Better Cell Coverage Adds a Visual Cost


By Lauren Korduner, Special to the Independent

Improved cellular phone coverage may be on its way for Verizon Wireless subscribers in Laguna Beach. The telecommunications company has submitted 18 applications for new wireless facilities within city and state rights-of-way to increase capacity for its data-hungry customers.

The Planning Commission considered four of these sites during its May 17 meeting and cellular attachments to two wooden poles along Laguna Canyon Road were approved in April.

The four commissioners present did not hide their displeasure with the aesthetics of the replacement street lights needed to support an antennae and radio apparatus. Commissioner Roger McErlane was absent.

“This is going to change the whole streetscape,” added Commissioner Anne Johnson. “I just think it’s awful.”

Four residents also spoke during the public hearing in opposition to the proposals. Scott Thomas lives on the inland side of Alta Laguna Boulevard. The cellular attachments would appear directly in the line of sight of his ocean view, he said.

Thomas encouraged the commission to consider alternatives to the cellular attachments, including a separate pole. He also suggested commissioners look at alternative locations.

“There’s places you can put a new pole that are not in the direct line of sight of a homeowner,” he said.

Thomas said he learned at a community meeting that the city, fire department and school district had all declined to put the antennae on their property.

“It’s strange that there’s agencies that have said no, but the little guy, trying to have coffee, apparently has a small voice,” Thomas said.

“We did explore alternate locations, both on private and public property,” said Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Teresa Grisenti, regarding the Alta Laguna location. “There were no private or public options that were viable,” she said.

Resident Lisa Van Alpen, who also lives on Alta Laguna, echoed Thomas’s comments about view obstruction but raised other issues, including health and safety and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Responding to Van Alpen’s ADA concerns, Grisenti said should the proposal receive approval, the city would widen the section of sidewalk around the pole, allowing for pedestrian traffic. The space taken up by this sidewalk “bump” would be right-of-way space, not park space, according to Grisenti.

The Federal Communications Commission does not recognize any public health risks associated with cellular towers, Assistant Planner Anthony Viera said.

Unfortunately, most of the objections raised by commissioners fell outside their authority to review. Height, diameter and material of the replacement poles were discussed, however, Southern California Edison sets the requirements for the poles with small cellular attachments, according to a city staff report.

“It’s just so industrial,” said Commission member Susan McLintock Whitin.

Viera, who delivered the report, noted that the proposals had already undergone design revisions to minimize their visual impact with a smaller pole that is within SCE’s minimum requirements. One revision had reduced the pole’s height by two feet, Viera said.

Commission member Ken Sadler took issue with the pole diameter, specifically. He argued that the replacement poles need not be so wide for the load they carry. The cylindrical antennae and the remote radio units to be installed each weigh approximately 55 pounds, according to Verizon’s Grisenti, who did not dispute Sadler’s assertion.

Both Viera and Grisenti advised commission members against arguing the point with SCE.

“Edison is not known for being a flexible organization,” Grisenti said. Viera called the idea a “tough sell.” He said SCE would be unlikely to adopt a new design within a timeframe agreeable to Verizon. The city is required to respond to Verizon’s application within 150 days, or July 16, he said.

Prior to the hearing, Verizon held community meetings, which Grisenti said were well attended.

Many of the attendees favored the project, she said, including one woman who had circulated a petition in favor of the project and collected 80 signatures.

Instead of attaching cellular components to existing light poles, the alternative would be installation of an entirely new pole, most likely made of steel, Viera said. The planner noted this addition would add to the “street clutter.”

“As a planning commission policy, we prefer to see attachments to existing structures,” Viera said.

Ultimately, however, the commission wished to see this alternative. They directed city planners to work with Verizon to provide schematics for separate, steel poles.

Chair Sue Kempf summed up the feeling of the commission before the vote: “We’re not excited.”

The planning commission voted 4-0, to continue the proposals to the June 21 meeting.

Share this:
View Our User Comment Policy



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here