Problems with Palo Alto Verizon Cell Tower Project

Challenges in Scaling So-Called “Small Cell” Cell Towers

By Sean Kinney, Managing Editor on June 16, 2017 |
Original article here

In California, challenges to [so-called “Small Cell” cell towers] at scale include selecting the correct paint color and addressing concerns about health impacts [human health hazards].

Actual deployments of small cells has lagged behind perhaps ambitious projections for years. The problem is that, given the unique nature of each site and the regulatory process that governs a particular location, it’s difficult to establish a scalable, predictable process. With deployment estimates ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 per small cell, carriers have struggled to develop a one-size-fits-all approach; coupled with regulations that vary from city to city, it can take months of lead up for field work that can be completed in hours or days.

Case in point, Verizon Wireless is currently working with the city of Palo Alto, Calif., to install 92 small cells, 80 on wooden utility poles owned by the city, and 12 on metal street lights , according to a project description received by the city on Jan. 30. Verizon contemplates three configurations, all containing one antenna, three radios and one disconnect. The variations are in whether the battery back up is located on the pole, on the ground next to the pole, or not needed at all.

Note: the 12/7/17 Architectural Review Board (ARB) voted to require that all radios and ancillary equipment and other ground equipment must be below grade, which you can view here. Liquid cooling technology can be used to ensure that undergrounded equipment does not use noisy fans. The 4-1 ARB vote can be viewed here.

Sean Kinney: That initial project description has been revised twice, with the most recent variation, dated May 5, detailing outstanding questions left up to the local Architectural Review Board for decision. Those issues include “a shade of brown paint for equipment attached to wood poles. Additionally, should all pole mounted equipment including mounts, cabling and conduits be painted?” Relative to the ground cabinet, Verizon wants to know if should be painted to blend in with surroundings? If so, what color green? Or concealed in street furniture? What about an art wrap? Is that preferred to street furniture? And so on.

There’s also community buy in, which, based on a report in the The Mercury News, is a mixed bag. Eric Kang, who lives near one of potential sites, told the publication: “You can see it right outside the window. I’m [aware of the scientifically-established adverse] effects on my health and my child’s health. These things are very powerful. These things are constantly on.

Verizon is reportedly planning a series of community meetings to engage with residents that live near proposed sites.

Note: Other than one community meeting on March 30, 2017, there have been no other community meetings on this Verizon project.

Current Project Status

  • On 12/7/17, the ARB voted the second and final Architectural Review Board meeting to be held at a “time uncertain”.
  • Palo Alto planning staff indicated that they are expecting revised project plans from Verizon’s contractors sometime in December, 2017 and that it is unlikely that the ARB will consider this project in January, 2018.
  • The next ARB meeting will likely be set in Feb or Mar 2018
  • The City of Palo Alto must provide the public information requested in the current and active California Pubic Records Act request.

Unfortunately, for three weeks, the City of Palo Alto has refused to answer important questions

  • The questions, listed below, were entered into the public record on 12/2/17
  • City of Palo Alto staff has not responded with adequate answers and has not returned multiple voicemails left with the City Planning staff about the missing answers to these questions
  • As of 12/22/17, we have been waiting 20 days for even an estimate of when the City of Palo Alto would answer the questions . . . so far, nothing.
  • The questions are listed below and additional details are here: Palo Alto Whitewashes RF Microwave Radiation Exposure Hazards

Questions Waiting for Answers from Jodie Gerhardt:

Before we consider Mr. Hammett’s 6/8/17 RF Microwave radiation exposure analysis and letter a misleading whitewash, will the City of Palo Alto please answer the following questions?

  1. At what time of the day were Mr. Hammett’s measurements taken?
  2. For each location, how many minutes did Mr. Hammett take these measurements? More or less than 30 minutes, the standard for general public exposure RF Microwave radiation exposure measurements?
  3. Once we know the answer to Q2, do you then have a data log for all of the measurements during this time period?
  4. Did you compare RF/MW radiation levels during different activities and at different times of day? We all know that network traffic varies by activity and throughout the day. Specifically, how did the average and peak readings compare during the following activities:

    • a: Beacon signals only, with no one in the office was connecting a device to the antenna on the light pole
    • b: While making a Verizon call
    • c: When sending/receiving a Verizon text
    • d: When streaming a video from the Verizon antenna
    • e: When downloading a software update from the Verizon antenna
  5. What was the maximum instantaneous power/density RF/MW radiation reading (a configuration option available on the NBM-520 Broadband Field Meter)?
  6. How do the maximum instantaneous power/density RF/MW radiation readings and compare to the average readings?

Questions Waiting for Answers from Rebecca Atkinson:

  1. What RF Microwave radiation exposure data did the City of Palo Alto request from Hammett & Edison for the report/letter H/E completed on 6/8/17 about the 19-Small Cell project completed and turned on in downtown Palo Alto in November 2016?
  2. What is the City of Palo Alto’s commitment to getting sufficient data from any RF Microwave radiation contractor to be able to accurately characterize the pre and post construction RF Microwave radiation exposure environment in Palo Alto where densified “Small Cells” have been or are planned to be installed? Having sufficient RF Microwave Radiation exposure data (simple averages are not sufficient) placed in the public record is critically important before any new “Small Cell” towers are approved for Palo Alto’s residential zones.
  3. The 17PLN-00169 document reports “Environmental Assessment: Pending . . . The project is under review in accordance with the authority and criteria contained in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the State CEQA Guidelines, and the environmental regulations of the City.”. Will you please describe the scope and timing required to complete this Environmental Assessment? What’s the plan to complete this?
  4. The 17PLN-00169 document says “The applicant submitted a statement on maximum buildout within their project description, which is still under analysis.” Is this complete? If not, when is the City of Palo Alto expecting this?
  5. What specific real-life evidence (not projections/calculations) has the applicant provided to prove that there is a significant gap in Verizon coverage? Verizon coverage maps from Verizon’s web site are not sufficient for this purpose.