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Loma Alta Cell Phone Tower Project Denied

Breaking with the advice of county staff, the Board of Supervisors granted an appeal on a cell phone tower at 147 E. Loma Alta Drive and the project will not go forward.

The County Board of Supervisors overturned the decision of their county planning staff Tuesday and denied a permit for a proposed 100 foot monopine cell phone tower in a wash area at 147 E. Loma Alta Drive.

Led by Altadena's representative, Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who described the project as "visually intrusive" the board voted unanimously on denying the permit to AT & T.

The ruling came after an appeal to the decision of a County Regional Planning Commission, which in February.  Staff in the Planning Department had advised the Board of Supervisors to uphold that ruling and deny the appeal, which was filed by several Altadena residents in the area.

Antonovich noted that the proposal was to build an 100 foot tower with the appearance of a pine tree in an area where the maximum building height was zoned for 35 feet.  He said he believed the project is inconsistent with neighborhood standards.

His opinion was shared by several neighbors immediately adjacent to the property who came to the hearing to oppose the project.

"It will be as tall as a seven or eight story building," said Altadena resident Lillian Jones. "When you mar the landscape with this kind of tower, the tower becomes the landscape."

Jones' opinion is not shared by everyone in the area: county staff noted that they received 53 letter or emails in favor of the project, and only eight in opposition.  However, the staff report does also include a petition opposing the project that was signed by more than 40 people.

Many of the supporters noted in their letters that they believe the project would have helped improve poor cell phone reception in Altadena.

The Altadena Town Council also supported the project and Town Council member (and Altadena Patch columnist) Greg Middleton spoke in favor of it at Tuesday's meeting.

