Crown Castle’s Photo Simulation Problem

Post Update: After the City twice rejected Crown Castle’s applications as incomplete, Crown Castle resubmitted them with photo simulations from another company.  We are happy to report that the new photo simulations do finally match the drawing dimensions.  We would note that it took the City specifically calling Crown Castle out on this to get the photo simulations right.  We would also note that the proposed sites still violate many aspects of RPV’s wireless facility ordinance

Original post begins here

According to the urban dictionary, “cat-fishing” is using a fake persona or false photos.  Crown Castle’s recently submitted cell tower photo simulations led us to coin a new term, “Castle-fishing”.

crown castle false photo simulation 0

Typical Crown Castle photo simulation for a proposed residential streetlight cell tower installation.  Like a personal ad photo, it doesn’t always tell the full story.

Over and over, Crown Castle’s photo simulations misstate the size of the actual cell tower, depicting them as much smaller and less intrusive than actuality.  It’s sort of like a personal advertisement using a photo from 15 years and 50 pounds ago.  We’d like an explanation from Crown Castle as to how exactly this happened.

Photo Simulation Review

Rancho Palos Verdes and other municipalities require photo simulations with cell tower applications.  The reason is simple, to allow early assessment of the proposed installation’s intrusiveness, neighborhood and architectural compatibility, and compliance with design requirements.  RPV’s ordinance requires (emphasis added):

An accurate visual impact analysis showing the maximum silhouette, viewshed analysis, color and finish palette and proposed screening for the facility, including scaled photo simulations from at least 3 different angles.

It’s straightforward; the photo simulations must accurately reflect the size and appearance of the proposed installation.  We’ll be charitable and assume Crown Castle has difficulty comprehending plain English.

Crown Castle has recently submitted 19 site applications to RPV under the City’s new wireless ordinance.   Of that, 13 have been returned as incomplete with the six most recent submissions currently in review.  We requested the applications from the city for our own review.

For each photo simulation, we compared the size of the added equipment to that of the equipment called out in the submitted drawings.  We double-checked dimensions with the manufacturer to ensure the drawing dimensions were accurate.  Then, using the known pole height for scaling, we added outlines showing the actual equipment size compared to that depicted.

It’s not perfect, but it clearly reveals scaling errors.  As you’ll see, Crown Castle’s “errors” are huge, with some equipment shown less than half the area of the actual size.

Of the thirteen sites reviewed, twelve had clearly misrepresented the size of the added equipment.  Eleven showed the equipment much smaller than actuality, and strangely one showed it larger. The exception that proves the rule, so to speak.


Proposed site ASG10 (Los Verdes Drive)

This is proposed for a 17’ foot streetlight on Los Verdes Drive and is one of the most egregious examples.  The photo on the left is the submission showing the simulated equipment.  The photo on the right shows the actual equipment outlines based on the dimensions shown in the submitted drawing package.  The extremely poor photo resolution was how they were submitted by Crown Castle.

crown castle false photo simulation 1

Left – submitted photo simulation with added equipment shown.  Right- outlines of actual equipment scaled to size, dimensions from from drawing package.  Antenna protrusion from pole is much greater than shown.

Here’s another view, this one is even worse.  The antennas are actually 49.9” tall by 18.9” wide.  The photo simulation shows them roughly 38” tall by 6” wide.

crown castle false photo simulation 2

Left – submitted photo simulation with added equipment shown.  Right – Outlines of actual equipment scaled to size, dimensions from drawing package.  Antenna size is dramatically misrepresented.

Proposed site ASG33 (Across from 6480 Chartres)

This is a proposed new pole in the heart of a residential neighborhood.  It uses smaller antennas than the previous site though they are still shown smaller than actuality.  The big problem here is the pole-mounted cabinet.  The cabinet is actually 47” tall by 21.5” wide yet it is depicted as roughly 24” tall by 16” wide, only 38% of the actual area.  Again we see same very poor photo resolution we’ve grown to expect from Crown Castle.

crown castle false photo simulation 3

Left – submitted photo simulation with depicted equipment.   Right – outlines of actual equipment scaled to size, dimensions from drawing package.  Pole-mounted equipment cabinet is shown as only 38% of actual area.


Proposed Site ASG64 – South of 3344 Palos Verdes Drive West

This is a new 17’ foot pole proposed between two existing cell towers on a scenic stretch of PVD West.  There was no explanation as to why it couldn’t be collocated with either of the existing sites as required by RPV’s wireless facility ordinance.  We see the same game being played here with the equipment cabinet, and the antenna is also shown much narrower than actuality.

crown castle false photo simulation 4

Left – submitted photo simulation with depicted equipment.     Right – outlines of actual equipment, dimensions from drawing package.  This is proposed for a scenic stretch of PV Drive West.

Here’s the same site viewed from the side.  In this view, Crown Castle completely omits the huge pole mounted cabinet.

crown castle false photo sim 5

Left – submitted photo simulation with depicted equipment.  Right – outlines of actual equipment, dimensions from drawing package.  The huge equipment cabinet was completely omitted from the simulation.  Background is Pacific Ocean and island view.


Proposed Site ASG37 – Ridgegate Drive

This is another proposed streetlight design though this is a 24 foot pole.  Despite the taller pole, Crown Castle still misrepresents the antenna size showing it closely nested against the pole and barely perceptible.  It is obviously wrong and highly misleading, how does this happen over and over again?

crown castle false photo simulation 6

Left – submitted photo simulation with depicted equipment.      Right – outlines of actual equipment, dimensions from drawing package.

Here’s the side view, it’s the same old story.

crown castle false photo simulation 7

Left – submitted photo simulation with depicted equipment.    Right – outlines of actual equipment, dimensions from drawing package.


Plenty more where that came from

At the risk of becoming tedious, we’ll end the examples here.  Just to be clear, these aren’t cherry-picked but are typical of Crown Castle’s submissions to Rancho Palos Verdes.  Recently submitted sites have all been evaluated using this method, with the results submitted to the city.  They are archived here in case you’d like to see for yourself.  This issue was raised with Crown Castle last year in RPV yet it continues, all of these were submitted on or after May 26, 2016.

Going Forward

We haven’t even addressed the point that none of the proposed sites comply with RPV’s architectural compatibility and design requirements.  That’s a whole other issue we’ll deal  with in a future post.

Crown Castle has a real problem and needs to get its act together.  They can be assured that all of these discrepancies will be raised in future required Planning Commission hearings.  They can explain to the Commissioners how this happened and try and convince them it was all a big misunderstanding.  Or they can start over, fix their “quality control” issues, read and comply with RPV’s ordinance, and do this right.

Residents do want better cell coverage and will support installations that are thoughtfully engineered and located to protect our City’s neighborhood character and aesthetics.  However, we won’t tolerate any more games and are carefully reviewing all submitted material and documenting this nonsense to ensure it isn’t forgotten.  We understand our City’s ordinance, state law, and federal law on this issue.  We won’t be misled as to our rights, bullied with legal claims of entitlement, or deceived with misleading documentation or unsubstantiated engineering claims.  We insist on full compliance with the City’s application and design requirements, observance of location restrictions, and factual and complete submissions.  We’ll let you know when we see one.

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