SB649 Veto, Cell Tower Denials, and the Path Forward

We had quite a week on the cell tower front.  In a huge and stunning victory, Governor Brown vetoed SB649 which would have significantly hindered municipal ability to regulate cell tower design and placement in California.  This was surprising to many and I’m sure the wireless industry is in a state of shock as they have continuously portrayed this legislation as a “done deal”.  So much so, that some were advocating that cities give them want they want now as they would be entitled to it come January 1st (SB649’s effective date).

Thanks to all who contacted the governor and the great work done by California Cities, SCAN NATOA, and other municipal organizations in making our voice heard. The wireless industry will be back, but for now they are licking their wounds.  Savor it while we can.

Governor Brown’s veto message can be found here.  The fact that is was released at the last minute on the last day (literally 11:59 PM on the October 15th deadline) must have driven the wireless industry crazy.  The governor’s rather bland veto message speaks of a need to better “balance” wireless needs with municipal concerns.  Pretty sweet.

Denial of a Residential Neighborhood Cell Tower

Closer to home, the Rancho Palos Verdes Planning Commission denied an intrusive cell tower on a residential cul-de-sac on a 5-0 vote. Crown Castle’s own data showed the site would only serve 29 AT&T customers.

Crown_Castle_ATT_Seaglen_coverage

Crown Castle’s proposed coverage map (blue box) only included 32 homes, the grey shapes shown on the map.  This equates to only 29 AT&T subscribers (32 homes @ 2.6 residents per home times 35% ATT market share).  Such an intrusive site could not be justified for such minuscule coverage, particularly since AT&T service is already sufficient in the neighborhood.

There was great turnout from both the neighborhood and the community at large requesting denial of this cell tower. The highly intrusive aesthetics of this cell tower just couldn’t be justified, and the Commission determined it did not warrant an exception to RPV’s local (residential) street location restrictions. Thanks to all who attended and a particular thanks to those who spoke at the hearing.

The Misleading Photo Simulation Gambit Returns

We saw the reemergence of another old favorite with the misleading photo simulation trick again rearing its ugly head.  We’ve written on this extensively before (link) but it had seemed to improve with recent submissions.  Unfortunately, it’s back with a vengeance and the decision authorities in Palos Verdes need to be educated about this tactic.

Take a look below at the photo simulation submitted versus that of the required mock-up below.  Yet again, we are seeing the antennas shown as far more compact and streamlined rather than the actual bulky boxes that they are.  (Note that the antenna size is accurately shown on the mock-up for comparison).

Crown Castle photo sim error

Comparison of the antenna depiction in the photo simulation (left) to the actual antenna size in the required site mock-up (right).  This has been a consistent problem with Crown Castle’s submissions.  In virtually every case, “errors” in their photo simulations understate the size and intrusiveness of the proposed cell tower.

Back when RPV passed it’s comprehensive wireless ordinance, Crown Castle vehemently complained about the mock-up requirement claiming it was excessive and that photo simulations should be sufficient.  One of RPV’s Council members chastised the Crown Castle lawyer in a public hearing stating that the mock-ups were required based on a demonstrated history of misleading photo simulation submissions.  The wisdom of that requirement has now been proven, and it seems Crown Castle has not learned from it’s past mistakes.

The Wireless Industry’s Business as Usual Days in Palos Verdes are Over

The cell tower companies need to be sent a strong message that our neighborhoods aren’t open to colonization for their highly intrusive money makers. We must force the wireless industry from the start to choose minimally intrusive locations and aesthetically acceptable cell tower designs. Instead what we’ve gotten is cheap and shoddy sites in intrusive locations, no doubt selected to minimize costs with no regard whatsoever for our community.

The string of denials in both Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes should make clear that the wireless industry’s “business as usual” days in our community are over.  We will fight tooth and nail against any highly intrusive design or location unless it has been clearly demonstrated there is a compelling need and no feasible less intrusive alternative.  Hopefully they are learning a lesson.

Also, we sincerely hope other communities take what we’ve learned to heart.  These guys come in with a bunch of cherry-picked legal citations, out of context entitlement claims, and technical mumbo-jumbo all designed to intimidated municipal Staff and city decision makers.  They count on Staff’s ignorance regarding the actual law with respect to municipal rights and land use authority.  These guys can be fought off but it takes knowledge and a willingness to question and check-out everything they tell you.  Their business model is based on establishing an aura of inevitability, once that is broken down they really don’t know how to react other than with almost comedic bluster.  It’s not very persuasive.

bluster

How not to win friends and influence people

In addition, we are closely watching to ensure any approved site is installed in accordance with the approval conditions, consistent with submitted drawings, and in compliance with building and electrical codes. Approved sites have just started installation on the peninsula and we’ve already flagged serious violations including the installation of an extra utility pole, California electric code violations, and incredibly shoddy workmanship including highly visible cable “rat’s nests” in brand new installations. If Crown Castle continues to let their subcontractor run amuck, then we will insist our City’s code enforcement hold them accountable.  These sites must be red-tagged and power locked out until all violations are corrected.  Again, business as usual for these guys in our community is over.

