The correspondence bellow was addressed to the PVE Planning Director, with copies to the City Council and City Manager on 4/12/2016.
This letter documented the findings and conclusions of a meeting held at City Hall on 4/8/2016 between City Staff, the City’s wireless consultant, Crown Castle, and local PVE homeowners. During the meeting, Crown Castle’s Senior RF Engineer acknowledged that many of the technical and documentation issues found by PVE residents were errors that required correction. Documentation of the errors can be found at this links.
Thank you for facilitating the technical meeting between the Lunada Bay homeowners, city staff, the city’s wireless consultants, and Crown Castle. We believe it was very productive and raised multiple important issues that must be addressed going forward. As was evident, there is widespread interest in this issue as demonstrated by the large attendance that included a City Councilman and the Director of the PV Homes Association.
Crown Castle was forthright in acknowledging many of the technical shortfalls that we raised in their submitted site justification. Crown Castle promised to correct these shortfalls. While we appreciate this, we contend the presence of these errors and other factors discussed herein undermine Crown Castle’s justification for the widespread Distributed Antenna System (DAS) deployment in our neighborhoods. In addition, we further contend the submitted site justification did not provide information required by the City’s wireless facility ordinance and application process. Any updated submission must correct these technical errors and include information required by the city’s established process. In addition, Crown Castle must justify why highly intrusive neighborhood locations are required rather than preferred locations outside of neighborhoods and away from homes.
We’ve provided a summary of many of the issues raised in the meeting below, including the technical issues, Crown Castle’s concessions, and their implications.
Site Justification Submitted by Crown Castle
In order to appreciate the significance of the issues raised, it is important to understand the context in which Crown Castle justified the need for new sites. In the city’s wireless application process, the city requires a site justification narrative that explains why new wireless sites are required to close a significant gap in coverage. Crown Castle provided coverage maps characterized as depicting existing and proposed coverage. Particularly for UMTS service, the maps show coverage levels below the carrier’s desired threshold over large areas. Crown Castle justifies its widespread deployment based on these maps. In the city’s required site justification narrative, Crown Castle states:
- Node Locations and the “Significant Gap” in Coverage.
Each node of the Network is necessary to fill a significant gap in service in the City. The significant gap is graphically demonstrated in Exhibit F, which depicts existing service for the anchor carrier for the Network, AT&T. (Exhibit F [“Existing Service Map”].) The Existing Service Map describes six levels of service: (1) In-Building (Dark Green); (2) In-Building (Light Green); (3) In-Vehicle (Yellow) and (4) In-Vehicle (Red); (5) Poor to Non-existent (Blue) and (6) Poor to Non-Existent (Black). [Ed note: the colors called out don’t match the provided map colors, this appears to be a typo. The map has its own legend that purports to describe coverage levels.]
Crown Castle then discusses the need for adequate signal strength to provide indoor service. Crown Castle concludes the section with the statement:
In this case, existing service levels in the Service Area fall below the minimum standard for adequate in-building coverage. (See Exhibit F [existing service map].)
In justifying their proposed deployment, Crown Castle goes on to state:
Applying these principles to the Service Area, Exhibit F reveals that Service Area is currently experiencing insufficient signal. Users in the Service Area therefore would experience an intolerably high percentage of blocked and dropped calls for outside use, with a commensurate decline in signal strength as one moves toward the inside of existing buildings and homes. AT&T seeks to provide sufficient signal strength to ensure not only adequate signal for mobile and outdoor users, but reliable in-building coverage for all those customers who may seek to abandon their home landlines and sufficient capacity to address new data demands from smartphones and tablets.
Wireless customers must be able to count on a level of service commensurate with that provided by their landlines. Such considerations are relevant to a determination of significant gap. (See, e.g., T-Mobile Central LLC v. City of Fraser (E.D. Mich. 2009) 675 F. Supp. 2d 721 [considering failure rate of 911 emergency calls.]) By contrast, installation of the proposed nodes comprising the Project would result in adequate outdoor and in-building coverage. (See Exhibit F [predicted coverage map with macros]; Exhibit F [predicted coverage map without macros].)
