The installation of wireless cell facilities has become a hot topic of conversation in Danville as a group of residents has been working to keep the new facilities associated with cellphone service away from residential neighborhoods.
In an attempt to find a compromise between these citizens and telecommunication provider Verizon Wireless, the Danville Town Council debated the issue for nearly five hours Tuesday but ultimately deferred its decision for 30 days on an appeal made by the Danville Citizens for Responsible Growth (DCRG), requesting that town officials deny the installation of a facility located on Camino Tassajara.
“For me, it is really simple: I just need to know that we exhausted all of the alternatives before we made a decision,” Mayor Robert Storer said at the council’s regular meeting as the clock approached midnight. “4 and 5G is coming, and we have to think about how we are going to manage it in the town of Danville.”
A land-use permit for the cell facility -- owned by Verizon -- was approved by the Danville Planning Commission at its regular meeting on Oct. 23. The project consists of the placement of panel antennas contained within a four-foot-tall radome on top of a six-foot extension of the pole and the mounting of related equipment on the lower portion of the pole on Camino Tassajara approximately 225 feet east of Gatetree Drive.
Tuesday’s town council meeting was well-attended, with almost 100 residents showing up to support or oppose the proposed appeal. Although the majority of approximately 30 public speakers supported repealing the land-use permit for health and aesthetic reasons, due to the facility being located too close to neighborhood homes, among other points.
The meeting concluded with the council voting to review the process further and encourage Verizon officials to open a dialogue about potential alternative solutions.
DCRG first submitted its appeal requesting the relocation or denial of the facility on Nov. 2, in a letter submitted by the group's legal representation, Anita Taff-Rice.
“Verizon has taken the attitude that they are looking for a unicorn. That they are looking for that one perfect pole that they can go use,” Taff-Rice said at Tuesday night's meeting.
One of Taff-Rice’s key arguments was Verizon had failed to adequately consider potentially better-suited alternative locations for the facility that would be located farther away from homes.
“That is not a prohibition of service. It may be inconvenient; it is not a prohibition of service,” she said. “I get the sense that things have been conflated a bit that if Verizon has to do anything extra, anything more than what is convenient, they say ‘oh gosh that's a prohibition of service.’”
Alternatives to the current site proposed by Taff-Rice include the open space area above the neighborhood, at the East Bay Municipal Utility District pumping plant at the intersection of Camino Tassajara and Sycamore Valley Road, or two parcels on the north side of Camino Tassajara near the Sycamore Valley Road intersection.
“I can see it from my window where I sleep and it is located near several other residences, so it is a very bad tower,” said Ricardo Vasallo, a Danville resident whose home lies closest to the proposed facility. “I think the town of Danville has an obligation first to the citizens of Danville before these corporations.”
Town officials said technically Verizon could also build a new pole -- instead of using a town-owned preexisting one -- at a different location, but Verizon officials said this would be a new concept for them that is not employed by most cities.
Verizon representatives at the meeting were open to further discussion over alternative locations, but the company’s legal representative, Paul Albritton, maintained that there was no other preferred area other than the one previously approved by the Planning Commission.
“Verizon Wireless is hoping to bring wireless service to Danville in order to enhance your community, enhance the business community, to enhance the safety of your community in times of crisis,” Albritton told the council. “We think that we have carefully analyzed the sites in collaboration with the city and the staff to identify the preferred location with the least impacts.”
Albritton also took the time to explain that the facility on Camino Tassajara is a 4G facility, not a 5G, a misconception held by many residents in attendance.
Verizon representatives said they received a wealth of support from community members responding to a text survey, claiming over 400 respondents supported improved service in town. Opposition members have criticized these statistics, saying the survey question was biased, and did not accurately represent the issue facing the community.
Town staff maintained that when it comes to regulating the installation of cell facilities in public areas, the hands of local jurisdictions such as Danville are tied by the state and federal governments.
“The discretionary review authority that local jurisdictions have over the deployment of wireless communication facilities, especially in the public right-of-way, is largely preempted by federal and state law. The town’s authority is currently limited to aesthetic considerations such as consistency with any established local standards and design guidelines,” Danville’s principal planner David Crompton wrote in a staff report.
By the meeting's end, Verizon officials agreed to give the town and additional 30 days to review the issue, and proposed collaborating with council members or town staff in order to properly review options.
Town staff reportedly will review options for additional meetings with Verizon representatives and what regulation powers the town does have at the council’s meeting in early March.