Update (9/17/2016): This is one of our most popular posts. We’ve promoted it in honor of Thursday’s huge win in the California Court of Appeals. The court fully upheld municipal regulation of cell towers despite three cell tower companies (T-mobile, Crown Castle, and Extenet) ganging up and attempting to overturn San Francisco’s comprehensive wireless ordinance. It was a historic loss for the wireless industry, and solidified the important findings of Sprint vs. Palos Verdes Estates (9th Circuit, 2009). We’ve posted T-mobile et al vs. San Francisco here.
Prior to January 2016, Rancho Palos Verdes had essentially no cell tower regulations. As you would expect, the carriers and cell tower installers abused the situation to their advantage and things got completely out of control. The same can happen if a city has a good ordinance but it isn’t enforced. Consider this a cautionary tale.
We’ve previously written regarding the astronomical number of cell towers in Rancho Palos Verdes, and how most were thrown up in the cheapest and sloppiest manner possible. There was no attempt to minimize intrusiveness, screen sites, or architecturally match them to the existing structures. In addition, there was no attempt to collocate sites or otherwise minimize the number of installations.
Here’s a map of all cell sites in the Public Right of Way (PROW) in RPV. The interactive versions can be found online here. (The site loads slowly, ten seconds or so.) This map does not include sites on private property or public property that is not part of the PROW.
Map of sites in the PROW in RPV. Different colors represent different service carriers, yellow means there are multiple sites at a single location.
The map is pretty incredible, particularly with Crown Castle claiming ATT alone needs 30 new sites, most located within the heart of residential neighborhoods. Here’s a breakdown of the current status:
- Over 140 cell sites in the PROW
- One cell site for every 300 residents
- One cell site for every 115 homes
- One cell site every 61 acres
- 10.4 cell sites per square mile
- More than 50 new sites pending or proposed (that we know of)
RPV’s new wireless ordinance (link) will ensure sites meet comprehensive design, architectural compatibility, and location requirements going forward. As a reminder to why RPV needed a new ordinance we’ll highlight (lowlight?) some of our favorites here. With 140 available, there are plenty of bad examples to choose from.
The new ordinance poster child
This is on Hawthorne Blvd at the entrance to Hesse Park. It is one of the nicest parks in the city and this sits right outside the City Council chambers. Fortunately, the City Council saw it every time they pulled into the parking lot and was continuously reminded why RPV needed a new ordinance. It was just a bus stop sign at one point.
Same site next to Hesse Park with no screening whatsoever. Note cable workmanship. Note there is still another bus stop sign post right next to it that for some reason was not consolidated. The box now has a giant “Radio Frequency Hazard!” sticker on it.
Welcome to Rancho Palos Verdes, home of the ugly cell tower
“Welcome to Rancho Palos Verdes” on PV Drive South right at the border of San Pedro. This is what visitors entering our city from San Pedro first see. Here’s a close-up.
Aside from being really ugly, there is lots else going on here:
- Crown Castle increased the antenna size but the cables didn’t reach so they just stretched them across unsupported (black wires from pole to antenna bottom)
- It could have been flush mounted to pole above cables to be less intrusive instead of extended out on long cross arm
- Violates CPUC General Order 95 (safety and reliability regulations) Section 94.4 as it’s too close to the cables
We don’t need no stinkin’ CC&Rs
This is on Palos Verdes Drive East in the Miraleste section of Rancho Palos Verdes. This area has strong CC&R’s that date back to the 1930’s for private lots, changes require approval from the Palos Verdes Homes Association Art Jury. But anything goes in the ROW. Note that this site also violates multiple aspects of GO-95 Section 94.4.
Buck Roger’s Spaceship
This monstrosity is on Highridge north of Crestridge and looks like it’s ready for blast-off. Note well maintained HOA area behind it yet there was no attempt whatsoever to screen the site. Also note the silver spray can paint job on the antennas. This one is particularly annoying as Crown Castle mistakenly submitted it to Rolling Hills Estates despite the fact it is actually in RPV. RHE mistakenly approved it. Both cities were notified, nothing happened.
Too close for comfort
This is at the end of a cul-de-sac right in front of homes on Monero Drive east of Granvia Altimira. Unbelievably, the house is only 25 feet from the site, with homes directly across the narrow street. This pole originally just had a guy wire to support an adjacent pole; now in addition to the antennas it has large cable stretched across the street for the cell site.
First place: The how ugly can we make a telephone pole contest
Many neighborhoods in town built before 1970 have above ground utilities. The poles are already unsightly, but Crown Castle is doing their best to make them even uglier. This is right in front of homes on a residential street (Rue Langlois at Rue de la Pierre). The boxes on the pole total 9 cubic feet in size and sticks 15 feet up into the air. It includes two exhaust fans that run 24 hours a day. It also violates CPUC’s GO95 Section 94.4 as the antennas are too close to the cables.
Praying for no ugly cell towers
Three towers in a row at Crenshaw and Crest. There is actually a fourth one right behind this shot that didn’t fit in the picture. The new church structure in the background (St John Fisher) was contentious and was difficult to get through the Planning Commission. The cell towers were rubber-stamped without any public hearings.
Caught in the Act!
Three cell towers on three utility poles at the 27800 block of Palos Verdes Drive East. Crown Castle guys caught in the act on the left as the Google photo-car came through. Note how they are hanging large antennas on the cable to exploit a GO-95 Section 94.4 loophole regarding “strand mounted” antennas. Otherwise they are way too close to the existing cables. We’ll be keeping an eye out for this tactic going forward.
The moral of the story
We’ve got lots more but we think you get the idea. Any suggestion that the wireless companies or the cell tower installers care about our city is laughable. They are passing through town to make a buck. These things are cash cows for the tower installers, and the more they can put in as cheaply as possible, the more money they make. These photos show what happens when they are calling the shots rather than the City.
Thanks to the City Council and the City Attorney’s office, things will be different going forward with RPV’s new comprehensive wireless ordinance. Residents are angry about what has happened, and are going to ensure the ordinance is strictly enforced. The new ordinance requires public hearings so residents can make sure their voice is heard. Those who have attended the Palos Verdes Estates Planning Commission hearings have seen first-hand how effective this can be. Well-informed residents have turned the tide by exposing process violations, analysis flaws, documentation errors, and flat-out misrepresentation of the applicable law. We’ll have more on this in a future post.
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