Thus Crown Castle characterizes the widespread citywide DAS deployment as a necessary means required to correct vaguely-defined “insufficient” signal levels. There is no description of exactly where in the city existing signal is insufficient. There is no specific justification for individual sites or explanation for the claimed large number of sites required. There is no explanation as to why highly intrusive sites are required within neighborhoods when they have not been required previously. And as will be discussed, the provided site justification does not meet the requirements of the City’s wireless facility application process.
Errors in the Coverage Maps and Justification
We provided three technical memos to the city that detailed errors in the depicted existing and proposed coverage maps. Submission of these documents led to the April 8th meeting. The meeting included a substantial technical discussion regarding the coverage maps that are the basis for the DAS deployment justification. During this discussion, Crown Castle’s technical representative (Sr. RF Engineer Julio Garcia) conceded that the maps did, in fact, have errors that understated depicted coverage. This included:
- Existing UMTS coverage levels – levels for UMTS (3G) coverage were approximately 10 dB lower than corresponding LTE (4G) coverage thus appearing to show wide areas with insufficient service. Garcia agreed that UMTS coverage was actually comparable to that of LTE and the UMTS maps understated coverage. Mr. Garcia provided drive maps measured by Crown Castle that depict comparable levels and ranges between the two services. The error likely resulted from confusion regarding the required reference level of the two services.
- Existing LTE and UMTS coverage – the existing coverage maps only show “macro” sites and do not include coverage from the Crown Castle/ATT small scale network in place in PVE, and neighboring Rancho Palos Verdes and Torrance. Garcia agreed this was the case. This would understate existing coverage.
- Existing LTE and UMTS coverage – the existing coverage maps do not show coverage from sites in neighboring Redondo Beach and Torrance that serve the northern PVE areas of Malaga Cove and Montemalaga. The submitted existing coverage maps show virtually non-existent coverage in these areas yet the Crown Castle drive maps show high signal levels from sites located off the peninsula itself (due to the elevated terrain). Garcia acknowledged this but stated that this was probably not how the carriers wanted to operate their network. This may be true, but the maps were characterized as representing existing coverage and they did not. The maps understate existing coverage.
- Proposed UMTS Coverage – the proposed DAS site coverage maps show significantly reduced coverage for the UMTS service when compared to LTE service. In addition, the UMTS service is asymmetric with coverage biased to one side of the site unlike LTE coverage. Garcia agreed with our contention that the UMTS service was likely modeled in error with only one of the two site antenna panels active. This would understate proposed coverage.
Two other areas were discussed:
- Equipment Discrepancies – Proposed site coverage maps were provided for the 700 MHz and 850 MHz bands yet the site documentation calls out equipment that supports only the 1710 to 2150 MHz frequency ranges. Garcia stated that the documentation omitted equipment that covered the 750/850 MHz range and that the documentation would be updated. There was general agreement that it is important that the submitted documentation to the city accurately reflect installed equipment particularly regarding potential site changes at a later date.
- Required Coverage levels – Coverage maps depict required indoor service coverage levels as -75 dBm, 23 dB higher than the required outdoor levels. This appeared excessive for suburban construction based on industry texts and published literature. Garcia agreed it was relatively high but did not characterize it as excessive. Jonathan Kramer stated that there weren’t agreed upon standards and the required level was subjective. We believe it is excessive and follows a pattern seen in the submitted documentation discussed above that understates existing and proposed coverage.
These are important admissions. Crown Castle acknowledges that the coverage maps depicted as showing existing coverage, in fact, understate coverage. In addition, Crown Castle acknowledges the coverage map depicting coverage from the proposed sites also understates coverage. It is all but certain the cumulative impact of these errors resulted in an excessive number of sites beyond that needed to close significant gaps in coverage.
Crown Castle’s Proposed Distributed Antenna System
Crown Castle proposes to blanket the city with a network of wireless sites characterized as a Distributed Antenna System (DAS). Their justification for the high number of sites and intrusive locations is unacceptably vague, and furthermore, is deeply flawed as shown by the coverage map technical errors described above.
