• Small Cell Towers nixed in 7-hour Monterey Planning Commission meeting

    By Gary Baley

    In a 7-hour marathon Planning Commission meeting Thursday evening, commissioners overruled staff and voted 7-0 to deny telecom giant Verizon’s application for a small cell tower in the Monte Vista neighborhood of Monterey. The meeting, held in City Council chambers, lasted from 6 pm Thursday to 1 am Friday morning. 

    The full Planning Commission was in attendance: Stephen Millich (Chair), Michael Dawson (Vice Chair), Michael Brassfield, Sam Ezekiel, Daniel Fletcher, Terry Latasa, and Hansen Reed. Staff was represented by Todd Bennett, Senior Associate Planner.

    Pouring rain didn’t stop 150 residents from attending the meeting nor did it dampen the passions of those opposed to the project originally slated for 13 cell towers in three adjacent neighborhoods: Monte Vista, Skyline, and parts of Old Town.

    By show of hands, about two-thirds were Verizon customers. 

    Bennet presented the staff’s summary of the application. The crowd gasped and booed when he recommended approval and at several other times during the proceedings. Interrupting Bennet’s presentation, one irate resident began a tirade at the commissioners demanding to know their names and names of all staff at the tables, pointing to each one in turn, in case he wanted to sue for devaluing his property. After a nod from Chairman Millich, this agitator was physically ejected by Monterey police officers Andrews and Bromer. Then Millich explained to the crowd “We are not your enemy. We are your neighbors. We’re trying to do the right thing here, but we have to proceed with decorum.” He then called a 5-minute recess.

     If approved, Verizon’s towers would be the first phase of a proposed 5G telecom network for the entire Monterey Peninsula area. The new 5G technology is the next step in telecoms’ ever increasing reach for more wireless bandwidth to compete with cable and fiber for voice, data, video, and IOT (the Internet of Things) services. 

    Verizon’s existing 4G wireless coverage in Monterey is based on cell towers using the 700 megahertz (MHz) radio spectrum, but Verizon’s 5G technology requires higher frequencies in the 1900 and 2100 MHz spectrum. In fact, the 5G spectrum spans frequencies as high as 3, 6, 26, 28, 38, and 60 gigahertz (GHz). Since these higher-frequency radio waves don’t propagate well through foliage, structures and rain, cell towers must be located closer to receivers such as cell phones, cars, and homes. This means more cell towers—a lot more. According to CTE, the company retained by the city to analyze Verizon’s plan: “Each small cell node in the deployment typically covers an area of between 800-to-3,000 square feet, depending on antenna selection and terrain.” Doing the math conservatively, this means that for every square mile of 5G coverage, Verizon might deploy 9,292 small cell towers. Likewise for other 5G vendors. The city of Monterey comprises about 8 square miles in area. 

    The day before the meeting, ExteNet Systems, Inc., the company hired by Verizon to identify tower locations and file permits for them, mysteriously withdrew 12 of the 13 applications, leaving the single cell tower planned at the corner of Mar Vista Drive and Cuesta Vista Drive as the only application under consideration. If that was a tactic to dampen public opposition as some opponents surmised, it didn’t work—there was standing room only, and the public even overflowed outside in the rain as the meeting got underway. 

    To the consternation of the commission and the audience, no one from Verizon attended the meeting.

    After presentations by staff and ExteNet, questioning by the commissioners followed. Public input began at 9 pm. The chair limited public comments to 2 minutes each due to over 50 residents wanting to speak. This angered many who had prepared statements based on the customary 3-minute rule. 

    Patricia Venza, acting president of the Monte Vista Neighbors Association representing 450 members spoke first and presented over 700 emails against Verizon’s permit application. “Verizon claims these new cell towers are needed because of a coverage gap; yet down at the Verizon store, they claim that they have full coverage in Monterey,” she exclaimed “You can’t have it both ways!” 

    The Association vice president, Susan Nine, also spoke and said she knew of no one in the neighborhood that has ever experienced any problem with reception or download speed. “There is no coverage gap” she said. She also opined a certain “cozy” relationship between the telecom industry and government—evidenced by the rule that environmental concerns including health concerns cannot be used to deny a permit application, and the FCC “shot clock” order that automatically grants this application if a decision is not taken by the end of the month. This order forces city commissions to work on the timeline set by the federal government irrespective of local moratoriums and exigent circumstances.

    One resident’s speech drew an outcry of astonishment from the crowd as she displayed a map of the 13 proposed towers with arrows pointing in the direction each antenna was to be aimed—all 13 toward Pebble Beach. The ExteNet response was that they were “pointing away from the ocean to avoid interference across the bay”. Another outcry—this time of disbelief—erupted from the crowd.

    Yet another irate resident berated both staff and Verizon’s agents for ignoring the possible health effects of the 5G high-frequency radiation citing that what testing had been done occurred ten years ago with low-frequency radio waves. He compared rushing into this technology with the Romans using leaden utensils and going insane, the tobacco industry claiming cigarettes were safe, and the government approving chemicals like Agent Orange and DDT. He said “Let some other neighborhood be your guinea pig and come back here in ten years when you’ve proven this 5G thing to be safe.” 

    Bruce Zanetta, a Neighborhood Association board member, believes both the coverage and capacity gaps claimed by Verizon are bogus. “The real reason for the 5G towers is to position Verizon in the broadband market to compete with AT&T, Comcast, and other broadband carriers.” he said “No one is clamoring for 5G.” As to Verizon’s rationale he expounded “If you build it, they will come”. He also believes that local government is feeling the weight and overreach of federal government with rules and regulations that constrain municipalities’ ability to control their own neighborhoods in capitulation to federal power. He remarked “After Trump’s appointment of Ajit Pai as Chairman of the FCC, it’s amazing how fast decisions in Washington surge down to restrain the authority of cities.”

    “No member of the public spoke in support of the application” Susan Nine said with satisfaction. But she then lamented “Although the commission voted to reject the application based on aesthetics and potential fire hazards, Verizon can appeal to the City Council and from there it could go to the courts which generally favor industry.” 

    Pat Venza warned “Residents of Pacific Grove, Carmel, Marina, Seaside, and Salinas should be concerned. If one 5G application sets a precedent, other carriers cannot be denied. Soon the Monterey Peninsula could be peppered with cell towers on every block.”

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 19, 2018

    Topics: Front PG News

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