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Los Altos Hills residents protest wireless communications proposal

Of the dozen or so Los Altos Hills residents who addressed the Planning Commission last week about a proposal to install small cell antennas in town, none voiced support for the technology, which is intended to improve wireless communications.

“From now on, people won’t be talking about the unspoiled nature of Los Altos Hills; they’ll be talking about how Los Altos Hills is the only local city that allows these giant cell carrier nodes on flimsy telephone poles in front of our homes,” said Marita Irani.

Like most of the speakers at Thursday’s meeting, Irani, a resident of Miranda Road, lives near the locations of three existing PG&E utility poles upon which AT&T hopes to erect antennas for 4G LTE microcell capabilities: 499 W. Edith Ave., 14185 Miranda Road and 14495 Miranda Road.

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Courtesy of AT&T
A photo illustration shows what a PG&E utility pole at 499 W. Edith Ave. would look like with an antenna attached to the top and supporting equipment affixed to the middle. Click the image for an enlarged view.

AT&T has filed an application for the project, but it is incomplete and does not comply with an urgency ordinance the Los Altos Hills City Council enacted in March in response to new Federal Communications Commission guidelines that took effect in April. Design criteria violations include antennas that exceed 40 feet tall (two are 48 feet and the third is 56 feet tall), pole-mounted equipment that exceeds 6 cubic feet in volume and lack of documentation proving the pole generators don’t produce sound louder than 50 decibels.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that nobody wants these things approved, so believe me: They’re not on any fast track or whatever,” said Steve Padovan, interim planning director. “So don’t be concerned it’s going to be approved next week or something like that.”

The Los Altos City Council passed that city’s urgency wireless facilities ordinance in August.

The Planning Commission agenda item was scheduled for informational purposes only following an August Los Altos Hills City Council meeting at which discussion of AT&T’s proposal dominated the public speaking portion of the agenda.

But town leaders are not prepared to make any decisions yet, assured Jitze Couperus, commission chairman.

“At this point, we’re just in data-gathering mode,” he said. “So this is not the last word – not by a long shot.”

Residents voice concerns

Couperus and his colleagues listened as residents shared fears about the perceived negative health effects of 3G, 4G and 5G radio frequency emissions, the potential detriment to their home values and the possibility overloaded utility poles could snap and fall on people or property. Many pointed out the poles’ close proximity to Bullis Charter School and the Children’s House of Los Altos day care center, both located on Fremont Road, which is adjacent to Miranda Road.

Resident Barbara Wright said she lives at “ground zero,” directly in front of one of the Miranda Road utility poles.

“We encourage you to join the other communities in the Bay Area that have studied this issue and have the courage to pass stricter regulations about where cell towers and wireless antennas can be located – or not located – to protect their residents and their homes and schools from harmful effects of radio frequency emissions,” she said. “We’re counting on you to keep us safe.”

Reached by email this week, AT&T addressed resident concerns.

"Our equipment follows protocol set by the Federal Communications Commission. In fact, exposure to the general public from our small cell facilities is many times below conservative FCC limits," according to an official statement from the company.

A Planning Commission subcommittee and town staff members have developed a draft wireless telecommunications ordinance to set regulations and standards for small cell technology in town. Currently, its provisions include preventing the installation of facilities within 100 feet of residences and within 500 feet of school properties serving children from kindergarten to 12th grade. The ordinance also establishes an order of location preference from most desirable to least desirable: town-owned properties, Foothill College, water tanks, public and quasi-public facilities such as churches and schools, and residential properties of at least 10 acres.

Commissioners had promised audience members a second opportunity to speak on the topic near the end of the agenda, but no one protested when they decided to end the meeting prematurely at 12:50 a.m. without additional comment.

Introduction of the draft ordinance, slated near the end of the agenda, did not occur, and it will take place at another time. The formal public review process for the ordinance is scheduled at the Oct. 3 Planning Commission meeting.

For more information on the proposal and to view supporting documents, visit losaltoshills.ca.gov/486/Small-Cell-Wireless.

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