Crown Castle’s Bad Plan for Palos Verdes (part 1)

This is the first of of two part series that details our objections to Crown Castle’s proposed cell tower deployment in Palos Verdes.  This post will focus on the installations and locations themselves.  Part 2 will dig into Crown Castle’s behavior and tactics in trying to get these cell towers approved.

Are we NIMBYs?

We’ve been very critical of Crown Castle’s plan to place about 60 poorly-designed and highly intrusive cell towers throughout Palos Verdes.  We’ve also raised objections to proposed invasive residential neighborhood locations without any real justification.  We’ve received solid support from the community.  We’ve also received positive feedback from others outside Palos Verdes interested in our fight.

Of course you can’t please everyone, and we’ve heard from a few scattered critics.  The complaints seem shallow and uninformed, without a much substance and a dose of name-calling thrown in for good measure.

nimby

NIMBY!  The invective is often used to denigrate those who raise legitimate questions regarding an ill-conceived project.  It’s usually intended as a derogatory insult without having to do the hard work of actually rebutting the points raised.

Rather than let others characterize our motivation, we’ll save them the trouble and set the record straight.  Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve seen and documented regarding the cell tower situation in Palos Verdes.  We think it’s unacceptable, and the more people know about it, the better.  If that makes us NIMBY’s then so be it.

Ugly, cheap designs with no regard for our community’s aesthetics

Most of Crown Castle’s proposed sites for Rancho Palos Verdes wouldn’t pass muster in an industrial zone, yet they are being shamelessly proposed for our beautiful residential community.

crown castle ugly cell tower

Residential streetlight installations call out two antenna panels, each over six square feet in size (50” tall by 19” wide).  They are highly intrusive and don’t come close to matching the architectural character of our neighborhoods.  Comparable deployments in other cities somehow manage to use antennas one-third this size.  Crown Castle has provided no justification for the huge antenna panels.

Ugly pole mounted equipment is proposed throughout RPV, despite the fact our new wireless ordinance requires such equipment be located in underground vaults.  The smallest boxes are 9” wide by  9” deep, being bigger than the 7″ diameter streetlight pole.  The equipment extends 12 feet up the pole.  It also include an industrial-sized electric meter and breaker box also mounted to the streetlight pole. A 2.5″ wide electrical conduit will run externally to the electric meter.  Top it off with two exhaust fans that run 24/7.

(upper right) Crown Castle cell tower partly installed on Silver Spur Drive.  The same design is proposed for residential neighborhood streetlights but with even larger antennas!  These antennas are 49″ by 12″, more recent submissions include antennas that are 50″ by 19″, more than 50% bigger than shown here.

Are these guys for real?  Did they really think peninsula residents would accept this?  Based on RPV’s past history of rubber-stamping these sites they probably thought they could get away with it.  Not any more

Highly invasive residential neighborhood locations

We think we’re safe in saying that few people would willingly accept a for-profit telecommunication facility right next to their home unless they are making money off it themselves.  Yet the majority of Crown Castle’s cell towers are proposed for residential neighborhoods.  Of course residents won’t be getting a dime.  Unfortunate residents will however, be stuck with an ugly and highly intrusive commercial cell tower next to their home for at least ten years (the legal minimum permit duration).

cell tower next to homes

A Sprint installation on Monero Drive in RPV.  The new normal if Crown Castle gets their way.

Not only will nearby residents not be compensated, but property values will almost certainly drop.  There is a significant portion of home buyers that will not consider a house next to a cell tower.  Simple supply and demand tells us that with fewer willing buyers, home prices go down.  Consider the financial impact of an entirely realistic 5% decrease in your home’s value.  Now consider it’s happening only because a multi-billion dollar corporation with no stake in our community wanted to save a few bucks.

Even if it’s not happening to you, is it something you want to happen to your neighbors?  Our cities must stand firm and enforce our right to regulate “time, place, and manner” with regard to cell sites. This must start with the City itself.

Rather than challenging these highly intrusive neighborhood locations when first proposed, PVE recommended homeowners meet with Crown Castle themselves to discuss their concerns.  One such meeting resulted in a proposed tower being moved away from one home to next to another home (whose owners weren’t at the meeting). When they found out they weren’t happy.

What resulted was entirely predictable, with neighbors squabbling with each other rather than aiming their collective ire at the corporation bullying its way onto their quiet residential street.  It’s the exact wrong approach and a ridiculous mismatch.  Residents, without specialized legal and engineering knowledge, are supposed to convince a multi-billion dollar corporation why they shouldn’t put the cell tower next to their house?

