Frequently Asked Questions - Wireless Communication Facilities

Why are these applications being filed now? 

Small cells are the most recent progression of wireless radio technology and are quickly becoming part of the strategy by the wireless service operators to “densify” their networks to improve coverage and capacity. Small cells and DAS (distributed antenna systems) are low-power antennas, typically mounted on utility poles, streetlight poles, buildings and street furniture. Small cells and DAS are expected to play key roles in improving network density, allowing wireless networks to support more users and faster mobile broadband speeds. Small cells bring the operator’s network closer to the user. Small cells improve coverage and capacity in high traffic areas and ensure mobile broadband capacity to serve the needs of data-intensive users. Over the next few years, the roll-out of next-generation 5G wireless will require the deployment of many more antennas, including macro-cellular towers, small cells and DAS.

What is Verizon proposing?

Palo Alto. Verizon has partnered with at least two different contractors, Vinculums and Crown Castle, to process these applications. To date, Verizon has submitted formal applications for three clusters, through their Vinculums contractor, covering Midtown, Palo Verde, South of Midtown, Barron Park, Old Palo Alto, Triple El and other adjacent areas. The status and plans for each application are viewable via this webpage: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/gov/depts/pln/new_projects/development_proposals.asp

The webpage has each wireless application noted; current information about each application can be viewed by clicking on this link: https://paloalto.buildingeye.com/planning and entering ‘250 Hamilton’. 

Cluster 1 is going to the Architectural Review Board for a first formal review on Dec. 7 and is scheduled to go back to the ARB on Jan, 18, 2018. The staff report will be viewable via this link: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/gov/boards/architectural/default.asp. A link to the Verizon Cluster 1 project is here: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=3999&TargetID=319

Cluster 2 application link is here: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=4000&TargetID=319; the Jan. 18, 2018 ARB date is targeted for a first formal review of this application.

Cluster 3 application link is here: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=4058&TargetID=319. No meeting date has been targeted (as this is an incomplete application).

Verizon submitted a preliminary architectural review application (17PLN-00193), through their Crown Castle contractor, for 16 small cell nodes in Downtown North, University South and near Town & Country. The formal application(s) for these small cell nodes are anticipated to be submitted in What is AT&T proposing? 

AT&T recently submitted a preliminary architectural review application (17PLN-00398) viewable here: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=4094

What is the process for approval? 

The proposed small cell nodes are subject to the City’s Tier 3 Wireless Communication Facility review process. The Architectural Review Board (ARB) will hold public hearings before making a recommendation to the Director of Planning and Community Environment (PCE). The PCE Director will then issue tentative decision(s), which are subject to review by the City Council upon appeal. If appealed, the Council will be the final decision maker and so will need to avoid any involvement or pre-judgment on pending applications until they have an opportunity to review the entire record of proceedings by the ARB and staff. More information on the Planning process can be found in PAMC Section 18.42.110 (Wireless Communication Facilities).

All of the nodes that are approved will also need a permit(s) from the City’s Public Works Department and will have to conform with the Council-approved Master License Agreement governing installation on City poles.

What’s the status of the formal applications and the City’s schedule for considering them?

The Verizon small cell nodes are being processed in groups or “clusters” of 15-20 individual sites in different geographic areas of the City.

Vinculums/Verizon Cluster 1 involves locations in the Midtown area, Cluster 2 in Barron Park area and Cluster 3 in Old Palo Alto and surrounding areas. 

Dec.7 is the first public ARB meeting for the Verizon’s Cluster 1 formal application. A second ARB meeting on Jan. 18, 2018 is targeted for the continued hearing. The ARB is requested to make a recommendation to the PCE Director. The PCE Director’s decision is final with respect to each individual node, unless the node is timely appealed to the City Council within 14 days.

What’s the status of the informal/preliminary review application and what is the City’s schedule for considering them?

The ARB held a preliminary review on the Crown Castle/Verizon application 17PLN-00193 on Sept. 21, 2017. A preliminary review is an opportunity for the ARB and the public to offer initial comments prior to a formal application being filed. 

What do small cell facilities look like?

All of these small cell nodes are proposed to be installed on existing/replacement poles and some may involve placing boxes similar to utility cabinets along sidewalks. A non-functioning example of Vinculums/Verizon’s small cell node and equipment has been installed near 1320 Newell Road. This is not necessarily the final design.

