sources of EM radiation (from all other types of wireless communication systems) for more than half a century. If any of that was significant risk of cancer, we'd know by now. And no, we don't need "more studies", because we already had more than plenty of them.

The "eyesore" argument also doesn't hold. Industry moved from the old-school ugly towers a long time ago. Modern stuff is generally designed to blend into environment. Some municipalities require architectural review to ensure anything approved to be built will not be an eyesore. Yes, opponents of towers will go on the Internet and pull up the ugliest cell phone tower photo they can find, but that's just not how reality looks like these days. It's not uncommon for modern cell phone towers in urban areas to be hard to spot unless you specifically look for them. Even the stuff they build these days along freeways in the middle of nowhere is often disguised as artificial trees.


5 people like this
Posted by Dr. No
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 14, 2019 at 11:25 am

E.g. this is a photo of cell phone tower built a few years ago in Cupertino:

Web Link

Though, it's unlikely any neighborhood vigilante will be using that photo in their anti cell phone tower flyers. They'd get a photo of some 30 year old tower built somewhere in the middle of nowhere that you have to hike 10 mile through bush and mud to get close enough to see it.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2019 at 12:41 pm

Posted by Dr. No, a resident of Downtown North

>> E.g. this is a photo of cell phone tower built a few years ago in Cupertino:

>> Though, it's unlikely any neighborhood vigilante will be using that photo in their anti cell phone tower flyers.

Is there a photo online somewhere of the cell phone installation near 310 Ventura? Because, that is the kind of installation that people want to avoid. It isn't all in the antenna. The whole thing is a mess from the ground up, and, it is noisy also.

I think it is very reasonable for property owners to want to avoid such installations in front of their property. It would very likely reduce the property value of a single-family home to have one of these on the pole in front. So, while I wouldn't worry about the (non-ionizing) radiation emitted by the tower, but, I think it is extremely reasonable of people to want to avoid such installations in front of their property.



7 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2019 at 1:09 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Sigh. I have to get in my car and drive away from my house in Midtown to use my cell phone. I had hoped that the proposed installation was going to fix this, but apparently the tin-foil hat people are winning.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2019 at 1:27 pm

Posted by Novelera, a resident of Midtown

>> Sigh. I have to get in my car and drive away from my house in Midtown to use my cell phone. I had hoped that the proposed installation was going to fix this, but apparently the tin-foil hat people are winning.

It doesn't have to be either/or. Go look at 310 Ventura. I'm guessing that you don't want that style in front of your house. Now, go look at some invisible installations on commercial properties. Not so easy to find, actually-- the new ones can be very difficult to spot. I think most of us can agree that a quiet unit that is invisible and is not near someone's bedroom window is OK. Maybe not all of us, but, most of us. I think it is doable. I don't think it is helpful to imply that someone who doesn't want the Ventura unit out front is one of the "tin-foil hat people". Reasonable people object to the Ventura-style unit. I think most of us can agree to a workable compromise.


5 people like this
Posted by KCPA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2019 at 3:05 pm

To say that there are no health risks with 5G is completely naive. Quite frankly there has been little research done on 5G and its impacts to the most vulnerable population (i.e. children), so whether it is truly safe or not is debatable at best. There is even controversy within the scientific community about this. It's a new technology that needs to be looked at more and we need to be smart about how we want to incorporate 5G into our daily lives. I don't think putting it near schools or homes is the right approach. Clearly other cities/countries have figured it out.

1. Other European countries are taking a pause on the 5G roll out, such as Brussels (Web Link) .

2. Even the American Cancer Society is saying that "Very few human studies have focused specifically on cellular phone towers and cancer risk". (Web Link)

3. There are tons of letters from 180 scientists around the world from 35 different countries urging for a pause in this 5G roll out until further investigation on the health impacts. Web Link

There are plenty of other research papers, letters, articles from the scientific community(you can google it yourself). Bottom line... people don’t really know yet the full risks/impacts. It’s going to be an experiment and we probably won’t really find out until 10-15 years later.

And for the people who say i should stop using my cell phone...that logic doesn't hold because I am not using my cell phone 24/7 and i have the option to actually switch it off. I have the choice to limit my exposure if i choose to. You can't switch off these 5G cell nodes...can you?


6 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2019 at 3:15 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

@KCPA: Very few human studies have focused specifically on exposure to ice cream smells in the air either. This doesn't mean someone is willfully covering up cell tower cancer cases.


6 people like this
Posted by SV Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 14, 2019 at 3:29 pm

What they should do is gather a list of everyone who opposes the cellular antennas and then have the wireless providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile & Sprint) block all cellular access within their homes using GPS. If you don't want to help to improve the coverage and speed for everyone, then you get no service at home.

