Crown Castle Appeals Neighborhood Church Cell Tower Denial

You would think that a corporation demanding to place nearly two dozen cell towers in a community might do some research regarding local sensitivities.  Apparently, that’s not considered “value added” activity by Crown Castle.

As we’ve discussed at length, this arrogant, out-of-state corporation decided they were going to place highly intrusive cell towers within our neighborhoods whether we liked it or not.  No one asked them to come here.  They’ve trotted out every trick in the book to bully our community into accepting these cell towers, including false legal claims, misleading site documentation, and highly deceptive engineering analysis. We’ve meticulously documented this garbage and posted on some of it here.

Based on the hard work of many Peninsula residents in exposing these tactics, the Palos Verdes Estates Planning Commission has started to say “no” to Crown Castle’s highly intrusive cell towers.  The first cell tower denial occurred in October after eleven straight cell towers had been approved by the Commission. .It’s not like the City hasn’t given Crown Castle a fair shake.

Denial and Appeal of the Neighborhood Church Cell Tower

This proposed cell tower was just too much.  Crown Castle insisted the cell tower and its large equipment cabinet must be placed directly in front of an iconic local landmark, the Neighborhood Church in Malaga Cove.  Supposedly, no alternate locations preferred by the City were acceptable; Crown Castle simply dismissed them all as “infeasible” without providing a shred of objective evidence.

The Commissioners rightly told Crown Castle they needed to look elsewhere, particularly in light of the flimsy and contradictory evidence Crown Castle submitted to justify the site.  The Commission voted unanimously to deny the cell tower at the October 2016 Planning Commission hearing.

neighborhood_church_cell_tower_location

The Neighborhood Church located on the scenic bluffs of Malaga Cove.  Note beautifully maintained landscaping and absence of power lines or above ground utilities.  Proposed cell tower location is directly in front of the church grounds, plainly visible, and completely unscreened.

neighborhood_church_cell_tower_mock-up

Mock-up of the proposed cell tower and associated equipment cabinet in front of the Neighborhood Church.  Note that the cabinet is missing the required electric meter so the actual installation will be even larger than shown.  Also note the total absence of screening and prominent placement in the scenic landscaping.

Crown Castle’s sense of entitlement apparently knows no bounds.  Rather than accept the will of the community and seek an alternative, Crown Castle is appealing the cell tower denial to the City Council.  The hearing is scheduled for January 24th, and we will provide more details once available.

In a likely attempt to intimidate our community, the appeal was filed by outside legal counsel rather than the familiar Crown Castle employees involved in the deployment to date.  It seems that resistance will not be tolerated.

The Neighborhood Church’s History

Since Crown Castle didn’t bother to spend time learning about our community, we’ll provide them some background (we understand they are readers of our blog).  The Neighborhood Church started as a summer residence for wealthy merchant J.J Haggarty.  It was built in 1927 atop a scenic bluff overlooking the Santa Monica Bay.

The mansion incorporated Italian design, well matched to the Mediterranean theme of Frank Vanderlip and Frederik Olmsteds’s Palos Verdes Project.  Every aspect was styled to complement the scenic beauty of the location, including a building layout following the bluff’s irregular contour.  According to the church’s website, the mansion cost $750,000 to build ($13 million in 2106 dollars) as artisans included “murals, ceiling decorations, cast balustrades, carved baronial fireplaces, decorated beams and pillars”

haggarty_mansion

JJ Haggarty’s mansion before it became the Neighborhood Church (circa 1940).

Haggarty’s business fell on hard times and the mansion was eventually acquired by a Midwest financier.  After he passed away, the beautiful mansion was acquired in the 1950’s by a local congregation that had been holding worship services at nearby Malaga Cove Elementary School.  It was an inspired choice as the church’s website puts it, “this building and its lovely grounds seem to have spirituality and are well suited for the purpose.”

An Iconic Landmark

Due to its incredible beauty and scenic location, the Neighborhood Church has been host to countless weddings and other ceremonies in addition to its primary role as a house of worship.  Its spectacular sanctuary and grounds are world famous, and attract visitors from all across California.

neighborhood_church_wedding

Thousands from the Peninsula and throughout California have tied the knot at the Neighborhood Church, the location’s beauty and historic ties to our community are indisputable.

neighborhood_church_grounds

The scenic front grounds of the Church along the bluff at Malaga Cove.

In 2008, Director Ron Howard used the church for numerous scenes in his critically-acclaimed film Frost/Nixon.  The movie recreated the riveting interviews granted by the former president to David Frost in 1977.  Howard required a beautiful coastal location as a stand-in for Nixon’s scenic estate in San Clemente.  After a long search Howard requested access to the Neighborhood Church to recreate the former “Western White House”.  While reluctant at first, the Neighborhood Church did eventually allow filming at the historic site.  The film was a critical and commercial success, receiving five Academy Award nominations.

frost-nixon

David Frost (Michael Sheen) interviews Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) in Ron Howard’s 2008 film “Frost/Nixon.”  Numerous scenes were filmed at the Neighborhood Church as a stand-in for President Nixon’s San Clemente residence.