Instead of proposing sites addressing specific low coverage areas, Crown Castle in effect declares the entire city suffers a “significant gap” that can only be rectified by installing wireless facilities within virtually every neighborhood in the city. This includes:
- 25 new ATT sites throughout the city despite the fact the city is currently served by only 3 ATT sites within city limits and a small number in neighboring cities
- A new site for every 0.2 square miles of the city, i.e. one for roughly every 200 households
- Approximately 18 sites located close to homes within neighborhoods rather than preferred locations outside of neighborhoods
- Approximately half of the proposed sites are located within the high signal strength footprint of existing macro sites
- Multiple sites located within extremely close proximity. For example, Upper Lunada Bay has two proposed sites within 500 feet of each other.
We have no objection to using Distributed Antenna System (DAS) technology within the city. However, we insist it be implemented using the least intrusive means as a supplement to serve pockets with legitimate significant gaps in coverage. What Crown Castle is attempting in our city goes far beyond that. As Crown Castle has a commercial interest in maximizing the number of sites for both current and future speculative needs, there is potential motivation to install more sites than required to close significant gaps. The city is well within its legal right to challenge these claims, particularly for highly-intrusive sites.
We strongly believe Crown Castle is using vague, generalized “significant gap” claims as a pretext to deploy an extensive highly-intrusive DAS throughout our city and in our neighborhoods. This belief is supported by the multiple significant technical errors in the submitted site justification documentation; errors that Crown Castle has now conceded are genuine and require correction. This raises legitimate concerns regarding the scope of the proposed deployment.
Least Intrusive Means
The courts have upheld that municipalities are within their legal right to ensure wireless facilities are implemented using the least intrusive means provided it does not create an effective prohibition of service.
Least intrusive means goes beyond design for a specific site as it clearly extends to evaluation of site location and the number of sites. Few would argue a site located within a commercial district or on a city artery is less intrusive than one located next to homes within neighborhoods. Under least intrusive means, the city has the right to ensure that neighborhood sites are truly required to prevent an effective prohibition. Furthermore, two identical sites of a given design would rightly be considered more intrusive than a single site of the same design if it provided sufficient coverage in a comparable environment.
Discussion within the city to date has centered on the least intrusive means of a specific site (how tall should the site be, location of equipment, color, placement on the north or south side of a street, etc.). The city must exert its legal right to include all aspects of least intrusive means. The city must not accept highly intrusive locations or excessively high density placements unless failure to do so would effectively prohibit service. This is a critical point as roughly 75% of the proposed sites are located in close proximity to homes within neighborhoods.
Crown Castle has provided no justification that these locations are required other than nebulous claims regarding undefined impacts on network performance if sites are moved from their predefined locations. The law clearly places the burden on the applicant to demonstrate why intrusive locations are required over locations preferred by the city.
As the documented technical errors make quite evident, the city cannot rely on Crown Castle’s simple assertion that a highly intrusive site is required and that there are no less intrusive feasible alternatives. There could be some sites where neighborhood locations are required due to topography. However, these sites must be the exception only when clearly needed, not the dominant location within the proposed deployment. As the network is currently proposed, the opposite is true.
Site Justification Correction
The city has wisely adopted a comprehensive wireless ordinance and detailed wireless application requirements to protect the city’s aesthetics and neighborhood character against spurious and poorly conceived wireless deployments. The application’s directions (included as an appendix to this memo) are unambiguously clear in that the applicant must follow a multi-step process explaining how the applicant defines a significant gap, consistency with industry usage, how the gap was determined, and specific definition of the gap’s size and boundaries.
The process was not followed. The applicant instead submitted coverage maps with vague citywide significant gap assertions without clearly defined explanations as to where significant gaps exist and which site is required to close the alleged gap. Instead of providing the required specific technical details, the applicant substituted “copy and paste” legal claims asserting vague entitlements to place the two dozen allegedly required sites in the city.
Furthermore, as Crown Castle has now conceded, the maps that were submitted contained numerous technical errors that understate existing and proposed coverage. The site justification requires a significant overhaul that not only corrects the technical errors but also adheres to the city’s wireless application process. This process is not optional. It is essential in the city’s assessment of least intrusive means and is required to protect the city’s valued aesthetics and unique neighborhood character.
As the April 8th meeting made plainly evident, there are obviously significant problems with the site justification material submitted by Crown Castle. This raises concerns about the overall integrity of the Crown Castle’s assertion that the large number of highly intrusive sites is truly required. This particularly applies to proposed sites within residential neighborhoods without justification.