Radiation concerns from cellular equipment have been proved a non-issue. It is non-ionizing radiation and it does not damage DNA. If people are concerned, what about their WiFi routers, FM / AM radio, local antenna TV broadcasts --- most of these emit much more power than cellular equipment.

The FCC's power limits are much lower than Europes and have been forever. We set strict power limits on our devices / equipment which is why we have such bad signals in many areas and need more towers / cell sites than Europe.


5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 14, 2019 at 4:50 pm

@Anon, this should link to Google's current street-view near 310 Ventura. Web Link
Or you can navigate there manually. Is this the rat's nest you're referring to?


7 people like this
Posted by Dr. No
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 14, 2019 at 5:37 pm

Anon@, I haven't went there in person, but I just checked it on StreetView. The 310 Ventura has much bigger issues in the "beauty" department than whatever is on top of that existing electric pole. What's up with all those overhead electric / cable wires? I'm not saying it's not worth fixing, but with all that overhead wiring, it's kinda lost in the mess.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that anything should be placed into residential neighborhoods. Architectural review by the city is in order. The issue I have is people asking for blanket ban on installing cell towers. Or neighborhood vigilantes knocking door to door to get their petitions signed, scaring their neighbors with photos of towers that don't look anything like the proposed designs.

KCPA@, it's EM radiation. As in radio waves. You are baked and fried in it every single day. You'd be baked and fried in it every single day even if cell phones didn't exist. We know how these affect live tissue in general across the entire spectrum and across different power levels. It's non-ionizing. The damage is from heating the tissue, and power levels are way way too low to cause any heat damage.

BTW, don't eat bananas. They are radioactive. As in ionizing radiation radioactive. From potassium. And do you know where that radioactive potassium from bananas you eat ends up? In your bones. Don't trust me? Check it out on the Internet. Though, keep eating bananas. They are good.

Some more fun facts about radiation exposure:

Standing outside for an hour is same as eating two bananas.

Unless you visit Hiroshima. It's 3 bananas over there (because of that nuke we dropped on it).

One hour at Trinity Site is 8 bananas... Again, we detonated a nuke over there.

If you visit Marie Curie's old lab, and hold the doorknob for an hour, that's about 15 bananas. She worked with radioactive materials back in the day when we knew much less about radiation, and we can still measure it on that doorknob she touched every day.

One hour in the airplane at 30,000 feet is same as eating about 30 bananas. Maybe you should not travel? In Concorde it was much more, because it cruised at much higher altitude.

If you had dreams to become Astronaut, and that dream comes true and you do a 6 month stint on ISS, that's equivalent of eating 800,000 bananas. Radiation-wise.

If you happen to smoke, every year you get equivalent of over one million bananas worth of radiation (mainly from inhaling radioactive polonium and lead that are in tobacco). That's about 20+ CT scans, if a million bananas is too much to count.

Cell phone towers? Zero bananas. Sorry.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2019 at 8:12 pm

>> Is this the rat's nest you're referring to?

Yes. Street View doesn't do justice to the noise, though. Seriously, worth a physical visit. Cell phone tower proponents: This is a perfect example of how not to do it. It doesn't have to cause cancer to be "blight".


6 people like this
Posted by Dr. No
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 14, 2019 at 9:30 pm

Cell phone towers shouldn't make noise. If this one does, it should be fixed. BTW, are you sure it's the cell tower equipment making noise? There's bunch of other stuff hanging off that pole. The next one over has transformer (probably from mid to low voltage for distribution to households), which are known to be noisy too.


9 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 15, 2019 at 1:04 am

Pole-mounted cell equipment near me sounds very much like a large bee hive.
It's the fans in the electrical box far below the antenna shroud at the top.
Not as noisy as the neighbors' air conditioners which constantly cycle on and off.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2019 at 9:40 am

Posted by Dr. No, a resident of Downtown North

>> Cell phone towers shouldn't make noise. If this one does, it should be fixed.

But, it does and they do. I've seen others that look and sound just like this one.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde

>> Pole-mounted cell equipment near me sounds very much like a large bee hive.
It's the fans in the electrical box far below the antenna shroud at the top.
Not as noisy as the neighbors' air conditioners which constantly cycle on and off.

I seem to have failed in conveying my intended message.

IF "cell tower proponents" think that the referenced installation is perfectly OK, THEN, expect a lot of opposition from people like me who are NOT worried about cancer from cell phone towers. Silent, unobtrusive, tucked away installations are not a problem. Noisy, obtrusive installations are a problem. IF the choice is between poor cell service from a few towers 1500 feet away from anything, OR, noisy pole installations outside everyone's front window, I'm voting for 1500 foot limitation. And, not because I'm worried about cancer. I hope that clarifies what I am talking about. Unfortunately, certain companies seem to think noisy pole installations outside people's front windows are perfectly OK. Call me a NIMBY or whatever, but, I will oppose those installations. And, no, I'm not worried about cancer.

