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. “