Can the City reject all of the applications and just say “no”? 

Both state and federal law place some limitations on the City’s authority to regulate telecommunications facilities in the public right of way. The City has adopted a wireless facilities ordinance that creates three permitting processes depending on the scope of the proposed wireless communications facilities. Tier 3 permits are required for all new facilities (which is how the City is treating these applications). This level requires at least one community meeting prior to formal submittal of an application, and that the City be able to make its architectural review and conditional use permit findings for each proposed facility.

State law grants telecommunications companies a general right to construct facilities in the public right of way, so long as these fixtures do not inconvenience the public. The City may therefore regulate issues such as aesthetics or noise, which may cause such inconvenience, but has very limited ability to inquire into issues of technological necessity, technological preferences, and network configuration. Both the 9th Circuit and the California Court of Appeals have recently confirmed the ability of municipalities to do site-by-site reviews of installations based on aesthetic impacts. However, cities’ efforts to regulate these installations are still being litigated in the courts, and the ultimate outcome has yet to be determined.

Federal law also provides that the City cannot prohibit, or effectively prohibit, the provision of wireless telecommunications services. Under this law, if the City denies an application under its permit review process, a wireless carrier may attempt to show that its proposal is necessary to address a significant gap in coverage and that the denial would effectively prohibit wireless service. Federal law also limits the City’s ability to consider RF emissions and sets a “shot clock” of 90 days for collocation on existing facilities and 150 days for new facilities. The shot clock begins when an application is filed. The City has asserted that these applications are for new wireless facilities, subject to a 150 day shot clock.

When will I be able to provide comments?

The City is actively receiving public comments on all pending applications. ARB meetings are open to the public, as are City Council hearings. You are welcome to attend any of their noticed meetings and provide oral comments or to send written comments in advance of the meetings. Small cell comments may be directed to the Project Planner, Rebecca Atkinson, at rebecca.atkinson@cityofpaloalto.org. As always, comments may also be directed to the ARB and the City Council. 

Will I be noticed of public hearing(s)?

When a formal application is first submitted, an initial notice is sent to all neighbors within 600 feet of a proposed small cell node.
Prior to public hearing(s), notice is published in the Palo Alto Weekly and postcards are sent to all neighbors within 600 feet of a proposed small cell node. Once a tentative decision is made, notice will be mailed to this same 600 foot radius.

ARB agendas and staff reports will be available on the ARB webpage.

Public hearings may also be viewed online here

How can I appeal a decision by the PCE Director?

The Director’s decisions on each of the wireless communication facility nodes become final and effective fourteen (14) calendar days from the postmark date of a decision letter and/or notice card mailing (or on the next business day if it falls on a weekend or holiday), unless appeal(s) are filed pursuant to PAMC Section 18.77.070(e).  Any appeal(s) shall be in writing and submitted to the Planning Division prior to the end of the business day of the fourteenth day. The Director’s decisions for nodes that are not appealed within this time shall become final. Any appeal(s) shall be placed on the City Council consent calendar within 45 days pursuant to PAMC Section 18.77.070(f). The appeal form, which contains brief instructions, can be found on the City website. Each appealed node should be specifically listed by node number on the appeal form and in the letter stating the reason(s) for the appeal. As outlined in the Fiscal Year 2018 Municipal Fee Schedule, the total fee to file an appeal for one or more nodes is two-hundred and eighty dollars ($280.00). The fee is refunded if the City Council chooses not to hear an appeal.

What are additional ways to follow these projects?

Information on major Planning applications are posted to the Planning Department’s webpage

All Planning applications are available on the City’s Building Eye webpage

Note – As these small cell nodes are grouped into clusters and located within the right-of-way, the City has chosen to aggregate the nodes under the placeholder address of “250 Hamilton."

How can I contact Verizon directly?

  • For Vinculums/Verizon, contact Mary Diesch, Site Acquisition Manager, Small Cells, 415-730-3700, mdiesch@vinculums.com
  • For Crown Castle/Verizon , contact Rochelle Swanson, Project Manager, 916-801-3178, r.swanson@sure-site.com 

How can I contact AT&T directly?

  • For Sure Site/AT&T Mobility, contact Laura Meiners, Site Development Specialist, West Region, Sure Site 949-278-2962, l.meiners@sure-site.com