Why Do They Think They Are Entitled to Put a Cell Tower Here of all Places?

As we mentioned earlier, Palos Verdes Estates has previously approved eleven cell towers as part of this Crown Castle deployment.  While they were all ugly, most were not ridiculously intrusive as they were away from homes, placed outside of neighborhoods, and not in highly sensitive locations.  Palos Verdes residents have made it very clear that the aesthetics and scenic beauty of our community must come first.

It seems crystal clear that Crown Castle doesn’t care about this.  They have no attachment to our community and see it as nothing more than a business opportunity.  To be blunt, we are their meal ticket.

Their arrogant sense of entitlement led them to think they could place these cell towers wherever they liked with impunity.  In a telling act of hubris, Crown Castle ran new underground fiber optic lines right up to most of these locations before a single cell tower had been announced to the public.

These locations were likely chosen by some engineer with no connection to our community thumbing through Google Earth photos in a distant office.  There was zero effort to engage the community regarding appropriate cell tower locations, no concern whatsoever for local sensitivities and traditions.  In fact, the opposite happened with misleading documentation, fishy engineering analysis, and poor public notification all seemingly intended to keep folks in the dark.  There is a pattern here.

Crown Castle wants communities to think they have no say in a cell tower’s location.  Crown Castle’s entire business model rests on the false and manipulative illusion that they are entitled to place these eyesores wherever they like.  It’s blatantly untrue as shown by Sprint vs Palos Verdes Estates (2009), Crown Castle vs. Calabasas (2014), and T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco (2016), all landmark decisions regarding cell towers in the Right of Way that the wireless industry lost.  Crown Castle knows it too, as their lawyer for the upcoming Neighborhood Church appeal was also the losing legal counsel in two of these decisions.  Small world, isn’t it?

It’s critically important The Palos Verdes Estates City Council uphold the Planning Commission’s justifiable denial of this cell tower.  The Planning Commission consists of honorable and diligent individuals who denied this highly intrusive cell tower after a fair, extensive, and thorough evaluation.  Second guessing their decision would do great harm our community.

The outcome of this appeal will determine who controls the aesthetics of our community, our local city officials or a multi-billion dollar, out-of-state corporation.  It seems like a no brainer to us.

(Editor’s note: We have no affiliation with the Neighborhood Church but greatly respect its historic status and appreciate its unwavering commitment to our community.)

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Crown Castle’s Coverage Map Games

This post gets into technical details regarding existing AT&T coverage in Rancho Palos Verdes.  In it we show that a recently submitted Crown Castle coverage map has a 30 dB discrepancy (that’s off by 1000 times as decibels are logarithmic) that misleadingly depicts existing coverage being much worse than it actually is.  This continues a very troubling pattern in Crown Castle’s submissions.  We’ve tried to make the technical aspects readable to the layman and put the legal implications in context.

 The Importance of Propagation Maps

Rancho Palos Verdes’ comprehensive wireless facility ordinance requires applicants provide propagation maps depicting existing, proposed, and combined/existing proposed wireless service.  Propagation maps are sophisticated computer simulations that depict signal levels and cell tower coverage over a wide geographic area.  They are an industry-standard tool used to assess wireless service coverage.

att_palos_verdes_propagation_map

AT&T propagation map example, submitted to the City of Palos Verdes Estates in October 2015.  Note continuous coverage levels shown over a wide area.  (As an aside, this map was found to have significant errors as it omitted coverage from numerous existing cell towers.  This has been a common and continuing problem with Crown Castle submissions.)

Cities require propagation maps for good reason.  Proposed cell towers are often highly intrusive as the industry wants cheap sites, usually resulting in “cookie cutter” designs in highly prominent locations.  Fortunately, states allow municipal regulation of cell towers, including those in the public right of way.  In our state this power derives from the California Constitution which reserves for municipalities vested police powers to regulate these sites (see this post regarding  T-Mobile et al vs San Francisco, 2016).

Often highly intrusive cell towers are proposed for speculative reasons or to give a wireless carrier a competitive advantage.  Based on all we’ve documented that certainly seems to be the case for much of Crown Castle’s Palos Verdes deployment.  Cities are under no obligation to approve such sites.  Under federal law, municipalities may deny a cell tower if it is not required to close a “significant gap” in service OR if the cell tower proposed (i.e. design/location) is not the “least intrusive means” of doing so.  Cities protect themselves by requiring propagation maps proving the site is truly needed.

