A new wireless telecommunications facility approved by the Danville Planning Commission on Tuesday has drawn the ire of some residents who remain concerned over the potential negative health and property value effects of installing the antennae.
The facility -- owned by Verizon Wireless -- will be located in a residential area long the north side of Camino Tassajara approximately 225 feet east of Gatetree Drive. Residents gathered at the Planning Commission’s regular meeting last Tuesday evening, to express their concerns and advocate for increased local control over the placement of cell towers -- before the commission ultimately approved the project.
“I implore both the Town Council and Planning Commission to reconsider this permit, pause the execution of it, and draft a new ordinance that would ensure the home values and people's health of this town are not negatively impacted by the installation of these cell towers,” said Nick Vasallo, whose family lives adjacent to a recently approved Verizon site.
Vasallo -- whose parents' home is within 250 feet of the tower -- claims that aside from potential health risks, the cell tower will place a hardship on his family due to lower property values resulting from the location of the tower. He also contends that the tower will devalue property not just in the neighborhood, but in all of Danville.
“My parents sleep upstairs on the second floor… my two children (ages 5 and 2) spend most of their time in the backyard even closer to the installation tower,” Vasallo said, adding that he is supported by a petition that over 130 people have signed.
Town staff listened to the concerns of residents but highlighted the fact the regulation of cell facility placement is largely out of their hands.
“Federal law prohibits local jurisdictions from establishing regulations or taking actions which would effectively preclude a wireless communications provider from delivering service,” town principal planner David Crompton wrote in a staff report.
Federal regulations largely limit municipalities to regulating the aesthetic design and placement of towers. The Federal Communications Commission mandates policies for the entire country, and has issued strict rules limiting Danville’s, and other municipalities', options -- one of those being it is illegal to deny a wireless tower land-use permit for health reasons.
“Federal law (the Wireless Communications Act of 1996) prohibits local jurisdictions from considering perceived health effects when taking an action on a proposed facility,” Crompton added.
The FCC maintains that it is very unlikely that a person can be exposed to radio frequency levels in excess of their guidelines.
Vasallo and other residents remained displeased with the ruling and are campaigning for the Danville to find other options and lobby the federal government for change.
“Rather than implement an urgency ordinance protecting its residents (like that of Mill Valley), our current Town Council revised the town of Danville wireless ordinance to encourage more towers, provided they be placed in residential areas only. Despite long-term studies showing increased rates of cancer, cognitive impacts, and reproductive impacts” wrote Jami Tucker, a write-in candidate for the Danville Town Council.
Tucker is referring to an urgency ordinance passed by the Mill Valley Council in September, limiting the placement of cell towers in residential areas. The Mill Valley ordinance provides a 1,500-foot buffer from each small cell facility and prohibits such facilities in residential and multi-family zoning districts.
While the ordinance has already passed, Mill Valley staff are participating in additional research to ensure that current regulations do not band towers from the city altogether and if the city is open to potential litigation, according to the city’s Sept. 6 staff report.
Danville town staff say to refuse the land-use permit for the tower could bring legal issues to the town.
"If the town were to unilaterally refuse the request without a legal basis, we would then be open to litigation," said Geoff Gillette, Danville’s public information officer.
Residents will have until next Friday (Nov. 2) to file an appeal with the town over the approval of the tower on Camino Tassajara to force a Town Council hearing. No appeals have been filed to date, according to Gillette.
The approved Verizon tower will be placed on a public utility pole and consist of four-foot-tall panel antennae on the top of the pole accompanied by related equipment mounted on the lower end.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story listed an incorrect appeal deadline date. Residents have until Friday, Nov. 2 to file an appeal with the town of Danville. And to clarify, the wireless facility will be antennae and associated equipment connected to an existing utility pole, as opposed to an entirely new cell tower.