The Path Forward

This doesn’t mean a prohibition on new cell towers as we recognize better connectivity is desirable for our community. What it does mean is future deployments must be planned our on our terms from the start, not what is quick, cheap, and easy for the cell tower installers. We’ll be working with the peninsula cities to implement a roadmap stressing the following points:

  • Preferred siting zones – These would be commercial and institutional areas, and arterial street locations away from homes. These must be the first choice with residential locations only considered if there is no alternative and there is a clearly demonstrated service need (i.e. a “significant gap”). The cell tower installers need to know from the start that if they try to ram through an intrusive residential neighborhood cell tower to serve 29 people (like they attempted with the site described above), it will almost certainly be denied and result in a huge waste of time, effort, and money.
  • Site designs – In locations where cell towers are preferred, the sites must be minimally observable and no louder than the ambient environment. This means sleek integrated antenna designs into the pole structure itself, not just a bunch of obvious boxy antennas strapped to a pole. It also means underground equipment vaults with no above ground ventilation stacks, and engineered sound minimization/baffling techniques incorporated into the site. Last off, this means completely hidden cable routing and high workmanship standards. Crown Castle (and the rest) may not care what their cell towers look like but we do as we’ll be stuck with them.  No more cheap garbage thrown up haphazardly in our community.
  • Collocation requirements – The days of having four separate cell towers right next to each other for the four major carriers must end. Take a look at the situation shown in the photo below right in front of Saint John Fisher Church for a glaring example of this. We must force the cell tower installers to collocate not only on the same pole but to share equipment to minimize the installation size. They’ve got a million reasons why this is “infeasible” but it’s simply not true. This type of neutral host installation is done all the time in venues like sporting arenas, there is no reason why it can’t be done here.

hall of shame9

Three cell towers in a row in front of a beautiful new church.  There is actually a another (fourth) cell tower just to the right of this photo.

  • Strict residential neighborhood siting criteria – In the unlikely event the cell tower company unequivocally demonstrates there is no alternative to a residential neighborhood site (no feasible alternative location and a demonstrated need) then we must have very strict siting and design criteria. In short, if the installation is out of place in the neighborhood or can be recognized as a cell tower then it is unacceptable. Full stop, end of story, no exceptions. A cell tower next to a home will significantly lower its value as fewer people will be willing to buy the home. We must protect our neighborhoods, it is unacceptable that our community’s families take a huge financial hit just so a predatory company like Crown Castle can increase their revenue.

Palos Verdes has been targeted as a speculative venture by Crown Castle and the others due to our income demographics. We are a very attractive business opportunity for them. They aren’t trying to put these sites on every corner in lower income neighborhoods due to the poor return on investment.  Knowing we probably wouldn’t like it, they’ve attempted to bully their way into our neighborhoods with out of context legal claims, cherry-picked technical data, and ominous sounding threats. We’ve been able to fight them off for many sites but there is a huge amount of money at stake and they won’t relent unless we stand together. We’ve had a great week with the veto of SB649 and recent cell tower denials but we need to stay vigilant.

 

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RPV Denies Two More Intrusive Residential Cell Towers

The Rancho Palos Verdes Planning Commission denied two new residential neighborhood cell towers in last night’s public hearings. Both sites (Camino Porvenir and Scotwood Drive) were highly intrusive and right in front of homes.

Camino Porvenir Cell Tower

Photo Simulation of Cell Tower ASG09 (Camino Porvenir) denied at last night’s public hearing

We are the product

The question we’ve been asked over and over is why Crown Castle (a cell tower company) would propose highly intrusive cell towers right next to people’s homes and so anger their customers. It’s a reasonable question but it’s based on a fundamental misconception. We aren’t Crown Castle’s customer, AT&T is their customer. What we are is their product.

Crown Castle is selling AT&T access to an affluent potential customer base (that is you and me).  We’re the shiny prize the wireless companies intend to sign up to very expensive long-term contracts.

Due to Palos Verdes’ demographics, our residents have a much higher disposable income than most communities.  AT&T (and the others) look at that and salivate. They think they are going to make a pile of money in the future selling us expensive “all in one” 5G data plans. Phones, tablets, automobiles, video streaming, “smart” appliances, and the like all connected under one integrated wireless data plan.

