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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Palos Verdes Cell Tower Hall of Shame

Update (9/17/2016): This is one of our most popular posts.  We’ve promoted it in honor of Thursday’s huge win in the California Court of Appeals.  The court fully upheld municipal regulation of cell towers despite three cell tower companies (T-mobile, Crown Castle, and Extenet) ganging up and attempting to overturn San Francisco’s comprehensive wireless ordinance.  It was a historic loss for the wireless industry, and solidified the important findings of Sprint vs. Palos Verdes Estates (9th Circuit, 2009).  We’ve posted T-mobile et al vs. San Francisco here.

Prior to January 2016, Rancho Palos Verdes had essentially no cell tower regulations.  As you would expect, the carriers and cell tower installers abused the situation to their advantage and things got completely out of control.  The same can happen if a city has a good ordinance but it isn’t enforced.  Consider this a cautionary tale.

We’ve previously written regarding the astronomical number of cell towers in Rancho Palos Verdes, and how most were thrown up in the cheapest and sloppiest manner possible.  There was no attempt to minimize intrusiveness, screen sites, or architecturally match them to the existing structures.  In addition, there was no attempt to collocate sites or otherwise minimize the number of installations.

Here’s a map of all cell sites in the Public Right of Way (PROW) in RPV.  The interactive versions can be found online here.  (The site loads slowly, ten seconds or so.)  This map does not include sites on private property or public property that is not part of the PROW.

rancho palos verde cell tower map

Map of sites in the PROW in RPV.  Different colors represent different service carriers, yellow means there are multiple sites at a single location.

The map is pretty incredible, particularly with Crown Castle claiming ATT alone needs 30 new sites, most located within the heart of residential neighborhoods.  Here’s a breakdown of the current status:

  • Over 140 cell sites in the PROW
  • One cell site for every 300 residents
  • One cell site for every 115 homes
  • One cell site every 61 acres
  • 10.4 cell sites per square mile
  • More than 50 new sites pending or proposed (that we know of)

RPV’s new wireless ordinance (link) will ensure sites meet comprehensive design, architectural compatibility, and location requirements going forward.  As a reminder to why RPV needed a new ordinance we’ll highlight (lowlight?) some of our favorites here.  With 140 available, there are plenty of bad examples to choose from.

 The new ordinance poster child

ugly crown castle cell tower 1

This is on Hawthorne Blvd at the entrance to Hesse Park.  It is one of the nicest parks in the city and this sits right outside the City Council chambers.  Fortunately, the City Council saw it every time they pulled into the parking lot and was continuously reminded why RPV needed a new ordinance.  It was just a bus stop sign at one point.

 ugly crown castle cell tower 2

Same site next to Hesse Park with no screening whatsoever.  Note cable workmanship.  Note there is still another bus stop sign post right next to it that for some reason was not consolidated.  The box now has a giant “Radio Frequency Hazard!” sticker on it.

Welcome to Rancho Palos Verdes, home of the ugly cell tower

ugly crown castle cell tower 3

“Welcome to Rancho Palos Verdes” on PV Drive South right at the border of San Pedro. This is what visitors entering our city from San Pedro first see.  Here’s a close-up.

Crown castle workmanship 2

Aside from being really ugly, there is lots else going on here:

  • Crown Castle increased the antenna size but the cables didn’t reach so they just stretched them across unsupported (black wires from pole to antenna bottom)
  • It could have been flush mounted to pole above cables to be less intrusive instead of extended out on long cross arm
  • Violates CPUC General Order 95 (safety and reliability regulations) Section 94.4 as it’s too close to the cables

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What are Crown Castle and AT&T up to?

Crown Castle and AT&T are attempting to install highly intrusive cell towers within residential neighborhoods throughout Palos Verdes.  Prior to this deployment, AT&T served all of Palos Verdes Estates with about a half dozen cell towers.  Now Crown Castle states AT&T has a “significant gap” in service in Palos Verdes Estates.  The only way to fix it, they claim, is with 22 new cell towers, many right in the heart of residential neighborhoods.

Think about what Crown Castle is saying.  Does it really make sense that the only way to improve cell service is with a four-fold cell tower increase, many of them literally in resident’s front yards?  Wouldn’t it seem that half a dozen strategically placed and inconspicuous new sites could be used to plug the existing gaps?  Why do they need so many and why are they in every neighborhood?

GVA mock up

Mock-up of a proposed new cell tower site in Palos Verdes Estates, homes are in close proximity behind the site.

The situation is similar in Rancho Palos Verdes where Crown Castle claims its needs 38 (!!) new sites for AT&T.  Remember that there are four major carriers and this is only for one of them.  Those who don’t subscribe to AT&T will see no benefit.

Deception Regarding “Required” Service Levels

On AT&T’s behalf, Crown Castle claims absurdly high signal levels as required for the network.  AT&T has been the silent partner in this whole fiasco, apparently preferring to let Crown Castle do its bidding.  Without getting too technical, Crown Castle claims AT&T needs a Reference Signal Received Power (RSRP) of -75 dBm thus justifying the high number of new cell towers.  With our RF engineering background we knew this level was ridiculous and about 100 times higher than what is typically provided.  (Note that dB’s are logarithmic so 10x = 10 dB, 100x = 20 dB, etc.)  We challenged them on this before the PVE Planning Commission; they claimed we didn’t understand it.  They were wrong.

To see if AT&T provided these “required” high signal levels in less affluent communities, we did drive tests in Wilmington and Harbor City, California.  Both are within a few miles of Palos Verdes but are economically disadvantaged.  Wilmington’s median household income is about 75% of the California median; Harbor City’s is about 90%.

Here’s our result, only dots that show up as light green or dark green meet the level Crown Castle claims AT&T “requires” in Palos Verdes Estates.

wilmington drive map

Drive map results conducted in Wilmington (Los Angeles), California on 8/21/2016.  Crown Castle’s “required” signal levels in Palos Verdes Estates is -75 dBm (dark green and light green).  Of the measured data points in Wilmington, only 8% meet the requirement. 

harbor-city-drive-map

Drive map results conducted in Harbor City (Los Angeles), California on 8/28/2016.  Of the  measured data points in Harbor City, only 5%  meet the requirement.

 Clearly AT&T does not provide the signal levels in these less affluent communities that it claims are absolutely “required” in PVE.  Based on this investigation, and coupled with the false claims and misleading behavior we’ve documented in the past, we now believe their required signal level claims are blatant deceptions.  So then why are they doing it?  Why are they demanding to place cell towers in every neighborhood in our community using the pretext of ridiculously high required signal levels?  No surprise, follow the money.

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