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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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!

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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Crown Castle’s Really Bad Timing

Update (10/6): At the October 5th hearing the Palos Verdes Estates Planning Commission denied the cell tower site in front of the Neighborhood Church, a historical local landmark, on aesthetic grounds.  This was unprecedented as it was the first site to be denied after eleven straight approvals.  The Commission also indicated it would likely not approve the other three sites on aesthetic grounds if Crown Castle demanded a vote on the current configurations.  Crown Castle accepted a continuation until November to consider alternatives and resolve questions regarding site coverage.

Look for Crown Castle to file an appeal with the City Council regarding the Neighborhood Church cell tower location denial.

Update (9/30): The October 5th cell tower Planning Commission hearing is now showing up on Palos Verdes Estates’ website, the agenda can be found here.  Four cell towers are scheduled:

  • 3912 Palos Verdes Drive North (near Via Valmonte)
  • 500 Paseo Del Mar (in front of the Neighborhood Church)
  • An alley between Yarmouth Road and Oakley Road
  • 2457 Via Sonoma (in front of 1220 Granvia Altamira)

This really wasn’t handled well as this hearing has been in the works for at least a month and only showed up on the City’s “meetings” webpage five days before the hearing. 

Peninsula residents concerned about this issue are strongly encouraged to attend the hearing at PVE City Hall (map here) and speak during public comments.  The hearing is Wednesday starting at 6:30 PM.  Please consider speaking even if the site isn’t near your home to support your neighbors. 

These neighborhoods were targeted and selected without community involvement.  Crown Castle was so confident these cell towers would be approved that they already ran fiber optic lines to these locations before any cell tower locations were announced to the public.  Your neighbors are battling a multi-billion dollar corporation which views Palos Verdes as a money-making opportunity, and has no long-term stake in our community.  Your neighbors need your support.

UPDATE (9/27): The October 5th Planning Commission hearing is still not shown in PVE’s “meetings” webpage despite the fact two meetings after it are shown.  As soon as we know more, we’ll post it.

Original Post

Palos Verdes Estates has scheduled a special Planning Commission hearing for October 5th.  The agenda hasn’t been posted yet, but we’ve heard from knowledgeable folks that Crown Castle has requested a yes/no vote on many pending cell tower sites that have previously come before the Commission.  This has been is the works, we first got word of it a few weeks ago.

With September 15th’s devastating court ruling (see here), it’s starting to look like a really bad idea for them.  Crown Castle and their wireless industry partners lost big time, the court ruled decisively that cities have discretionary police powers to deny cell towers in the right of way under California law.  So why did Crown Castle request the special PVE hearing?  We’ve got a theory on that.

The Decision Came Down Earlier Than Expected

Court watchers were surprised at how quickly the appellate court handed down their decision, less than a month after oral arguments.  Most weren’t expecting it until next month.  With that in mind, Crown Castle’s request for a special hearing starts to make sense.  It’s plausible that they were trying to cram a bunch of sites through the Planning Commission before the decision came down.  They probably figured they’d have a good chance of getting some cell towers approved despite the Commission’s misgivings in previous hearings.

They were likely as surprised as everyone else that the decision came down so soon.  But why risk forcing a premature Planning Commission vote before the decision if there was a chance they would win in court?  This is just speculation, but the smart money suggests they knew they were going to lose.

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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.

A Huge Legal Loss for Crown Castle and the Wireless Industry

BREAKING NEWS: On Sept 15, 2016, the State Appellate Court in T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco (link) released an important decision regarding municipal rights to regulate cell towers in the Public Right of Way.  The decision was a devastating loss for the wireless industry and was nothing short of a wipeout.  It affirmed the key findings of Sprint vs Palos Verdes Estates (9th Circuit, 2009 – link) under state law, and it made explicitly clear that municipalities retain police powers to regulate cell tower site placement.  It was a historic loss for an increasingly arrogant wireless industry whose importance cannot be overstated.  We’ve provided some background and commentary below.

We’ve written before about California Public Utility Code (PUC) Sections 7901 and 7901.1.  These are key aspects of state law granting “telephone corporations” Right of Way (ROW) access, while also covering a municipality’s right to regulate this access.  PUC 7901 is the cornerstone of Crown Castle’s claimed right to place highly intrusive cell towers within our Palos Verdes neighborhoods, many literally in resident’s front yards.  Further, Crown Castle also alleged the Public Utility Code severely limited a municipality’s ability to stop them.  Crown Castle has repeatedly alleged Sections 7901 and 7901.1 tie a city’s hands, thus rendering attempts to regulate or otherwise interfere with site deployment as illegal.

pve_ca_sealThe problem with Crown Castle’s argument has always been the landmark decision Sprint vs. Palos Verdes Estates (9th Circuit, 2009).  The City of Palos Verdes Estates courageously stood up to bullying tactics when Sprint demanded unfettered ROW access.  Sprint vs PVE was a huge loss for the wireless industry on multiple fronts.  Under California law, the 9th Circuit found that Section 7901 permits municipal regulation of cell towers within the ROW based on aesthetics.  Further, the 9th Circuit upheld the City’s denial of two wireless sites on aesthetic grounds.  The findings of Sprint vs. PVE were seemingly crystal clear; Section 7901 provides a limited, not absolute, ROW access grant of rights to telephone corporations.  Further, municipalities have clear police powers to regulate placement of these sites.

The Alleged Vulnerability of Sprint vs. PVE

Over the years, the wireless industry and its sympathizers thought they had chipped away and discredited Sprint vs. PVE.   In fact, some went as far as suggesting cities should act as if it was already overturned just to be safe.  They viewed it as having two major weaknesses:

  • A significant aspect of Sprint vs PVE is that it involved a federal court interpreting state law (PUC 7901 and 7901.1). Importantly, state courts are not bound by the 9th Circuit’s (a federal court) interpretation of state law.  The wireless industry insisted the 9th Circuit got it wrong and that a state court would correct this.
  • Sprint vs. PVE is seven years old. The decision’s detractors vaguely derided it as archaic and obsolete; overtaken by technological advances, a patchwork of lower court decisions and FCC rulemakings, and a generally insisted its demise was imminent.

With its decision in T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco, the California Court of Appeals completely obliterated both of these arguments.  The court made it clear that the 9th Circuit got it exactly right and furthermore, they fully reiterated these  points in their decision.  In doing so, the court both enshrined the federal court interpretation in a state court decision and drove a stake through the notion that Sprint vs. PVE was some sort of obsolete relic.

The defeat could not have been more one-sided.  The wireless industry, led by T-Mobile, Crown Castle, and Extenet as the Plaintiffs, went for broke and they lost everything.

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