The cell towers installers don’t want municipalities challenging their proposed cell towers.  Any challenge can result in delays, increased costs, and could ultimately result in denial of the proposed cell site.  They like the good old days, such as back when Rancho Palos Verdes used to rubber-stamp these cell towers.  Our post on the proliferation of ugly towers in RPV (here) shows what happens without a strongly enforced ordinance.  The propagation map requirement was one of many long-needed reforms implemented to get this problem under control.

Coverage map games

Enter the coverage map games.  If the cell tower installers can create the impression that a significant gap exists (i.e. existing coverage is terrible) then cities will likely think they have no choice but to approve the site.  RF Engineering expertise isn’t commonplace, and few cities have the experience to challenge such claims so they usually go unquestioned.  Fortunately, we have both the experience and the required test equipment to scrutinize what we’re being told.  We documented multiple Crown Castle coverage map discrepancies in an earlier post here, and in every case the errors we found understated the actual existing coverage.  As we’ve seen over and over, Crown Castle’s “errors” almost always seem to be in their favor.  It certainly doesn’t seem random.

It looks like Crown Castle’s string of “lucky” errors continues, as their recent submittals have brought us a new gem.  This is for site ASG53, proposed for the corner or Granvia Altimira and Monero right next to the Palos Verdes Estates city line.  We’ve seen this site before and it’s always been questionable as it’s only 800 feet away from an existing AT&T “macro” high power cell tower.  Here’s the existing coverage map they submitted.

crown_castle_asg53_alleged_significant_gap

Crown Castle coverage map submitted to Rancho Palos Verdes depicting an alleged “significant gap” in coverage.  Map is a public record.  Note it looks nothing like the Palos Verdes Estates propagation map shown above.

Right off the bat, it’s got lots of problems:

  • It’s not a propagation map as required by RPV’s ordinance but a series of Crown Castle field measurements known as a “drive map”. This is an unacceptable substitute for authentic AT&T propagation maps like the Palos Verdes Estates submission shown at the top of the post.
  • It doesn’t show the frequency at which it was measured. AT&T operates on four frequency bands in our area, which one is it?  (BTW, we know what it is from our measurements, why won’t Crown Castle say?  In October we exposed a coverage map in Palos Verdes Estates that was deceptively marked with the wrong frequency.  The apparent lesson Crown Castle learned is to not list it at all.)
  • It only shows one frequency band. Coverage is the aggregate of all four of AT&T’s operational frequency bands, not some single cherry-picked worst case band
  • It only shows LTE/4G (Long Term Evolution) coverage. AT&T also operates UMTS/HPSA service in our area it markets as “4G” that supplements LTE coverage.  It’s completely omitted.

In short, it’s a misleading and cherry-picked depiction of coverage intended to convey worse coverage than actually exists.  Unfortunately, that’s just the start of it.  It looks as if the data submitted may have been altered from the actual measurements.

 The 30 dB Discrepancy

In addition to submitting the ASG53 site (Granvia Altimira and Monero), Crown Castle also recently submitted a neighboring site at Highridge and Peacock Ridge (ASG15).  Due to their proximity, the submitted drive maps have a significant overlap.  These areas should show identical coverage, but they don’t, the coverage is substantially different.

crown_castle_asg15_asg53_comparison

Top: Drive map allegedly depicting existing coverage submitted with ASG15.  Bottom: Drive map allegedly depicting existing coverage submitted with AG53.  Maps resized to common scaling, red box added to show common area.  ASG15 original available here, ASG53 original available here.

In order to allow a clear comparison between the two, we’ve shown just the common areas between the two maps here.  Note how the signal levels are much lower in the bottom plot.

crown_castle_asg15_asg53_common_area

Top: Common area from ASG15 drive map.  Bottom: Common area from ASG53 drive map.  Scale submitted with drive maps shown on right (poor quality resolution was how scale was submitted.) Note dramatically lower coverage levels in ASG53 (bottom plot) despite supposedly representing the same existing coverage.

So let’s compare the two maps allegedly depicting existing service in the same area.  Remember these are negative numbers so as an example, -85 dBm is a lower signal level than -65 dBm.

  • Areas that are dark green (> -65 dBm) in the top map are either light green (-65 to -75 dBm) or yellow (-75 to -85 dBm) or red (-85 to -95 dBm) in the bottom map
  • Areas that are light green (-65 to -75 dBm) in the top map are generally blue (-95 to -105 dBm) in the bottom map
  • Areas that are yellow (-75 to -85 dBm) in the top map are generally black (<-105 dBm) in the bottom map
  • Areas that are red (-85 to -95 dBm) in the top map are black (<-105 dBm) in the bottom map
  • Areas that are blue (-95 to -105 dBm) in the top map are black (<-105 dBm) in the bottom map

It seems pretty clear the two plots shows comparable distributions (higher in the same areas, lower in the same areas) but that the signal levels shown in the bottom plot are shifted approximately 30 dB lower than in the top plot.  This is a huge discrepancy that can’t be dismissed by some hand-waving excuse.  These values are expressed in decibels and are logarithmic, every 10 dB is ten times lower.  So 30 dB equals 1000 times lower (10 x 10 x 10).  It’s not like they forgot to carry the one or something trivial.