Gary Edwards June 28, 2011 at 09:34 PM
I don't agree w/ the decision, but I don't live in that area. guess many people there moved in for the views.
Brian June 28, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Well, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have muffed another opportunity to correct a years-long problem. For the edification of uninformed bureaucrats, cellular telephone reception and service in the Altadena area is spotty at best. We grew up and live in Altadena (60+ years) and have used Verizon, ATT, T-mobile - all of which have intermittent reception problems. I have spoken with Verizon techs and they have identified the obvious problem being that there are not enough towers to fill the 'dead zones'. Calls from various carriers get dropped because of 'RF dead zones'. Now Altadena is roughtly 1400 feet above sea level in most areas - some areas are higher elevation, some lower, but the points is that with a 2 Watt 147 MHz (2 Meter band) transceiver you can speak to and hear reception clearly from Long Beach, CA when communicating using that type of radio. Similarly, digital cellular telephones transmit up to 600 milliwatts of power (0.6 Watts) and should be able to pick up a tower from Pasadena to the South, but microwave frequencies (900 MHz - 1200MHz+) do strange things when bouncing off mountains and are attenuated by trees. No question the phones are powerful enough - I can make calls from midway to Catalina Island (13 miles at sea). There ARE areas in Altadena where towers can be placed and not interefere with residents' views. If the people complaining fully understood the problem they might have another outlook on the matter. Let's rethink it.
John Doe June 28, 2011 at 11:13 PM
I agree with the decision. The project would have benefited AT&T and AT&T subscribers only. Emergency calls are routed through the nearest cell tower regardless of the provider. Thus, there is no need for an AT&T tower where, for example, emergency calls will be routed through Verizon or Sprint cell towers. Because the staff viewed this as a small project, the staff ignored the enhanced fire hazard (and other environmental risks) created by placing a cell tower and four supporting electrical boxes at ground level in an area surrounded by living and dead shrubs supported by unstable soil. The staff paid lip service to the fact that the proposed 100 foot tower would dwarf the existing trees at the site, which are 75 feet or shorter. Adding additional branches to hide the cell panels proposed to be at 95 above ground level does nothing to mitigate the aesthetic eye sore the illustration above depicts. The staff and, surprisingly, the ATC also ignored the HUD lending guidelines regulating loans to purchase property within the fall zone of a cell phone tower expressly because of the "effect of the "marketability resulting from the proximity to such site hazards...." CEQA places the burden of environmental investigation on the government. Here, the staff and regional planning commission closed their eyes to their watch-dog function. Thankfully, the board of supervisors did not.
Jason Heiss June 28, 2011 at 11:57 PM
Your comment about emergency calls routing through another provider is not true. AT&T and Verizon/Sprint don't even use the same basic technology in their current networks (GSM for AT&T, CDMA for Verizon/Sprint), so my AT&T phone isn't capable of communicating with a Verizon or Sprint tower. Even with carriers using the same basic technology (AT&T and T-Mobile or Verizon and Sprint) they often use different frequencies and have other barriers to prevent phones from roaming onto another network. Emergency calls do work on phones that aren't currently active, but only via a provider compatible with the phone's hardware and allowed by the phone (if the phone is locked to a specific provider, which is true of most phones in the US). (Disclaimer: I happen to work for AT&T, although in a division that has nothing to do with mobile phones. Anything I've said is my own opinion, etc.)
John Doe June 29, 2011 at 12:17 AM
Jason: Is AT&T in compliance with the Phase 1 E911 requirements enacted by the FCC in 2000? If not, this is another reason to move from AT&T to another provider. JD
Jason Heiss June 29, 2011 at 12:46 AM
As I said before I don't have anything to do with AT&T Mobility officially, but a quick look at the Wikipedia page for E911 notes that several carriers, not including AT&T, were fined by the FCC for missing the initial Phase 2 deadline in 2005. I think you can infer from that fact that AT&T, along with other carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile that were also not fined, had met the Phase 1 and initial Phase 2 deadlines by that date in 2005. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E911#Requirements
John Doe June 29, 2011 at 01:41 AM
And we can also infer that, if AT&T met the Phase 1 deadline, emergency calls from its subscribers will be routed from the nearest cell tower.
Joyce L Robinson June 29, 2011 at 03:58 PM
I am very disappointed in the outcome of the hearing. I am not totally knowledgeable about the technology between the various cell phone companies and how all this works. However, I am concerned that living in the foothill community I have very poor (and sometimes no) coverage from AT & T and I was optomistic that the new cell tower would give all of us better reception. I do hope that AT & T will continue to explore an alternative plan to improve reception in this area. In case of an emergency and downed phone lines, our cell phone coverage is woefully pitiful and inadequate. JR
SteveB June 29, 2011 at 06:39 PM
