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Planning Commission says no on cell phone antennae

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From page A1 | January 31, 2012 | 11 Comments

Crown Castle’s efforts to install a 25-node distributed antenna system to improve MetroPCS cell phone coverage in Davis appear to have hit another dead-end.

The city’s Planning Commission voted 4-3 at its meeting Wednesday to deny Crown Castle the conditional use permit that would have allowed the company to install the antennae throughout the city.

“The project, as presented, is just not the right fit for Davis,” Lucas Frerichs, commission chairman, said Monday. “I think there’s a couple of reasons for denial: Questions have been raised about the actual need for additional service, and if coverage gaps do exist in Davis. Davis also has a policy of co-locating and stealthing these towers on macro sites, this (proposed plan) is the opposite of what we’ve done historically.”

Frerichs also explained that the proposal does not fit within the city’s telecommunications ordinance, which the city would have needed to amend if it had approved Crown Castle’s application.

“One of the biggest parts of the (telecommunications ordinance), is it’s pretty adamant that there should not be these types of facilities built within 500 feet of residential uses, and a number of these proposed towers are, in some cases, within 10 feet of people’s bedrooms.”

About 30 Davis residents spoke before the Planning Commission on Wednesday for 45 minutes to express their disapproval over Crown Castle’s application.

During past meetings, residents had voiced concerns about possible health risks of placing antennae in close proximity to their homes. However, the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits city regulators from considering any real or perceived health effects of cell towers and may only consider matters of aesthetics.

So instead, residents stuck to the aesthetics and the importance of preserving the 500-foot setback.

“I feel that the 500-foot setback is absolutely critical based on what I’ve seen tonight,” said Davis resident Bob Leland. “These things, together with the refrigerator-sized box that comes with it, are far uglier than I had initially feared.”

Many residents also expressed their concerns that allowing one carrier into the city could open the door to other carriers, as the city would not legally be allowed to discriminate between like companies.

The equipment that Crown Castle would like to install include antennae that would perch atop light poles or joint use utility poles and also utility boxes that would sit on the ground near the antenna sites.

Crown Castle has proposed two different types of antenna nodes with varying capabilities. The first type is a larger antenna that can host several cell phone carriers. The advantage is that additional carriers could contract with Crown Castle and utilize the existing nodes as opposed to adding more new antennas elsewhere in the city.

However, Crown Castle can’t guarantee other carriers would elect to use the nodes. Also, according to residents, the antennae are more of a visual blight on the community.

The other type of antenna is smaller and only can host one carrier, MetroPCS. If other carriers decided to move into Davis, additional antennae would have to be built, which residents also say would add to visual blight.

Two demonstration poles near 812 Burr St. in West Davis and near 4608 Redbud Drive in South Davis have been updated to show what the new antenna options look like.

Crown Castle’s attorney, Michael Shonafelt, spoke before the Planning Commission on Wednesday once again to make the case for why it is important to have the distributed antenna system in its proposed configuration in Davis.

“We wanted to be able to co-locate multiple carriers to avoid more systems going in and also to accommodate future growth,” Shonafelt said. “We see future numbers that make very clear that smart phones, smart tablets and cell phone use is just proliferating by the day and this robust system would allow the accommodation of that demand without having to go back and put in more antennae.”

However, the Planning Commission instructed city staff, which included Mike Webb, the city’s principal planner, and Harriet Steiner, the city’s attorney, to come back on Wednesday, Feb. 8, with findings to officially deny the conditional use permit.

If the applicant appeals the commission’s decision, the City Council would then consider the matter.

The commission’s decision writes another chapter in an ongoing saga of deliberations on whether or not the cell towers, which NewPath Networks, now Crown Castle, proposed two years ago, are the right fit for the city.

In 2009, the city granted NewPath encroachment permits that allowed the company to begin construction on the system. However, residents began complaining as the new equipment appeared near their homes. The city manager at the time ordered the company to stop construction so the city could implement its discretionary review.

But NewPath sued the city because as a utility company, under the California Public Utilities Commission, the company believed it had a right to install the antennae without the city’s approval.

Crown Castle decided to temporarily tuck away the lawsuit when it agreed to take part in the discretionary process of applying for a conditional use permit. The company submitted several applications to the city with various options for the Planning Commission to consider.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash.

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 11 comments

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  • Evan AdamsJanuary 31, 2012 - 3:24 pm

    Davis is so screwed up. I don't get any Sprint coverage in Davis and it is all because of these idiots running the city. Lack of broad and wide cell coverage is costs me money in my job when I can't carry on a decent phone call. I get no coverage out on Mace and no coverage downtown. If I had known about this meeting I would have had ten people asking for the permit to be granted. I'm going to contact Crown Castle and tell them the next time they are up I will be happy to present unhappy cell customers who want better coverage.

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  • Evan AdamsJanuary 31, 2012 - 3:30 pm

    I sent the following to Crown Castle's attorney: Dear Mr. Shonafelt, I saw this article from the Davis Enterprise: http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/city/planning-commission-says-no-on-cell-phone-antennae/ The next time you present in front of a city of Davis meeting please let me know. I would be happy to have some people there to speak in favor of the installation of more antennas to get better service. My friends and family predominantly all have Sprint and the coverage we get in Davis is horrible. We get no coverage down by Mace Blvd and we get no coverage downtown. Many of us don’t have land lines and it is a safety / 911 issue. It also hurts my ability to work from home and conduct meaningful business. Let me know the next time you present to the city. Regards, Evan Adams

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  • The World's Gone CrazyJanuary 31, 2012 - 4:19 pm

    I have MetroPCS, who Crown Castle is building these antennas for. The service in many parts Davis is really poor. I have absolutely no service at my parent’s house in an older central Davis neighborhood. I’m sure all these do-gooders who are so against this can afford Verison, ATT or T-Mobile. Some of us on a tight budget can’t.