@"cell tower proponents": silent, unobtrusive, tucked away installations!


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 15, 2019 at 8:28 pm

"What level of exposure are they seeking to stay under? How does that level of exposure goal compare to various sources, such as, e.g. local TV and FM radio stations?"

But don't federal rules invalidate these considerations? Maybe all this sound and fury and legislating comes to naught?

Is the health issue even real? It's as real as flying saucers. Issues with cell radiation, if any, are so small they blend into the statistical noise. I suspect everybody would feel much more comfortable with cell towers if they were objectively proven much more dangerous. It's a psychological quirk. Like, people are nervous about flying but casually confident with driving, although the latter is thoroughly proven to be far more deadly. Or, like, people will happily sunbathe knowing it causes cancer.


1 person likes this
Posted by midtowngrrl
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2019 at 10:17 am

@juan.
once upon a time people thought tv antennae were an eyesore, too.
but you probably don't know what a tv antenna is.


5 people like this
Posted by Cell Phone Radiation Is Small But There
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 17, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Cell phone radiation will a more profound effect on your genetics. The small amounts of radiation are creating cellular mutations albeit miniscule.

This will not directly affect your present physiological state...just your great-great children. So no worries.



4 people like this
Posted by risk
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 17, 2019 at 4:31 pm

If you want to minimize risk, don't own a cell phone. A cell phone in your hand or pocket or pressed against your head exposes you to much more radiation than these towers. I bet the anti-cell-phone people are reading the same fraudulent websites that encourage them not to vaccinate their children against dangerous diseases.


3 people like this
Posted by Teresa
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 18, 2019 at 10:10 am

Hello, In Barron Park, at 3990 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306, corner of El Camino Real and Los Robles, there is a small mall that houses Immersion Spa, Baja Fresh, a tutoring center and there are Fake Trees next to the Immersion Spa, where you enter this mall and these are antennas that were installed here to look like trees. The antennas/fake trees are located along the side of Immersion Spa, and the driveway to enter this mall.

What are these antennas giving off from a health perspective? A lot of adults and kids frequent this small mall. Did the owner of this mall ask for input from the Community or need to have any type of permit for these fake trees/antennas? Thanks.


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2019 at 1:15 pm

"What are these antennas giving off from a health perspective?"

Giving off nothing from a health perspective.

You might want to remove the tin foil hat, please.


1 person likes this
Posted by Terence
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 20, 2019 at 10:25 pm

For those of you who have no regard for others, their health or safety concerns, please stick a cell tower in your backyard and cozy up to it all night long, 24/7/365, for all I care. Go ahead and roll the cancer dice and see what happens. The rest of us will choose not to be part of this cancer experiment thank you very much.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2019 at 10:32 pm

Posted by Terence, a resident of Charleston Gardens

>> Go ahead and roll the cancer dice and see what happens. The rest of us will choose not to be part of this cancer experiment thank you very much.

What level of RF exposure do you think causes cancer?


9 people like this
Posted by science
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 20, 2019 at 11:29 pm

According to the American Cancer Society, there is very little evidence that cell phone towers cause cancer, and the low level of low-energy RF waves from these towers do not cause DNA damage:
Web Link
OTOH, according to the National Cancer Institute, there is some experimental evidence that cell phones, themselves increase the risk of head and neck cancers:
Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Just Say NO
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 21, 2019 at 5:53 pm

> The small amounts of radiation are creating cellular mutations albeit miniscule.

Why are cellular mutations usually bad ones?

Why can't there be more good mutations?


2 people like this
Posted by SV Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 22, 2019 at 12:24 pm

All of you complaining about cell phones and cancer have cell phones still, right?

I bet most of you NIMBY's have an iPhone too, right? Web Link

Better get an Android now!

Also, learn something about micro cells (small cells) vs macro cells. Small cells emit much lower power than their macro (cell tower) counterparts.... The bigger the tower, the more power it needs to send the signal further. The smaller the antenna / cell -- the less power it needs to send the signal to the intended area.


2 people like this
Posted by Go Back To Pay Phones
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 22, 2019 at 1:55 pm

Why not simply install banks of pay phones with 'pay as you go' calling cards?

We did OK without cell phones 40+ years ago.

No one's life is so important that they have to be carrying around a cell phone 24/7 & relying on one as a 'lifeline' for social media is a sad commentary on modern day life.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2019 at 10:39 pm

Posted by Go Back To Pay Phones, a resident of Adobe-Meadow

>> Why not simply install banks of pay phones with 'pay as you go' calling cards?

You would still be exposed to RF radiation from a variety of sources, including -radio-. For those who would like to, in effect, ban cell phones on health grounds, e.g. cancer, I have a question that seems reasonable to me. What level of exposure do you think is hazardous? If you think that the current FCC limits are not strict enough, what do you think the limits should be, and, why?


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