We recognize that the city would benefit from improved wireless coverage. We have no objection to using minimally-intrusive DAS sites as needed to supplement legitimate significant gaps in coverage. However, we will not accept using localized significant gaps as a pretext to place highly intrusive sites in every neighborhood in our city. This is particularly true now that the applicant has conceded the site justification material included important technical errors that understate both existing and proposed coverage. We insist the city immediately initiate a review of all submittal for materials for accuracy and compliance to the city’s wireless facility ordinance and application requirements. In addition, we insist the city require specific technical justification for any highly intrusive neighborhood site.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance.
Appendix – Palos Verdes Estates Wireless Facility Application Significant Gap and Least Intrusive Means Instructions
4.12 Attach a written statement fully and expansively describing the following:
- A clear description of the geographic boundary of the claimed significant gap area, and
- Attach a street-level map showing the geographic boundary of the claimed significant gap stated in 4.12(a) using the same standards as in 6.02; and
- Identify the size of the area, in units of square miles, of the claimed significant gap; and
- Explain exactly the definition of the term “significant gap” as it applies to this project;
- Explain exactly how the definition of significant gap term defined in 4.12( d) was developed, and identify who developed that definition, and when the definition was developed;
- Discuss whether the significant gap term defined in 4.12( d) is identical to that term as used by some or all wireless carriers in the City of Palos Verdes Estates and/or the wireless industry as a whole, or whether that information is unknown;
- Specify whether the definition of “significant gap” provided in 4.12(d) is the same definition used in by this applicant and owner in all of its prior projects submitted to the City of Palos Verdes Estates, and if not, explain all differences and the reasons for the differences.
- Discuss in detail all of the following in relation to the claimed significant gap area only. Where you have relied on external data sources, identify those sources in detail your response.
- Whether claimed significant gap affects significant commuter highway or railway, and if so, name each highway or railway, and how affected;
- Describe in detail the nature and character of that area or the number of potential users in that area who may be affected by the claimed significant gap;
- Describe whether the proposed facilities are needed to improve weak signals or to fill a complete void in coverage, and provide proof of either;
- If the claimed significant gap covers well-traveled roads on which customers lack roaming capabilities, identify all such well-traveled roads by name within the claimed significant gap area and provide road use information about each such road;
- If any “drive test” has been conducted within the claimed significant gap area, discuss in detail the methodology of how the test(s) was conducted, including details about the test equipment model numbers and location of the test equipment and antennas in or on the test vehicle, and provide all of the objective data collected during the drive test in .XLS or .CSV or similar portable spreadsheet format;
- If the claimed significant gap affects a commercial district, show the boundaries of the district on the map
- If the claimed significant gap poses a public safety risk, describe in detail the claimed risk, and the expansively discuss the basis for this claim.
- Provide all other relevant information you want the City of Palos Verdes Estates to consider when evaluating your claim of a significant gap.
Designate this Exhibit, “Exhibit 4.12.” Initial here __ to indicate that Exhibit 4.12 is attached hereto.
4.13 Is the proposed project the least intrusive means to close the significant gap claimed and described in 4.12? Yes No
4.14 If the answer to 4.13 is NO proceed to 4.20.
4.15 Attach a written statement fully and expansively describing at a minimum:
- Why this project is the least intrusive means to close the significant gap claimed and described in 4.12.
- Identify and discuss all alternative sites and means considered to close the significant gap claimed and described in 4.12.
- Whether two or more sites in place of the site proposed in Section 1 could close the significant gap claimed and described in 4.12, or to reduce the significant gap to be less than significant.
- Whether the City of Palos Verdes Estates requiring two or more sites in place of the site proposed in Section 1 would prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the applicant from providing any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.
If the response asserts that a prohibition or effective prohibition would occur, explain in detail all of the reasons why it would
- Include all information whatsoever you relied on in reaching this determination.
- Include any other information you believe would assist the City of Palos Verdes Estates make findings regarding whether the proposed project is the least intrusive means of closing the significant gap claimed and described in 4.12, or to reduce the significant gap to be less than significant.
Designate this Exhibit, “Exhibit 4.15.”
Initial here __ to indicate that Exhibit 4.15 is attached hereto. Proceed to 4.20