Cell phone tower will be hard to defeat

Portola Valley residents with homes near a proposed cell phone antenna at Golden Oak Drive and Peak Lane in the Westridge neighborhood told the Planning Commission recently how unhappy they were about having the antenna there at all, much less having to contemplate its aesthetics and the effect on their property values.

The town appears to have two options: a 50-foot pole or a 50-foot pole hidden inside a 60-foot fake tree known as a "monopine."

After considering the matter at its April 7 meeting, the commissioners delayed further discussion of a 10-year conditional use permit for T-Mobile West Corp. The commissioners "need a whole lot more information" on alternatives, Planning Manager Leslie Lambert said in an interview.

The commission has some four months before a decision is necessary. Among the areas of interest, Ms. Lambert said, are the scope and impact of micro-cell antennas a less prominent alternative and a third-party opinion of the project, including a so-called gap in coverage claimed by T-Mobile.

The phone company enjoys an advantage under a federal law that, in the interest of promoting competition among phone companies, pre-empts certain local government regulations, Town Attorney Sandy Sloan said.

And if the phone company claims that it needs the antenna to resolve a significant gap in coverage, as is the case here, the local government must prove that the proposal is not the least intrusive way to address that gap.

Aesthetic concerns are a frequent complaint among neighbors, but to justify denying a permit for aesthetic reasons, a local government must provide substantial fact-based evidence of undue visual impact, Ms. Sloan said. Mere opinion or "generalized concerns" will not cut it.

As for worries about radio frequency radiation and its possible effects on health, federal law prohibits local governments from using radiation concerns to determine antenna placement, Ms. Sloan said.

The town may find the micro-cell alternative to be problematic given its line-of-sight limitations amid the steep topography of Portola Valley, Deputy Town Planner Tom Vlasic noted in his remarks to the commission.

With the burden of proof on local government, and with property owner Cal Water agreeable to an antenna, the town's options appear to be little more than choosing which monopine is preferable.

Portola Valley can and should demand a custom-made tree, "the best possible fake tree that could be out there," Mr. Vlasic said.


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Posted by NIMBY
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Those NIMBYs will probably see their property values go up if they have good phone service. Quit whining and move into the 21st century!

Like this comment
Posted by gap in coverage
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 13, 2010 at 9:36 am

Will this tower close the gap in coverage on Alpine near 280? Verizon drops my calls every time when I'm in this area.

Like this comment
Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Apr 13, 2010 at 10:28 am

David Boyce is a registered user.

My understanding is that each service provider must install its own antenna. In this case, the service provider is T-Mobile, but if the antenna goes up, there may be room on it for other providers.

As to whether this will cover the gap in Verizon service on Interstate 280 near Alpine Road, that is probably a question for another forum.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Yes, I think everyone wants better cell phone service, but at what expense. Should all local laws be thrown aside? From the belligerent stand T-Mobile took at the Planning Commission hearing, you'd have thought dealing with local ordinances and the concerns of residents and their customers shouldn't count.

Like this comment
Posted by charlene
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Apr 16, 2010 at 8:20 pm

[Post removed; personal attacks violate terms of use.]

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Posted by Chris
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Apr 17, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I would love to have good cell phone coverage. Despite AT&Ts recent mail claiming to have improved local coverage, I have seen zero improvement. As for the NIMY neighbors in Westridge, I'm sure they're happy to have cell phone coverage when they are in someone else's yard.

It's time to share the air, folks. It's called progress.

Like this comment
Posted by Marshall @ Intero
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2010 at 8:54 am

As a Realtor here in the Bay Area, I can tell you first hand that property values go UP with good cell reception. I can't tell you how many times I've shown a house to prospective buyers who take one look at their cell phone when we arrive. If there is an inadequate signal, we move on to the next house where their cell phones work.

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