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  • Susan MonheitJanuary 31, 2012 - 8:20 pm

    Thank you Planning Commission for listening to the nearly 600 Davis citizens who signed the NO to DAS petition over the past few months, and the many citizens who have relentlessly shown up at Planning Commission meetings after work to eloquently argue the case for Davis' self determination in the face of Crown Castles' lawsuit. Crown Castle's lawsuit was meant to bully the City into gutting the protective setback portions of the City’s Telecommunications Ordinance, to make way for their distributed antenna system (DAS) project that would infiltrate our residential neighborhoods. The City would receive no compensation for use of its’ infrastructure, yet citizens would be subjected to the intrusion of this unwanted transmission equipment right next to their homes. We appreciate your support, and stand by you in saying “No to corporate exploitation of our town and its citizens”! Sincerely, NO to DAS In Our Neighborhoods Davis Citizen’s Group

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  • Rich RifkinFebruary 01, 2012 - 2:32 pm

    "The City would receive no compensation for use of its’ infrastructure, yet citizens would be subjected to the intrusion of this unwanted transmission equipment right next to their homes." How is this different than what we have with power lines, land telephone poles and cable wires? On my next door neighbors' properties--both to my west and to my east--there are taller and more visually objectionable telephone/power polls. Would you argue these are "infiltrating" my home or my neighbors' homes? If the argument is that the cell towers could be less ugly or could be less impactful on the city at large, then I'm open to hearing that argument. But ultimately, as long as a large percentage of Davis people want to have cell phone service, then we need cell towers and cell phone users stand to benefit if there is competition among the providers. P.S. I am glad to see that the opponents of cellular phone towers have dropped their nonsense arguments about radio waves causing health issues. There is no science to prove that. There is a great amount (according to the CDC) to prove they are harmless.

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  • Kevin SchellFebruary 01, 2012 - 8:03 am

    Hi Susan, "Corporate exploitation of our town and its citizens?" I suppose that you don't have comcast internet? What telephone service do you have? I bet it's owned by a local mom-and-pop store, right. And you have never gone to Target either, right. In general, I agree with your sentiment about corporations that don't give a crap about local interests. However, basic, modern, and effective communications are a must for life in the 21st century. Blocking these types of efforts hurts this city and make us look out-of-touch, elitist, uptight, hippie-ish; all characteristics that this city is has too much of already. Time to vote out the city council and get some people that don't have their heads up their ...

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  • The World's Gone CrazyFebruary 01, 2012 - 5:28 pm

    You got to disconnect from PG&E as they use those ugly power poles. They are much uglier than the cell towers on top of the street lights.

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  • Anne-Marie LangFebruary 05, 2012 - 3:25 pm

    The issue here is HOW gaps in cell phone coverage should be addressed. Crown Castle, for example, (amidst other communication companies) are able to fix gaps in coverage without installing any cell phone towers in close proximity to houses. And, of course, this is what should happen. Homeowners who do not want a cell phone tower within a few feet of their house have a legitimate case, as towers like these are unsightly and lower property values. Again, gaps in cell phone coverage can, and have, been addressed effectively without monetary or visual harm to responsible residents. The city of Davis needs to regulate matters like these. Because without regulation, Davis would not be nearly as attractive and charming of a city.

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  • L KowalFebruary 07, 2012 - 5:08 pm

    Although the above article gave a good summary of the cell phone antenna story, there were a few points that were not included. The most obvious to me is the fact that there is only one cell phone company, Metro PCS that has signed on with Crown Castle with no guarantee of others ever signing on. Crown Castle claims that they need their 25 node system throughout Davis when they have not proven that there is a city-wide gap in coverage of its only client. If there are gaps in Metro PCS’ coverage in certain areas, they could be addressed by locating their antennas on existing facilities in those areas or at other existing sites nearby, without cluttering many of Davis’ residential streets. But Crown Castle doesn’t want to work with the city in locating antennas where there are existing sites. They want to put antennas in the public rights of way in residential neighborhoods so that they don’t have to pay anyone and can maximize their potential profits. Those of us who have opposed this project are not against better cell coverage in Davis, rather we are against having the facilities in our residential neighborhoods. We are against Crown Castle’s design of the sites which has not been to minimize visual impacts. The antennas will be readily visible and accompanied by large electrical meters either mounted on or next to the side of the pole or in a ground mounted cabinet contrary to the city’s preferred policy of undergrounding. Putting up additional street light poles and above ground electrical boxes seems to be going backwards and will just add additional eyesores which will take away from the aesthetics of the city.

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  • Tom SakashFebruary 08, 2012 - 10:50 am

    I just wanted to remind those of you who expressed interest in attending future public hearings regarding this issue that the Planning Commission will address Crown Castle's proposal again tonight (Feb. 8) at 7 p.m. in the Community Chambers at City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd.

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  • Arriana Jane CalderonJuly 27, 2012 - 7:39 am

    There are a lot of cases that require careful consideration here. Some citizens of Davis are concerned about risking their health to electromagnetic radiation from cell towers while others are concerned on the the communication gap they are experiencing. So, Crown Castle must conduct deeper study on how to address both of these concerns equally. Communication is a very important key to establishing good family relations, business proposals, and saving lives like calling for emergency aid to 911. That's why both sides must be considered wisely. http://www.cpr-algonquin.com

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