Which is Right and How Did This Happen?

So which map is right?  Based on our field measurements we think the bottom map (ASG53) understates LTE coverage on this band by 30 dB and the top map is accurate for this band.  That doesn’t mean the top map accurately represents service as it’s still a cherry-picked single frequency when there are actually four active bands.

As to how this happened, we don’t know but we certainly aren’t surprised based on what we’ve seen from Crown Castle to date.  We do note that if the ASG53 map showed what we believe are the correct levels (i.e. 30 dB higher) it would be very difficult to justify this new cell tower.  The reason is that the proposed Granvia Altimira and Monero location is only 800 feet from an existing AT&T macro cell tower (shown as a big blue dot on the maps.)  It’s just another one of the coincidental “errors” that happens to help Crown Castle, we suppose.

One last note, Crown Castle has stated during  Palos Verdes Estates Planning Commission hearings that they used a third party to collect these drive drive map measurements.  They even had a speaker from that company address the Commission, the clear implication being that the maps were independent and therefore trustworthy.  We spoke to these guys when they were recently conducting measurements in our neighborhood.  We specifically asked them if they made the maps.  We were told no, they give the raw data to Crown Castle and they generate the maps.  Make of that what you will.

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Sixteen New Verizon Cell Towers in RPV

It seems that Crown Castle has big plans for our community whether we like it or not.  We’ve discussed in detail the nearly 80 AT&T cell towers Crown Castle is trying to muscle into Palos Verdes neighborhoods.  We’ve now found out they are planning at least 16 new Verizon cell towers in Rancho Palos Verdes (that we know of so far).  As with their highly intrusive AT&T deployment, many are again proposed for residential neighborhoods without regard for community aesthetics or property values.  It looks like we are going to be busy going forward.

A Surprise in the AT&T Resubmissions

Crown Castle has started resubmitting the 26 AT&T cell tower applications that were rejected as incomplete earlier this year.  So far six have been resubmitted, and all six have again been rejected as incomplete since the submitted documentation does not meet the requirements of Rancho Palos Verdes’ comprehensive wireless facility ordinance.  We requested and received copies of the documents for review (they are public records).

RPV’s ordinance wisely requires applicants submit a master plan including all proposed sites for the next two years.  Buried within the documentation was a table that surprisingly also included 16 new cell towers for Verizon.  As far as we know, these have never been publicly announced.  It would appear the city has not been formally notified of these as they are not shown on RPV’s extremely comprehensive cell tower webpage.

In typical Crown Castle fashion, the list didn’t include addresses but only GPS coordinates.  We’ve gotten wise to their tricks and know when they obfuscate like this it’s probably not by accident.  It was simple to plug the coordinates into Google maps and figure out what they are up to.  Yet again, Crown Castle didn’t fail to disappoint.  Here’s the result. (Crown Castle’s full list of proposed sites can be found here)

crown-castle-verizon-cell-tower-map

Crown Castle’s proposed Verizon cell towers plotted out.  Despite the site labels, all sites are in Rancho Palos Verdes.  Note that six sites (PV01, PV02, PV04, PV05, PV06, PV07) are missing from the sequential list.  These are likely in Palos Verdes Estates or Rolling Hills Estates and were omitted from this list submitted to Rancho Palos Verdes.

Thirteen Residential Neighborhood Sites

Of the 16 sites, thirteen are located in the heart of residential neighborhoods.  Many of these are also in underground utility districts.  Here’s a few of the offenders:

Verizon Cell Tower PV 03 Location – 30100 block Via Rivera (West Palos Verdes)

verizon-pv03-cell-tower-location

This is an underground utility district and they appear to have targeted this streetlight based on the GPS coordinates.  It’s right in front of a home with houses directly across the street.  There’s an existing Crown Castle cell tower on a streetlight just 300 feet away.  They’ve also submitted an application for an AT&T cell tower for a streetlight just 9 houses down the street.  Talk about chutzpah!

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Crown Castle’s End Game

The Palos Verdes Estates Planning Commission denied another residential neighborhood cell tower at the November 15th Planning Commission hearing.  This is the second residential neighborhood site the PC has denied, both on unanimous votes.  We could not be prouder of the Commission.

Unlike the city’s advisors, the Commissioners live in our community and will be stuck with these highly intrusive cell towers.  Critically, they no longer believe claims that they must accept these sites.

crown-castle-residential-cell-tower

A tranquil residential neighborhood in Palos Verdes Estates (Chelsea and Yarmouth).  The perfect place to put an intrusive cell tower and equipment cabinet according to Crown Castle.  Fortunately, the Planning Commission said no.  Note there is an existing AT&T macro site only 1400 feet away at Lunada Bay Plaza.

