City of Los Altos Scales Back

. . . Its Local Laws for Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Amid Litigation from AT&T and Verizon

Adapted from an article by Braden Cartwright, Mar 11, 2022 | Original Daily Post article here.

The city of Los Altos is backing off its strict rules on cell antennas, but Verizon and AT&T aren’t satisfied with the new ordinance. The battle over new cell antennas in Los Altos is playing out in a similar way in cities across the United States. Residents are against the new antennas because they say they are ugly, create noise and emit radio emissions. The cell antennas, or “nodes” are usually installed on top of existing power poles or streetlights, along with a box of equipment mounted to or next to the pole.

In 2019, Los Altos passed an ordinance with broad support banning cell antennas in residential areas and within 500 feet of schools. The Los Altos City Council then rejected 12 applications from AT&T and one from Verizon because they didn’t meet those rules. In response, both cell companies sued in federal court, arguing the denial wasn’t based on evidence.

Wire America: Once again, cities learn the hard lesson over and over how NOT to stand up to the Wireless industry. If Los Altos had just learned how to say no to Wireless Telecommunications Facility (WTF) applications — by citing substantial evidence in the public record — then none of these protections would have needed to be scaled back. Los Altos just shot themselves in the foot and are now capitulating as part of an unspoken settlement agreement in process, that the city could have avoided in the first place by learning from Ian Oglesby, the Mayor of Seaside, who ran a master class in his town on September, 19 2019 on How to Say No to WTF Applications:

That lawsuit is still pending, while consultants hired by the city worked on a new ordinance. The new ordinance, which was reviewed by the Los Altos Planning Commission on Thursday, says that cell nodes can go in residential streets as long as they are near a main road, within 200 to 500 feet. The city is mapped to show where the cell towers are allowed.

Dozens of residents wrote in asking the city to keep its original ordinance and ensure no cell antennas are placed close to schools and homes. The cell towers are visually unappealing, their cooling fans make noise, and they have a “refrigerator’s worth of equipment,” including lithium batteries on wooden poles that could potentially burn down a neighborhood, residents said.

The new ordinance says the city will grant exceptions if a cell company has evidence they need a site in a residential neighborhood to eliminate a significant gap in telecommunications coverage. The company would have to demonstrate, with substantial evidence in the public record, that not putting the antenna at that location would result in an effective prohibition of telecommunications servicea tough row to hoe for Wireless companies because everyone can make a wireless phone call on every carrier network in Los Altos today.

The ordinance has several other restrictions on things like height, noise and Wireless Telecommunications Facility (WTF) design. Attorney Deborah Fox, who is representing the city against AT&T and Verizon, said the ordinance is “state of the art” and she is confident that it meets federal law. But cell companies weren’t satisfied.

Paul Albritton, a lawyer for Verizon, wrote a 10-page letter calling for major parts of the ordinance to be deleted. He said the rules are vague, unreasonable and overstep the city’s authority. The FCC, not Los Altos, determines if cell antennas are needed, Albritton said. Many of the cities prohibitions should instead be preferences, he said. An attorney from AT&T said he had many of the same concerns.

Wire America: these assertions by AT&T and Verizon are simply not true. What else would you expect from companies that are founded on deception at their very cores?

Fox said she doesn’t know what would happen to AT&T and Verizon’s lawsuits if Los Altos passes the new ordinance. She said the city hopes a judge would decide that a ruling is no longer needed, but she suspects that the cell companies will still want a Judge Edward Davila to order their permits be approved.

Davila took motions from both sides without oral arguments in December, and the parties are awaiting a ruling. No court dates have been scheduled.

  1. Case No. 5:20-CV-294-SVK: New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC d/b/b AT&T Mobility v. City of Los Altos; United States District Court, Northern District of California
  2. Case No. 5:20-CV-386-CV: GTE Mobilnet of California Limited Partnership, a California limited partnership d/b/a VERIZON WIRELESS v. City of Los Altos; United States District Court, Northern District of California