The Town Council of Portola Valley meets outside at the corner of Golden Oak Drive and Peak Lane at 4 p.m. today (Tuesday, Oct. 12) for a walk around the site of a new cell phone tower proposed by T-Mobile West Corp.
The federal government gives cell phone companies wide latitude in taking the steps necessary to provide full coverage. Using aesthetic grounds as a reason to reject T-Mobile's application for a conditional use permit is a tough case to make under federal guidelines, but that is what the town Planning Commission did in July.
T-Mobile appealed that decision to the Town Council, which will hold a public hearing on the matter Wednesday evening, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m. in the Historic Schoolhouse at 765 Portola Road.
The commissioners also questioned the validity of competing maps from T-Mobile and an independent technical firm hired by the town to cross-check the company's claim of gaps in phone coverage.
The town explored alternatives other than a tower, but the outside technical review found alternatives inappropriate. In any case, a court in New York recently ruled that authority as to which technology to use rests with the Federal Communications Commission, not the community.
No neighbors support this tower proposal and the town's Architecture & Site Control Commission rejected a use permit for T-Mobile on a unanimous vote.
Town Planner Tom Vlasic has recommended that the tower, if there is one, be hidden inside a somewhat taller faux pine tree called a monopine.
At the July meeting, Planning Commissioner Alexandra Von Feldt questioned Cal Water's promise to shield the monopine with new trees in place of the trees there now, which are said to be dying. With the rocky soil, it will be "extremely hard, if not impossible, to grow new trees to screen this," Ms. Von Feldt said.
With these trees under duress, Commission Chair Denise Gibson said, "There's going to be a time when you have this 50-to-60-foot (fake) tree sitting there with nothing around it."