(As those pushing this “internet of things” vision keep telling us, it’s critically important that our refrigerator log onto the internet. They never explain why though.)

These data plans won’t be cheap, which is why we’re seeing demands to place these cell towers in nearly every Palos Verdes neighborhood while nearby less affluent communities such as Carson and Gardena are being ignored.

We are the product; and a very attractive product due to our income demographics. A neighborhood cell tower in Palos Verdes will have a much higher return on investment than in Carson (as an example).  The cheaper they can install it, the better still for them.

Most of us get by just fine with in-home wired internet (cable, DSL) and a wi-fi router.  It’s relatively inexpensive and gets the job done.  Why then would people switch over to a costly wireless data plan that will likely be on the order of three times more expensive?

Many people won’t, but some will due to the convenience of having all their connectivity in one account.  With our high disposable income, it’s much more likely to happen in Palos Verdes than less affluent communities.  This rollout appears intended to give AT&T a competitive advantage in a potentially very lucrative market.  We are the product, and Crown Castle has trotted out some pretty interesting legal interpretations that give the impression the City has no choice but to go along with it.

In our opinion, that’s why Crown Castle is demanding to place these in our Palos Verdes neighborhoods. It’s looks to us like a highly speculative business plan to corner the wireless infrastructure market in affluent communities. This same saga is playing out across the country in communities with demographics just like ours.

 

Crown Castle Isn’t Entitled to Do This

Unfortunately for Crown Castle, they aren’t entitled to intrusive, speculative deployments under either federal or state law.  Their legal bluster notwithstanding, they don’t have some unlimited right to place these eyesores right outside someone’s living room window.

If a proposed cell tower violates our city’s aesthetic requirements (appearance or location), the City can deny it under state law. Unless a cell tower is required to fill a “significant gap” in service and it is the “least intrusive means” of doing so, the City can deny the site under federal law.

Crown Castle has twisted itself into a pretzel claiming these standards apply and the City must approve these proposed cell towers. Fortunately, RPV has a strong wireless ordinance and the Planning Commission appears highly skeptical of what they are being told. Further, Crown Castle’s lawyers intimating legal threats during public comments hasn’t helped.

 

Who Controls Cell Tower Placement Going Forward?

Ultimately, this boils down to who will control the design and placement of cell towers in our community going forward, the people of Palos Verdes or the wireless industry.         We’ve seen what the wireless industry has planned and it hasn’t been pretty. It will only get worse unless the City takes a strong stand defending community aesthetics, neighborhood character, and our property values.

We can improve cell coverage in Palos Verdes without sacrificing community aesthetics.  That however, will cost these cell tower companies more money and they will only do so if it’s clear what they are currently proposing is unacceptable.

 

RPV Denies an Intrusive Cell Tower, New Ugly Sites Coming up August 30th

Last Tuesday we had our first Rancho Palos Verdes Planning Commission decisions under our new wireless facility ordinance.  The Commission did approve a relatively unobtrusive site on Los Verdes Drive near the golf course.

The Commission also denied a site in the Monaco neighborhood (Chartres Drive) on aesthetic grounds as Crown Castle proposed a 2 foot wide by 3.5 foot tall canister antenna atop a city street sign.  The Commission found its size and intrusiveness was not appropriate for a residential street (see the photo simulation below).  Note that the Planning Commission denied this site despite the fact staff recommended approval.  Crown Castle will likely appeal this to the City Council, we’ll keep you updated.

Monaco_Chartres

 

New Residential Cell Tower Hearings

There are three new residential neighborhood facilities scheduled for hearings:

When: Wednesday August 30th starting at 6 PM

Where: Hesse Park Community Room (29301 Hawthorne Blvd)  

Please note both the non-standard date and starting time to ensure those interested don’t miss the hearings.

ASG NO. 08: Across 30505 Calle de Suenos Drive

This is a residential neighborhood site and staff is recommending continuance (at Crown Castle’s request) until October 24, 2017 to address community concerns.  The hearing will not be opened to public comments unless the public specifically requests time to speak.  The staff report can be found here:

http://rpv.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=5&event_id=1051&meta_id=44982

ASG NO. 09: 30452 Camino Porvenir

This is residential site that incorporates a large antenna atop on existing streetlight pole.  This location is directly in front of homes on both sides of the street.  The antenna canister is large and prominent as can be seen in the photo simulation below.

Note that staff is recommending approval of this site despite its intrusive location, the fact that residential street locations require an exception as they violate our ordinance, and despite the Commission denying virtually the same antenna design last week on the Chartres Drive site.