It was a long time in coming, some context is warranted.

What Crown Castle is up to

Crown Castle is attempting to place intrusive cell towers in the heart of every neighborhood in Palos Verdes, nearly 80 sites in all.  Despite all their lofty claims of serving the public, their motivation is economic profit.  As we documented here, their sponsoring wireless carrier (AT&T Mobility) wants to sell very expensive wireless data plans in our community.  To do that, they need more extensive infrastructure.  Crown Castle’s role is to browbeat our community into accepting the cheapest possible deployment that gives AT&T a competitive advantage.

palos-verdes-crown-castle-80-cell-towers

Crown Castle’s plan to put 80 cell towers across the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  Most are located within residential neighborhoods.  Note the close proximity, some sites are only 500 feet apart.

Why Palos Verdes?  To quote Willie Sutton when asked why he robbed banks, “because that’s where the money is”.  Crown Castle isn’t placing these in every neighborhood in Carson, Wilmington, Gardena, or other less affluent communities.  Make no mistake, we’ve been targeted and selected.  AT&T Mobility has staked out Palos Verdes as their turf, Crown Castle is the hired muscle, and we are supposed to roll over and welcome these highly intrusive installations into our neighborhoods. This is the 5G future they insist, there is no stopping it, and we have no choice but to accept it.

No one bothered to ask residents what they thought about all this.  They sorely misjudged our understanding of the law, our technical knowledge, and our resolve.  Not to mention we don’t give a damn about Crown Castle’s profitability, promises they’ve made to AT&T, or their highly questionable business model.  We care about our community.

Crown Castle has trotted out every trick in the book to convince Palos Verdes cities that they had no choice but to approve these sites.  Fortunately Crown Castle’s playbook is superficial, once you understand the game plan it’s much easier to fight them.  It’s doesn’t help their cause that virtually every one of their experts and subcontractors looks to be the lowest bidder who seem to have a really hard time keeping their stories straight.  Their book of tricks is a mile wide but only an inch deep.  Once the spell is broken, the illusion of inevitability falls apart.

Palos Verdes Estates now gets this.  Crown Castle’s plan was to carve the Peninsula up into a big grid and plop highly intrusive cell towers into the middle of each square without regard for neighborhood aesthetics or adjacent home values.  They had City staff buffaloed into believing they couldn’t be stopped. The City’s advisor had a long list of things the city supposedly wasn’t allowed to do but was conspicuously quiet regarding Crown Castle’s behavior.  It was strongly implied the city couldn’t deny sites but could only require adjustments to their appearance.

The entire premise of “significant gap” was to be preemptively surrendered despite the fact it protects the city and its residents  (i.e. “significant gap” means a city can deny a cell tower if it is not required to close a significant gap in service.)  If Crown Castle claimed they didn’t have good enough coverage then that was it, they were entitled to a new cell tower.  There would be no challenge of significant gap, end of story.  Or so we were told.  As we’ve now made plainly clear, that isn’t what the law says.

Thank God the Commissioners live in our community and were willing to listen to us rather than following the word of outside advisors.

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Leveling the Field, Holding the Cell Tower Installers Accountable

This blog has had a huge increase in web traffic over the last month and thanks to all who took a look.  Based on metrics we receive, most of the traffic came from outside Palos Verdes likely from civic groups and even municipalities themselves.  It’s clear there is a real demand for knowledge and it’s no surprise to us.  Knowledge is the key to fighting intrusive cell tower installations.

To be blunt, the wireless industry’s business model counts on uniformed residents and intimidated municipal staff.  Few people want a commercial telecommunications facility near their home, let alone in their front yard.  The industry and its sympathizers count on opposition ignorance to maintain the false impression that there is nothing they can do.  Our first-hand experience has been with Crown Castle, a multi-billion dollar cell tower corporation headquartered out of Texas.  By most accounts it is representative of industry behavior.

The key to protecting your city and your neighborhoods is knowledge.  You fight these tactics by exposing and documenting every discrepancy, every false claim, every exaggeration, and every deception.  Trust us, there is no shortage and this is the stuff that influences municipal decision makers and makes or breaks lawsuits.  We’ve included a sampling of our findings in Palos Verdes below and we really doubt things are any different in other communities.

The long list of “discrepancies”

With that preamble, let’s get to the list.  This isn’t meant to be exhaustive but to give those interested a taste of what we’ve found digging into Crown Castle’s submissions, installations, and tactics on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  They can’t demand everyone else follow the rules then completely blow them off themselves.

All of this has been meticulously documented; much of it has been submitted to the corresponding municipality.  The rest is available as needed if things get ugly in the future.  Some of it has been discussed on this blog previously and we’ve provided links in places.  Some we are holding close to the chest.  Whether these discrepancies were intentional is really irrelevant, this stuff is damning even if its cause is just plain old incompetence and carelessness.

