February 23, 2010

Buena Vista residents not happy about proposed wireless tower in their Walnut Creek ‘hood

Around 200 residents of the Buena Vista neighborhood have signed a petition and written letters to the city opposing AT&T’s plans to build a wireless antenna on the grounds of St. Stephen’s Church. The Walnut Creek Planning Commissioners will discuss this proposal at their Thursday night’s meeting—along with a city staff recommendation that they grant the conditional use permit necessary to allow the project to go forward.

This is the second time in about a month that a wireless service company has proposed locating one of their towers in a Walnut Creek neighborhood—and faced opposition from residents. Clearwire made what was described as an ill-prepared proposal to build a 28-foot monopole near the playing field at Walnut Heights Elementary.

It is interesting how these companies are making these local wireless antenna bids to a public school and a Catholic church site, perhaps hoping that the owners of these properties—the Walnut Creek School District and the Diocese of Oakland—are searching for ways to earn extra revenue in challenging financial times. What’s up with that? Another common theme: Both companies, in an attempt to alleviate aesthetic concerns about their towers, have proposed dressing them up to look like trees.

Actually, the Clearwire proposal was pretty quickly rejected by the Walnut Creek School district after about 100 Walnut Heights residents and parents showed up at a community meeting to voice their opposition.

AT&T isn’t feeling the love either for its proposal, despite making a quick modification by moving the proposed antenna to a different location on the church property, which sits at the western reaches of San Luis Road. AT&T has said it would reduce the tower’s height from 28 feet to 12 feet, and disguise it as a “monopine, rather than a broadleaf,” with each antenna panel having a needle cover to further disguise them from view. The antenna would go up on a southeast corner of the church property, on a knoll which stands above the surrounding homes.

Aesthetics are key to the project, because, legally, residents can’t object grounds of concerns about safety and health. Federal Communications Commission regulations only bar wireless communication facilities if they exceed federal limits on electronic-magnetic emissions. AT&T submitted an analysis showing that the radio frequency output of this proposed tower would not exceed FCC stands for Maximum Permissible Exposures. “The project will not have deleterious effects on the public health, safety or welfare,” the staff report says.

So, aesthetics are the issues that both city staff and residents are mostly addressing in their statements about why the proposal should or should not go through.

City staff says that the modification AT&T made in its original proposal, including reducing the height and its location within a knoll of mature trees, will make it less visible from all vantage points. “Strategically placed landscaping will provide additional screening which will minimize the visibility of the antenna tree. “

The staff report also says the equipment won’t make too much noise: “The equipment will not exceed 60 db at the nearest adjacent property line, which is the maximum typically allowed in residential districts. “

Neighbors of the church remain wary of AT&T’s proposal, citing concerns about health and safety—even though they know this issue can’t be considered. They are also worried about aesthetics, noise, affect on views and property values, and AT&T’s motives. They question the necessity of building the tower in this particular location, when they all report very satisfactory service in their area. They say allowing this tower in their neighborhood could set a precedent that would give companies an argument to propose more towers. They also wonder why the city, which has a policy of preferring that these towers go up in locations where such towers already exist, isn’t insisting do likewise.

Some comments from Buena Vista neighbors on the wireless tower proposal:

--“There are a number of reasons for our opposition but we are very concerned that the erection of this structure would compromise the character and aesthetics of not only our neighborhood, but other surrounding neighborhoods. .. We sincerely believe that a cell tower would produce a deterioration in the aesthetics and be in no homeowners’ best interest.”

--“Since AT&T changed the nature of the proposal and there are many residents who were not aware of the proposal at the time of the January meeting. One concern among residents is that AT&T has been making misrepresentations in the information it has been providing the city.”

--“I believe this issue is far more than an aesthetic one. Telecommunications has morphed into much more than mobile phone communication. Responsible policymaking involves looking at precedent and consequences. With the industry constantly changing, the likelihood is high that AT&T would want to place additional towers. The proverbial ‘foot in the door’ is a threat to the very fabric of our neighborhood that cannot be denied.”

--“I know we don’t have any problems with cell coverage in this immediate area. “


Jojo Potato said...

Why do people feel they have to throw in every argument no matter how weak? Declaring that the church design was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright is a really silly touch. The tree design was influenced by God so that trumps everything.

Since the neighbors are banned from arguing based on health concerns they are throwing up all this nonsense in hope something sticks. I say build the tower.

Beau Hunk said...

Affluent areas such as Walnut Creek have affluent communications demands. Cell phones, smart phones, laptops and other electronic wizardry require extremely high communications capability, i.e bandwidth.

One radio tower has only so much bandwidth capability. This, coupled with the fact that these devices require virtual line of sight, means more towers will be needed in the future.

I understand NIMBYism but in this case the towers REALLY DO have to be in your "backyard".

If they aren't, you might as well just toss your smartphone in the trash because you won't be able to communicate.

David K said...

Reception is pretty bad around there. So these neighbors are the typical NIMBY folks(not in my back yard). Get over yourselves and your upper-class righteous attitudes. The signals you get now are from a tower in my neighborhood near there. Let them build it church and use the money for good.

Anonymous said...

I love the architecture comment! How about "Antenna farm".

I'll probably attend that church once the have the tower. I'll set my facebook status to "worshiping" once inside.

I'm glad we pushed out the company trying to put one in my area...

ISEBY - In someone else's backyard.

Anonymous said...

WC residents demand all the services and want none of the externalities. Give it six months and you won't even know it is there.


Beau Hunk said...

Reminds me of the following story which is probably apocryphal.

Seems there was a town gathering scheduled back east to discuss a cell phone tower in town. The presenter was delayed and the meeting turned contentious with many people swearing that "that darn tower won't be built where I can see it!"

The presenter finally arrived and was surprised at the general rancor and was informed that the tower would lower property values, be a blight on the community, and that no one wanted it.

"But folks," he explained, "that tower's been up for 18 months and looks like a broadleaf tree. I wanted to meet with you to discuss the rental fees that are due to you and how you want them allocated."

Anonymous said...

I bet everyone against this has a cell phone, and multiple children texting their every where-abouts.

Zero sympathy, their is more magnetic wave cancer causing stuff in your ear all day long.

Complain about that.

Anonymous said...

It should really be placed somewhere along Olympic Blvd., within the Saranap area so that I can get better coverage!

Anonymous said...

I live less than a block from the church and the proposed site. The issue here is that AT&T services has been so bad (less than 2 bars, often one) in most houses that the neighborhood has few AT&T subscribers other people who recently moved into the neighborhood. AT&T service is so weak here, we did not find out about my wife's mother dying in the middle of the night because neither phones had service in the bedroom. Reassuring in an emergency if the phone line went down. Our neighbors' keep objecting to the plan saying cell service is fine, because they don't have AT&T. They object to the tower on aesthetic grounds to cloak the true, NIMBY issue. For those of us that do have AT&T, especially in the time of iPhone with an Apple Store 1.8 miles away, the tower will finally bring us what we need. I am not sure how having cell service work in your home would decrease your property value, but your mileage may vary.