In our opinion, this is completely unacceptable for residential neighborhoods as it will seriously degrade aesthetics and negatively affect property values of the adjacent homes.  To have such an intrusive site approved, Crown Castle must demonstrate the site is absolutely required and there is no feasible less intrusive alternative.  They have done nothing of the sort.  If you object to this site, it is imperative you attend the hearing and make your voice heard.

Camino Porvenir Cell Tower

We think it looks ridiculous.  We wouldn’t be surprised if Crown Castle next proposes a giant bouquet of flowers sticking out of the top to make it more “aesthetically pleasing”.  Why not?  It looks like a giant flower pot to us, or maybe a giant ice cream cone.  Either way, it’s clearly out of place and unacceptable.  We can pretty much guarantee Crown Castle’s corporate officers don’t have one of these monstrosities sitting outside their home’s front door.

The staff report can be found here:

http://rpv.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=5&event_id=1051&meta_id=44969

ASG NO. 32: Scotwood Drive adjacent to 29504 Whitley Collins Drive

This is another residential neighborhood site with the same flaws as that on Camino Porvenir in that it proposes an ugly and highly intrusive antenna that is out of place in the neighborhood.  While the location is arguably not as bad, the design is still unacceptable.  Again, staff is recommending approval of this site; residents that object or have concerns must attend the hearing and speak during public comments.

Scottwood Cell Tower

The staff report can be found here:

http://rpv.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=5&event_id=1051&meta_id=44978

We have real concerns that staff continues to recommend approval for sites that violate the residential street restrictions of our wireless ordinance.  If Crown Castle wants to place these sites in our neighborhoods next to our homes, they must develop designs that are all but unnoticeable.  Our ordinance isn’t meant as a starting place for negotiations but as the law.

Crown Castle is not entitled to invade our neighborhoods with these eyesores.  Any proposed designs must match existing infrastructure, what they are proposing looks ridiculous and is highly intrusive.  Our neighborhoods deserve much better.

 

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Cell Tower Update: First Public Hearings in RPV start July 25th

Things had been relatively quiet on the cell tower front in Palos Verdes but all that changed about a month ago.  Here we go folks, things are going to get exciting…

As you may have heard, Crown Castle’s AT&T cell towers will soon start public hearings in Rancho Palos Verdes. This will be the first time these sites have had public hearings in RPV as previously they were approved by City Hall without hearings. These hearings are now required under the RPV municipal code as a way to ensure transparency and public involvement in the approval process.

Crown Castle is still proposing the overwhelming majority of these sites in residential neighborhoods despite these locations violating section 12.18.200 of the RPV code. Perhaps you’ve seen the mock-ups in your neighborhood. Every one of these sites violates at least one aspect of RPV’s wireless ordinance and will require an exception to be approved.  Despite this, Crown Castle insisted on going forward with these site designs  and locations to public hearings.  They really don’t care about our community.  They are however, pretty sure they are going to make a pile of money here.

ASG33_6800_Chartres_phot_sim

Photo simulation of a proposed residential neighborhood site on Chartres Drive In Rancho Palos Verdes.  The site violates multiple aspects of the RPV municipal code and will require numerous exemptions for approval.  

The first two sites will be heard by the Planning Commission on Tuesday July 25th starting at 7 PM at the Hesse Park Community room. Anyone can address the Commission either during non-agenda public comments (for sites that aren’t on that night’s agenda) or during the hearing itself for sites being heard that night.

Two sites are slated for hearings:

  • ASG 10: Los Verdes Drive west of Avenida Classica: This installation proposes to replace an existing streetlight with a new streetlight hosting two antenna panels.        It also includes a large above ground equipment cabinet. This location is a local street situated between apartments to the east and the golf course to the west
  • ASG 33: Across from 6480 Chartres Drive: This installation proposes a new 14 foot pole with antennas where no pole currently exists. It also includes a large above ground equipment cabinet. The location is a residential neighborhood with five homes in close proximity, one home is only about 30 feet away.

This hearing will set the tone for future hearings so please try to attend if you have an interest in this issue. Anyone can speak, even if it’s not in your neighborhood.

Please keep in mind that under federal law, the City cannot deny these sites based on health concerns regarding RF emissions.  The Commissioners will have to disregard comments regarding health effects and can’t use it when making their decision.  Time is better spent on other issues.

The Commission can consider aesthetic impact, neighborhood compatibility, impact on home values, and noise levels from the equipment.