No - as explained so thoughtfully by Jason, AT&T phones are only compatible with AT&T towers, Verizon phones are only compatible with Verizon towers. Emergency cell calls can only be routed on a compatible tower. It is impossible for a Verizon tower to accommodate an AT&T phone and vice versa, due to the different technologies employed and the different wireless spectrum regions used. So, if there is no AT&T tower nearby, AT&T cell users will not have emergency call ability. The E911 provisions ensure that anyone with a cell phone with an inactive account will still be granted access to the network for E911 calls - but this only applies for AT&T phones on AT&T towers, Verizon phones on Verizon towers, etc.
Jason Heiss June 29, 2011 at 07:36 PM
If you have an unlocked GSM phone it would route through any GSM tower (AT&T or T-Mobile). There's enough overlap between AT&T and T-Mobile's frequencies that an AT&T phone could use T-Mobile's network for basic phone calls and vice-versa. Of course most GSM phones sold in the US aren't unlocked. I'm less familiar with the CDMA carriers so I don't know if a Sprint phone can use Verizon's network or vice versa. I think with JD is getting at is the requirement under E911 that carriers route 911 calls even for non customers. That's true, but the carrier can only route the call if the user has a phone that is capable of communicating with the carrier's network. There are lots of technical barriers there, which means in most cases your phone is only going to use the original carrier's network.
Steve Lamb June 30, 2011 at 07:40 PM
WOW! The comments here are not at all representative of the feelings of the number of people from the community who showed up to public hearings and were opposed. Its a good thing the Board of Supervisors listened to the public and voted with them.
SteveB June 30, 2011 at 09:13 PM
Listened to the public? By measure of letters and petitions, it was 53-48 in favor of the tower. I for one am indifferent, as I am a Verizon customer. Under what conditions would you favor the addition of cell towers to improve service?
Steve Lamb June 30, 2011 at 10:54 PM
or perhaps they will finally do a study to determine the best fewest co locations with the maximum impact....Like the ATC requested several years ago
John Doe July 01, 2011 at 02:00 AM
JH is correct. My point is that, if AT&T wanted and hasn't already done so, it has the ability to implement the technology to allow E911 calls to be routed through cells of other carriers. Apparently, AT&T has not. Instead, because AT&T consistently has placed last amongst providers of cell phone service in the area, AT&T has embarked on this well-publicized campaign to place multiple cell towers throughout LA County in an effort to climb out of the competitive cellar. It is shameful that AT&T has not disclosed to its subscribers that it has the ability to relieve their emergency call fears and, instead, has allowed the fear to be advanced as a basis to meet the goals of its campaign to enhance its bottom line.
SteveB July 01, 2011 at 05:34 PM
JH is correct, but you don't seem to be understanding him: "the carrier can only route the call if the user has a phone that is capable of communicating with the carrier's network. There are lots of technical barriers there, which means in most cases your phone is only going to use the original carrier's network."
Lori Paul January 17, 2012 at 07:01 PM
With respect, rather than plastering the community with unsightly individual towers scattered in close proximity to residences, why doesn't AT&T follow the example of towers placed in other rugged terrain and mount their cell antennas on the big power towers? SCE is planning the large Tehachapi Project to replace the tall transmission towers above Altadena and La Canada Flintridge on the San Gabriel Mountains above us. We can all look up and see the existing towers. Soon, they will be even taller 500kV towers. All the cell companies (T-Mobile, Verizon & AT&T) could mount their cell equipment up on those towers that are in line of sight to all of Altadena, and we'd all have great cell service. Mounting cell service on those transmission towers makes sense. Why has AT&T not proposed this? Is it because they would have to jump through USFS hoops to install in Angeles Nat'l Forest on the existing, or planned, transmission towers? Or, is there some other reason? I think we need to find out why this option has not been promoted. The "mono-pine" designs AT&T has tried to impose on Altadena neighborhoods are unaesthetic, look like hideous fake Christmas trees, and age poorly. The fake palms look a bit better, but are still undesirable. More importantly, there is increasing evidence that close proximity to cell towers does involve increased health risks, regardless of what Federal standards (influenced by industry) allow.
Steve Lamb January 17, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Lori- THAT MAKES SENSE! Probably why it will never happen
Brian January 18, 2012 at 02:37 AM
The fact is Altadena has bad cellular tower reception because of inane regulations by LA supervisors and local residents who don't understand microwave transmission limitations as a function of antenna height. The towers are TOO LOW that is why the phone service is bad for most every person with a phone. Everywhere else in the Los Angeles area you go you'll see that transmission towers are high up in order to effectively receive and transmit these microwave cellular signals. Microwave frequencies are 'line-of-sight' essentially, so the more direct path to the antenna you have, the better signal strength (bars) you receive. A new transmission tower could be installed up on the mountain behind Loma Alta school, so that all cell phones in the area could easily receive and transmit to it line-of-sight and get great service. The problem is all the hype associated with how the tower 'looks' when installed but many newer designs look like living evergreen trees, so what is the problem for Altadenans on this???? As far as providers' towers communicating with cell phone of various manufacturers, Tri-Mode mode phones with analog transmission capability can use any one of the towers out there for 911 services that still have analog receivers.

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