Site Drawings and Documentation

  • False photo simulations that show proposed installed equipment much smaller than actuality (link)
  • Prominent equipment and cables missing from photo simulations
  • Distorted, not to scale drawings showing proposed equipment too small (link)
  • Distorted drawings that show the existing infrastructure (e.g streetlights) out of proportion thus making the proposed equipment look smaller by comparison (link)
  • Prominent equipment and cables missing from drawings (link)
  • Contradictory drawings, discrepancies between equipment sizes shown on different pages of submitted plans
  • Site plans missing key required elements such as existing and proposed utility routing and adjacent land use

Site Technical Documentation

  • Changing service metrics resulting in a 20 dB drop in “existing” coverage map levels without a corresponding shift in service target levels (RSSI to RSRP) (link)
  • Different “required” service levels in Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes, PVE is 10 dB higher than RPV without rationale (link)
  • Wildly inconsistent “existing” service coverage maps submitted between Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes despite both showing the same geographic area (link)
  • Missing known AT&T-owned sites in submitted “existing” network facility maps (link)
  • Missing known AT&T-owned site coverage in “existing” service coverage maps
  • An “existing” coverage map submitted as 1900 MHz service that actually depicts 2100 MHz
  • Cherry-picked worst-case coverage maps from a single frequency band (out of four active bands) misleadingly portrayed as representing “existing” coverage
  • Incorrect antenna orientation shown on proposed facility maps
  • Service coverage maps alleged to depict “proposed” coverage modeled with only one of the two site antennas active (link)
  • Wrong antennas used in RF Emission reports thus reporting inaccurate values

Questionable Legal Claims and Behavior

  • False legal claims that new sites fall under “Section 6409” and thus can’t be denied by the city (link)
  • False claims that a 90 day shot clock applies to brand new sites
  • Misleading statements regarding a municipality’s right to regulate these sites under PUC Section 7901
  • Misleading claims regarding the existence of a “significant gap” based on cherry-picked frequency bands and incomplete coverage maps (link)
  • Underground installation mock-ups using unnecessary intrusive ventilation stacks to make the city-preferred option look unappealing (link) (link)
  • Excessively large and 75% empty ground-mounted cabinets claimed as required after Rancho Palos Verdes rejected pole-mounted equipment (link)
  • Excessively large antennas claimed as required in Rancho Palos Verdes despite using antennas one-third the size in Palos Verdes Estates (link)

Site Approval and Community Engagement Tactics

  • Repeatedly failing to provide residents timely notification for public hearings
  • Construction crews misleading residents when queried as to what they were doing (link)
  • Installations and work performed beyond that authorized by the city
  • Permanent installations constructed as the “mock-up”, then leaving it in place for months longer then required when not immediately approved (link)
  • Underground fiber installed throughout the city before a single antenna installation was approved despite city objections and concerns (link)
  • Failure to provide alleged analysis for alternate locations despite promises to do so (link)
  • Failure to involve AT&T in public hearings or resident meetings despite requests to do so

Issues with Existing Installations

  • Installations on utility poles in violation of CPUC General Order 95 Section 94.4 (safety and reliability regulations) (link)
  • Highly intrusive cable routing and extremely poor workmanship on existing sites (link) (link)
  • Amateurish paint jobs using hardware store spray cans resulting in fading, streaks, uneven coverage, and overspray (link)
  • Existing installations that are far more intrusive than depicted in submitted photo simulations (link) (link)
  • Existing installations that don’t match submitted drawings

Why all this matters

Pretty interesting list, huh?  For those of you still wondering why all this matters we recommend you spend a little time reviewing Verizon vs. Fairfax County (E.D. Virginia, 2015) (available here).  Verizon sued the County after it rejected a cell tower installation under its wireless facility ordinance.  It’s a recent case that’s highly relevant as it discusses LTE technology, a cell tower installer middleman, lousy documentation, and unsubstantiated technical claims.  The court found for Fairfax County on all counts and absolutely shredded Verizon on multiple fronts.  Similar to T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco, it was a total wipeout.

The court had some really interesting things to say.  First off, the court openly rejected Verizon’s standing in the case as a cell tower installer middleman was the applicant.  The court also questioned the depth of Verizon’s involvement as virtually all the work was done by the middleman with Verizon seemingly out of the loop.  Does this sound familiar?  It sure ought to.  AT&T has been completely absent from the Palos Verdes cell tower project.

Crown Castle repeatedly makes claims allegedly on AT&T’s behalf, yet AT&T itself has been nowhere to be found in this whole fiasco.  This despite the fact the PVE Planning Commission has now twice requested greater AT&T involvement.  The Commission has requested both an AT&T presence at the hearings and in meetings with residents.  Neither has happened.  We don’t blame AT&T as we wouldn’t want to be directly involved with this debacle either.  Unfortunately for them, the Fairfax County decision shows Crown Castle’s failure to engage AT&T could be really problematic.