By the way, these sites can be quite noisy as they include two large cooling fans that run 24/7. There is an identical equipment cabinet already installed on the east side of Crenshaw south of Crest next to St. John Fisher Church. You can stop by and hear for yourself just how loud these will be if your neighborhood is planned for one of these sites. Also, the fans get louder as the temperature increases as they run faster.

installed_cabinet

Look for the cabinet on the lower right in front of Saint John Fisher on Crenshaw.  Stop by and listen to it on a hot day, it is LOUD.  This is the exact same installation Crown Castle wants to install in our quiet residential neighborhoods.  

We’ll keep this site updated with future hearing dates as they become available.

 

New and Improved Website Address!

With the recent spike in site traffic, we went ahead and took the plunge.  This site can now be reached by simply typing:

nouglytowers.com

We’ve also added the site address to the upper right hand corner of the website banner to help make it easy to remember.

Our original website address (nouglytowers.wordpress.com) will still work just fine so existing bookmarks or links to pages will still get you here.  Thanks for visiting!

The purpose of this site

Featured

(This post is pinned to the top of the page, please see below for new articles.)

We are not against cell towers in general and like everyone else, we would like better wireless coverage in Palos Verdes.  We are against ugly, highly intrusive cell towers planted in the heart of every neighborhood in our community.  We will not tolerate the cheap, quick, and dirty “solutions” the cell tower installers have gotten away with in the past.  No more unsightly tower designs, poor workmanship, or invasive residential locations.   This is our community, we insist they respect it.

No More Ugly Cell Towers

First lets get one thing clear.  We are not against cell towers in general and like everyone else, we want better cell coverage on the Hill.

We are against ugly, highly intrusive cell towers planted in the heart of every neighborhood on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  That is what is planned, and we need your help to stop it.

Crown Castle International is a multi-billion dollar cell tower corporation based in Houston, Texas.  Crown Castle is in the midst of placing 80 cell towers throughout the Peninsula for ATT.  Most are targeted for residential neighborhoods.  Rancho Palos Verdes gets 35,  Palos Verdes Estates gets 24, Rolling Hills gets 8, and Rolling Hills Estates 5.  The remaining 8 are on the edge of PV in Torrance, San Pedro, and Lomita.

Crown Castle and other tower companies have an interesting business model.  They got themselves declared a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC) in the state of California.  CLECS are telephone companies that have rights to install infrastructure (telephone poles, cables, etc.) within the City-owned Right of Way.  These companies quickly figured out they could use this power to force cities into accepting highly intrusive cell towers in the Right of Way, even if the city was perfectly happy with existing coverage.  These towers are cash cows for Crown Castle, as ATT and other wireless carriers pay rent to use them.  The more towers, the more rent, pretty simple.  Cities that didn’t willingly go along with this scheme often found themselves on the wrong end of a lawsuit.

Palos Verdes Estates was served with such a lawsuit by Sprint when PVE decided it didn’t want these monstrosities within its picturesque neighborhoods.   But a funny thing happened.  In 2009, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that PVE was was perfectly within its right to deny these sites on aesthetic grounds under state law.  It was a landmark victory and a huge setback for an arrogant wireless industry that had grown accustomed to pushing cities around.   All California cities now had the right to deny highly intrusive sites wireless sites within the Right of Way.  Many cities have aggressively asserted this right, some of the most notable are Irvine, San Francisco, Calabasas, and Malibu. Rancho Palos Verdes recently passed an extremely comprehensive wireless ordinance to reign in ugly sites (RPV has many).  These cities all owe PVE a debt of gratitude.

Now back to 2016.  For reasons that have not been explained to residents, PVE no longer seems willing to deny intrusive sites. It’s as if those who are advising the City have forgotten  the hard fought victory in the 9th Circuit.  They’ve forgotten, or worse don’t know, that the court upheld the denial of those ugly intrusive sites.  The court didn’t say the city had to accept them as long as they had a coat of brown paint slapped on them.   The court upheld the denial.

Crown Castle has gotten ten approved by the PVE so far, but now the really egregious sites within neighborhoods are coming through.  Drive around town and take a look at the new mock-ups right in front of people’s homes.  They are atrocious, there is not enough brown paint in the world to pretty up these monstrosities.  It’s illegal to put a trash can in the Right of Way for a few hours, but an out of state corporation can plant this eyesore in front of homes 24/7?  This needs to stop now.

Help us remind the City of Palos Verdes Estates that they can deny these sites (just ask the 9th Circuit).  Please write and email the Planning Commission, The City Council, the City Manager, and the Planning Director. Their contact information can be found here.

Even if it’s not affecting you personally, please do it for the neighbor who may think he or she is in this alone.

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