It may be a faux tree, it may be a tasteful pole, it may even be an objet d'art, but a 50- to 55-foot cell phone tower will rise at the corner of Peak Lane and Golden Oak Drive in Portola Valley, on the same parcel that houses a 750,000-gallon water tank owned by the California Water Company.
Neighbors concerned about views, radio frequency radiation and seemingly uncared for landscape screening urged the Town Council last night (Oct. 13) to reject a conditional use permit application for the tower from T-Mobile West Corp. But with the federal government disallowing concerns about radiation and property values, and tipping the scales in favor of closing "significant" phone coverage gaps -- which T-Mobile asserts there is in Portola Valley -- the council had very little room to maneuver.
The vote was unanimous, with Councilman John Richards absent. The council had many factors to consider, but T-Mobile's evidence of a significant coverage gap, and a concurring finding from the town's independent analyst, made the decision more or less inevitable under federal law.
"I would place a heavy weight and a much higher priority on that (concurring) evidence," Councilwoman Ann Wengert said.
"Our consultant found a gap," Councilman Ted Driscoll said. "It's hard for me to see how we can prevail in litigation if our consultant is contradicting us."
Mr. Driscoll asked about a lawsuit. In such cases, T-Mobile transfers the case to a national law firm, said Paul Albritton of the San Francisco firm Mackenzie & Albritton, who was representing T-Mobile at the meeting.
Ms. Wengert noted that this case is likely to be just Round 1. "We are in the middle of a telecommunications revolution," she said. "Communications are not only changing, they're changing rapidly."
The tower doesn't have to be an eyesore, Councilwoman Maryann Derwin said. A Web search, she said, turned up towers that are windmills, water towers and works of art.
Asked for examples, Ms. Derwin, in an e-mail, recommended a search for Montjuic Communications Tower, which yields an image of a stunningly dynamic structure by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.