Next, the court took Verizon to the woodshed for poor documentation, conflicting claims, and a general making-it-up-as-they-went-along approach.  The court outright rejected Verizon’s “expert” claims regarding location requirements and lack of feasible alternatives as lacking substance.  The court praised the citizen group for their detailed records and documentation, and painted a sharp contrast to Verizon’s behavior.   Déjà vu, anyone?

The court also tackled the issue of minimum LTE signal levels.  Verizon’s expert stated under oath that the required LTE signal level for indoor coverage was -95 dBm RSRP, 20 dB (100 times) lower that Crown Castle’s current claim in Palos Verdes Estates.  Despite this, the court still found there wasn’t a significant gap even at these low levels.  (Side note: We now have an AT&T engineering report from another jurisdiction where AT&T states the minimum LTE signal level is -96 dBm RSRP directly contradicting Crown Castle’s “required” signal claims in Palos Verdes on their behalf.  Stay tuned.)

In short, Verizon went in unprepared with sloppy documentation, arbitrary technical claims, and an argument from authority.  They lost because the County and residents had done their homework.

 

Knowledge is power as they say, and in this case it’s certainly true.  The wireless industry counts on you being uninformed and intimidated.  It doesn’t take much digging to bring down the whole house of cards.

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Our Biggest Week Ever

We had one thousand page views over the last week (1006 to be exact), a new record for this site.  There have been 27 views in the last hour it took to compose this post alone.  Thanks to all who took a look and a special thanks those who took the time to contact us.

The reason for our blog

We started this blog back in May without much fanfare.  Our intent was to document our findings regarding Crown Castle’s proposed AT&T small cell deployment in Palos Verdes, California.  As you can see from this photo simulation, Crown Castle’s “small cells” aren’t all that small, particularly if they want to locate it in your front yard.

neighborhood cell tower

Crown Castle photo simulation of a proposed streetlight cell tower site in a residential neighborhood (Via Rivera) in Rancho Palos Verdes.

As we dug into it, we were truly astonished by the quantity of misleading site documentation, highly questionable technical claims, and false legal claims of entitlement.  Even more surprising to us was that these tactics were seemingly accepted, no one questioned it, this was just how the game was played.  It sort of reminded us of when you take your car to the body shop and the guy asks you if need a a real estimate or one for the insurance company (wink, wink).

We find this behavior highly offensive.  Consider that Crown Castle and the others claim an entitlement to place highly intrusive cell towers in residential neighborhoods right next to people’s homes.  No one wants a commercial telecommunication facility right next to their house.  They are ugly, often noisy, and have a significant negative impact on neighboring home values. Would you buy a home with an obvious cell tower several dozen feet away?  For most families their home is their biggest investment.  Yet these good folks are just supposed to suck it up and accept it so that these companies can hit their return on investment targets.

When it happens people feel helpless and with good reason.  It’s a David vs. Goliath situation, as a multi-billion dollar corporation has invaded their quiet little street allegedly justified by a bunch lofty legalese and technical mumbo-jumbo.  Even worse, the governing municipality whose primary obligation is to serve residents, often responds with “there is nothing we can do about it”.  It’s not true of course, but no one in City Hall wants a lawsuit on their watch. City staff may not be consciously thinking about it, but who would they rather have mad at them; a few residents or a sue-happy corporation?

Regarding the technical issues, well these guys are the experts and if they say it then it must be true, right?  Actually, no.  The level of false technical claims we’ve found and documented is truly staggering.  These “errors” could conceivably result from carelessness and incompetence rather than deception, though they do always seem to be to the cell tower applicant’s advantage.  It certainly doesn’t seem to be random.  If it is, these guys should head to Vegas as they’re on a hot streak.

What we aim to accomplish

We first started this blog after finding there was nothing on the internet like it.  The problems we were finding in Palos Verdes were systemic and we had a hard time believing they were isolated to our community.  Our goals were four-fold:

  • Maintain an accessible repository for relevant information and documentation regarding Crown Castle’s AT&T deployment
  • Inform Palos Verdes residents regarding the discrepancies we’ve uncovered, of our municipal rights to regulate these sites, and what residents can do about it
  • Provide a resource for those in other communities who may be in a similar situation
  • Document discrepancies in the event of future legal action

With regards to the last point, we’ve only put up a sampling of what we’ve found as it’s probably best not to show all one’s cards.  But here’s the thing, if a multi-billion dollar corporation is going to demand an entitlement to place a highly intrusive cell site right next to someone’s home, they better make sure every freaking “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed.  As anyone who follows these cases closely knows, this type of carelessness is the stuff that loses lawsuits.  Instead the submitted documentation is laughable.  Let’s just say the level of “carelessness” we’ve found is truly astounding.

