Los Altos Hills residents worried about the potential negative health effects of small-cell wireless facilities won a small victory Thursday night when the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that city council members consider adopting greater setback requirements than even town staff suggested they should.
“I learned a long time ago that if you want a puppy for Christmas, ask for a pony,” said commission chairman Jitze Couperus, generating audience applause and laughter.
The commission chose to alter a drafted update to the town’s telecommunications facilities ordinance, as prepared by staff members for the meeting, by increasing the minimum setback of small-cell sites from residences from 100 to 200 feet and their minimum setback from the town’s three K-12 schools from 1,000 to 1,500 feet.
They also decided the duration of the conditional use permits for wireless carriers should be capped at three years and that the maximum frequencies emitted from 4G and 5G equipment should be limited as much as possible. City council members are expected to review the ordinance at one of their two meetings in December.
Officials are racing to update the town’s existing wireless ordinance following the filing of an AT&T application to erect antennas for 4G LTE microcell capabilities on existing PG&E utility poles located at 499 W. Edith Ave., 14185 Miranda Road and 14495 Miranda Road. The company’s application is currently incomplete, and the council and commission want to get new regulations on the books before it is.
“Up until recently, we actually had nobody asking to put small-cell sites in town. Now we have the three from AT&T that were submitted,” said Steve Padovan, town principal planner. “We haven’t heard from anybody else, though. Verizon had talked to us about potentially doing some small cells, but they were looking at 5G, and they say our environment is not conducive to 5G because of all the trees and such.”
In a Nov. 6 letter AT&T legal counsel sent to the Planning Commission, the company warned that implementing 100-foot setbacks from homes and 1,500-foot setbacks from schools would effectively ban all wireless facilities in most of town, prohibiting the company from improving service and causing a public safety communications hazard.
All those who spoke during the public comment portion of last week’s meeting advocated for strict regulations they feel will protect residents.
“Students are already constantly exposed to Wi-Fi in schools, and I feel that adding to their toxic body burden with electromagnetic radiation from cell towers is unwise,” said Melissa Smith, the mother of a Gardner Bullis School student.