Wireless antenna debate continues in Los Altos Hills

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Children walk to Gardner Bullis School last week. Some Los Altos Hills residents are protesting an AT&T proposal to erect antennas for 4G and 5G capabilities upon nearby utility poles. They worry about the perceived negative health effects of such technology.

Stay tuned until Nov. 7 for word on suggested amendments to Los Altos Hills’ wireless communications policy. Following vehement protests from residents, Planning Commissioners Thursday directed staff to retool a draft they will review again at their next regularly scheduled meeting before, as Chairman Jitze Couperus put it, “all the agony” of the ensuing debate is repeated at the city council level.

“I heard more than one resident say, ‘Take your time, get this right.’ I’m willing to go with that, and if that means it comes back to us one more time, I think that’s not excessive,” said Commissioner Susan Mandle.

The amendments follow in the wake of a September 2018 Federal Communications Commission order allowing 4G and 5G antenna systems in public rights-of-way. Lacking municipal code regulations governing wireless telecommunications facilities, the town in March passed an urgency ordinance to set some before an April 15 deadline, after which providers could install the equipment in public rights-of-way.

Now town staffers are drafting a new policy to govern all types of wireless facilities, including the ones AT&T wants to erect on existing PG&E utility poles at 499 W. Edith Ave., 14185 Miranda Road and 14495 Miranda Road. Once the company’s application is complete, the town will have a limited amount of time to respond.

Some Hills residents are worried about the perceived harmful health effects of 4G and 5G radio frequency emissions. Ten addressed commissioners Thursday and mostly expressed dismay that the proposed setbacks for the equipment – 100 feet from residences and 500 feet from K-12 schools – are not larger. They cited the proximity of the proposed site at 14185 Miranda Road to Gardner Bullis School and the Children’s House of Los Altos day care center, both of which are located on adjacent Fremont Road.

“This is extremely concerning to parents, and you’re not hearing us,” said Liz Frazier. “That’s my concern: You are not hearing us.”

Danielle Meyer lives within 650 feet of one of the three poles and has a child who attends Gardner Bullis.

“There needs to be an analysis of who is benefiting from these towers, who’s actually going to be the users of them,” Meyer said. “What I don’t want to see is Los Altos Hills becoming the utility yard for adjacent towns, where cellphone towers get put in our town, but they are actually for adjacent towns with stricter wireless ordinances.”

Commissioners directed staff members to explore the possibility of increasing the setbacks to 500 feet for homes and 1,500 feet for schools. They could, however, find their hands tied. Unlike towns in Marin County and along the Peninsula that have adopted similar regulations, Los Altos Hills is essentially one big residential zone; there’s likely very few locations where a small-cell site can exist at least 500 feet away from a residence.

“We can’t just say, ‘We want the max,’” Couperus said. “We have to modify that and say, ‘We want the max that will actually allow some cells in town, a reasonable amount.’ And I don’t know what that is.”

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