Thanks!

Thanks to all that have visited the site.  We got a bunch of new emails via our contact page this week and are working to get back to everyone.  Please bookmark us and check back regularly as we usually put up new posts once a week or so.

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Meet Crown Castle’s competitor; Mobilitie, LLC

We’ve been very critical of highly questionable tactics on Crown Castle’s part.  As a quick reminder we’ve covered numerous troubling aspects of Crown Castle’s cell tower deployment in Palos Verdes:

  • Misleading photo simulations (here) and “not to scale” drawings (here) that show equipment smaller than actuality, and are missing important components entirely
  • Highly questionable technical claims regarding existing coverage and an alleged “significant gap” (here)
  • False legal claims regarding our cities’ rights to regulate these cell towers (here)

Plus various other sundry topics, just keep scrolling down the blog for more.

It turns out that while Crown Castle (and its former entities NextG and Newpath Networks) may have written the book on questionable tactics, they certainly aren’t alone in practicing them.

Introducing Mobilitie

Mobilitie, LLC is a cell tower outfit out of Newport Beach that makes Crown Castle look like pikers.  They want to place thousands of cell towers in the right of way for Sprint and they are coming our way.  We recently found out they are trying to establish themselves on the peninsula, all South Bay cities need to be on guard.

Sprint is dealing with cash-flow issues and has dramatically scaled back their planned network expenditures over the last few years.  Despite what the guy on TV says, network quality has suffered.  Sprint saw Mobilitie as their savior, able to roll out thousands of cheap, quick, dirty, and most important, rent-free cell towers in the public right of way. In addition, Sprint further plans to save money by connecting the cell towers using a master tower with microwave links rather than running fiber optic lines between them.

However, that plan would only work provided municipalities were willing to go along with it (or alternatively, thought they had no choice in the matter).  Note also that these master “backhaul” towers are typically 120 feet tall in order to ensure they have line of site connection to the smaller towers that directly serve the consumer.  Certainly not aesthetically pleasing or in-character with most neighborhoods.

mobilitie-120-foot-utilty-pole

Example of a proposed microwave backhaul tower.  Note the ridiculous “utility pole” designation. This monster tower would communicate with smaller towers thus being cheaper than running fiber optic lines between sites.  Also note the residential neighborhood character for this proposed example.

Mobilitie (not to be confused with the wireless carrier ATT Mobility) has multiple alter egos.  They’ve been doing business as (dba) the “California Utility Pole Authority” in our state and numerous other monikers across the US.  There’s an interesting post here on their recent incarnation as the “Pole & Fiber Network Authority” in Maine.  These guys seem to have an “authority” obsession, despite the fact they have no authority.  They are a private company with no connection whatsoever to any government agency.

We won’t comment on the motives behind the alter egos but will say that we are grateful that multiple knowledgeable individuals quickly spread the word as to who exactly these guys were and what was going on.

The Minnesota Smackdown

Mobilitie doesn’t like being criticized.  So instead of us describing their tactics, we’ll let the Minnesota Department of Commerce do it.  This department actually does have “authority”.  It seems the good folks of Minnesota don’t appreciate slick Southern Californians telling them what they are “allowed” to do under Minnesota law.

minnesota-flag

minnesota-mobilitie-smackdown

You can find a full size PDF of the document here.

What a great letter, we only wish California’s regulatory agencies were as proactive in protecting our cities from the wireless industry’s misleading claims of entitlement.  In that absence, we are extremely grateful that San Francisco took the lead in aggressively defending municipal rights in T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco (2016).  It’s a shame it also took the California Court of Appeals to set the record straight.

Our favorite quote from the Minnesota letter:

The Department requests that Mobilitie cease from asserting that PUC (Ed: Public Utility Commission) authority has exempted it from the regulatory requirements of local government units.  If such communications continue, the Department will pursue whatever remedies it may have available under Minnesota law.

 LOL, gotta love it.

What this means for Palos Verdes

As far as we know, Mobilitie has only made overtures on the peninsula so there’s likely no direct impact yet.  That being said, the Minnesota smackdown letter mentions tactics reminiscent of Crown Castle’s claims in Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes.

We’ve documented how Crown Castle claimed federal law (known as section 6409) applied to their proposed cell towers, and that because of that, the City couldn’t deny them.  As we made clear in our post (here), those claims were blatantly untrue.  Crown Castle has also repeatedly claimed the California Public Utility Code Section 7901 limits municipal power to regulate their cell towers in the right of way.  T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco utterly obliterated that claim.

Residents and municipalities need to question California’s regulatory agencies why they aren’t taking a more proactive stance against these tactics.  Until that happens, California cities need to aggressively challenge every claim made by any of these guys.

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