By Gary Walker
Plans to install cell phone antennas on top of an apartment building near Venice Beach are getting a cold reception from neighbors, prompting opposition by the Venice Neighborhood Council.
An Orange County cell tower installation firm has proposed placing antennas concealed by a chimney-like box on top of a three-story complex at 101 Dudley Ave, a 99-year-old former hotel at the corner of Pacific Avenue.
The addition would increase the height of the building, already too tall under current zoning rules, by about nine feet.
Citing those height limits, concern about noise during installation and maintenance and lack of parking for maintenance vehicles, members of the council voted 14-0 on Nov. 19 to recommend against city approval.
Maryann Harwood, a representative of Reliant Land Services Inc., said client AT&T needs a tower in the area to resolve gaps in cell phone coverage.
In its application for a city permit, the company wrote that the antenna would provide enhanced coverage in the Venice area needed to accommodate community growth and supplement surrounding sites that become overloaded due to increasing demand.
“AT&T radio frequency engineers are constantly monitoring telecommunication sites to identify sites experiencing heavy demand in wireless traffic load causing some degradation in optimum service in the surrounding location. RF engineers identified the need for this site to provide coverage along Pacific Avenue/Neilson Way between Ashland Avenue and Sunset Avenue including the surrounding residential/business area in Venice,” reads a related application document.
“The criteria to provide optimum coverage to meet demands in service are very specific to the location and height requirements of the antennas. This is the only building in this search ring that meets, not only the radio frequency, but the site requirements as well,” the document continues.
There are 210 cellular towers for various companies located within a four mile radius of 101 Dudley, according to antennasearch.com.
A city staff report to the Venice Neighborhood Council Land Use and Planning Committee acknowledges that the company makes “a valid point that emergency services could be overtaxed with the present level of coverage” and that the antennas would serve a growing number of 4G customers.
But the report concludes that opposition is the better route due to zoning regulations and “strong community opposition of adding this commercial use in this residential neighborhood.”
Residents have collected more than 100 signatures in opposition to the antennas.
“We feel that it is wrong to expose private homes and apartment to radiation just because it may is cheaper or more convenient for AT&T,” said Joanne Faust, who has lived across the street from the 101 Dudley for 46 years.
Rules set down by the Federal Communications Commission prevent local government agencies from considering radiation fears — which the agency dismisses as unfounded —when considering a cell phone tower or antenna application.
But the more pressing issue in this case appeared to be whether commercial equipment was appropriate for residential neighborhoods.
“I felt the design of the tower was not right for Venice,” said Jake Kaufman, chair of the council’s land use and planning committee.
“I generally believe that cell towers should be located on non-residential properties … [and] “I agreed with the concerns of residents regarding a lack of parking for maintenance of the tower and services to support it,” Kaufman said.
Last year the Venice Neighborhood Council approved a motion that called for a moratorium on new installations of cell phone equipment.
According to a staff report, the motion “included wording that referenced that any new installations should be co-location towers and be decorated as works of art. Additionally, the motion addressed abnormal [high] usage periods for such equipment and suggested cell providers consider utilizing mobile equipment as a means of backfilling these peak periods of usage.”
Pressed to find more sites to expand their service networks, telecommunications companies have been increasingly looking to place cellular transmission equipment in residential areas — often to the dismay of neighbors.
In 2010, Westchester couple Jeffrey and Candace Yip locked horns with T-Mobile over a proposal to locate a 43-foot cell phone tower near their property.
“It would be very unsightly in our neighborhood,” Candace Yip said.
They enlisted the help of Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Westchester), who later received a letter from the company stating it had dropped the proposal due to neighborhood opposition.