Cell towers must not be planned for neighborhoods unless there is no feasible alternative.  Even then, they are only acceptable when there is a proven need to prevent an effective prohibition of service.  The burden of proof to demonstrate this is on the applicant, not the city.  RPV’s new wireless ordinance requires this, PVE’s ordinance should also.  Nothing of the sort has been provided by Crown Castle.  They picked neighborhood locations because it was cheap and easy for them, and they thought they could get away with it.

Terrible Workmanship

Drive around town and see some of Crown Castle’s existing cell towers for yourself.  Crown Castle’s crack installation team doesn’t seem to understand the concept of cable dressing.

Crown castle terrible workmanship

The site shown here is on a scenic stretch of Palos Verdes Drive South and is locally known as Medusa, you can see why.  The decorative streetlights were originally installed to beautify this portion of the road adjacent to Trump National Golf Club.  Crown Castle seems determined to uglify it (to coin a word).

The same problems extend to many of Crown Castle’s utility pole installations.  This is one of our favorites right at the southeast entrance to Rancho Palos Verdes.  Crown Castle recently “upgraded” (translation: dramatically increased in size) this site’s antenna panels and the results speak for themselves.

Crown castle terrible workmanship

Crown Castle’s “installation professionals” apparently couldn’t be bothered to install new cables required for the larger antennas.  They simply stretched them across in mid-air rather than take the time and effort to do it right.  This is typical of the workmanship we’ve seen and doesn’t speak well of their respect for our City’s aesthetics.

Crown Castle also has a bad habit of painting their installations with hardware store spray paint rather than paying the cost of a professional paint job.  Their amateur attempt at “camouflage” usually does more harm than good including paint streaks, missed areas, and overspray.  These cell towers already look terrible; consider how they’ll look after a few years of neglect.

“Optional” regulations

Cell tower installations on utility (telephone) poles must conform to California Public Utility Commission regulations known as General Order 95 (GO-95).  These rules specify minimum distances between cell tower antennas and existing circuits on the pole.  As clearly stated in GO-95, these regulations are to ensure public and utility worker safety and to maintain reliable service.  These rules for cell tower antennas went into effect in 2007.

There are dozens of utility pole cell tower installations in Palos Verdes that were installed in violation of GO-95.  If you drive around and take a look, you’ll see them everywhere.  Antennas and/or their support structures were often installed too close to existing communication wires or power lines thus violating state law and potentially compromising safety.  While Crown Castle is certainly not the only offender, they are clearly represented.

Crown castle General Order 95 problems

Left – Crown Castle photo simulation submitted to Rancho Palos Verdes for a utility pole cell tower on Crest Road.  Simulation and the accompanying drawings depict proper clearance of antennas and supporting structure to communication lines and high voltage conductors.  Right – Actual recent installation does not maintain required clearances, with GO-95 violations and violation of SCE clearance requirements apparent.

You can read more about General Order 95 issues in Palos Verdes here.  As a side note, Crown Castle (formerly NextG Networks) agreed to pay $14.5 Million in fines and safety audit costs for GO-95 violations that contributed to the 2007 Malibu Canyon Fire (link).

Legitimate Concerns

Hopefully we’ve made the case that there are legitimate concerns with Crown Castle’s proposed cell tower deployment and that our objections aren’t just knee-jerk NIBMYism.  It’s a terrible plan that arrogantly attempts to place industrial-sized communication facilities throughout the peninsula and in the heart of our residential neighborhoods.  Crown Castle’s track record of shoddy workmanship, disregard for details, and apparent disregard of regulations doesn’t help their case.

We recognize the peninsula would benefit from better cell service.  We welcome the opportunity to assist developing a master plan that protects Palos Verdes aesthetics, preserves our neighborhood character, respects the rights of homeowners, and benefits our community as a whole.  We will not tolerate deployments based on minimized costs that irreversibly harm our beautiful community.

 

Part 2 of this series will focus on the tactics used to sell the deployment to City decision makers.  Typically, municipal staff don’t have a deep understanding of the legal and engineering issues at play in this type of deployment.  It’s a complicated field that requires specialized knowledge and there seems to be no hesitance toward exploiting perceived ignorance.  We’ll document some of the unfounded legal claims of entitlement, misleading claims regarding existing and required service coverage, unsupported claims about alternate location feasibility, and changing stories once challenged.  We’ll also get back into false photo simulations and shoddy engineering drawings that omit key details and distort facility intrusiveness.  There’s plenty of material, we made need to make this a multi-part series.

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