Residents hoping for better cell phone reception near Creekside Park soon could be getting it.
The Walnut Planning Commission Wednesday night voted 4-0 to approve Verizon’s request to build a cell phone tower in the park. Commissioner Wen Pei was absent.
Commissioner Tom Sykes said the commission had done its due diligence in reviewing the project and regulations regarding cell phone towers.
“I don’t believe that I can find justification to deny based on I believe the applicant met all of the criteria to get an approval,” he said. “I don’t write the rules and I am not happy with some of the regulations, but that’s what I have to rule within.”
The approval comes 16 months after the telecommunications company first brought the proposal before the commission. Delays in recent months were related to the city’s request that Verizon hire a third-party consultant to make sure the cell phone carrier really needed the tower to improve coverage.
The findings of the report, drafted by MobileNet Services, Inc., supported Verizon contention that the Creekside Park location would provide improved reception, compared to two other nearby locations.
“It’s clear that the most significant improvement to the…coverage in the “poor coverage region” would occur if a site is placed at the Verizon Wireless proposed location,” consultants wrote in the report. “The other sites could aid coverage, but not as well as the park site because they are “heavily surrounded by terrain (hills) as compared to Location #1.”
Resident Patricia Landridge, who spoke against the tower, said that the other two site options offer Verizon a chance to co-locate where towers exist now instead of constructing a new one in the park.
“We only have one home where Verizon has multiple towers,” she said. “We don’t want our neighborhood to become a microwave corridor.”
City Attorney Michael Montgomery and several commissioners reiterated that the city could not legally base its ruling on health concerns because the federal government sets emissions standards.
Terri Johnson, a vocal opponent who lives near the park, said other cities are setting fall zones for these towers should they topple and Walnut should do the same.
“The city should not be putting cell phone towers where people live,” she said. “There should be a 120-foot fall zone.”
Heidi Gallegos, a resident and a Rowland Unified School District board member, spoke in favor of the project. Gallegos said dropped calls during an emergency are a safety issue.
“For matters of public safety and the public welfare, I think you must vote yes on this,” she said.
Commissioner Mark Fernandez cited public safety as one of the reasons he voted in favor of the project.
“If a kid falls and breaks an elbow, the teacher is not going to run to the office and call on the nearest landline,” he said. “They are going to reach in their pocket and grab their cell phone.”
Under the proposed site plan, Verizon plans to install a wireless system it has dubbed the “Lemoncrest Telecommunications Facility,” which involves replacing an existing ball field light pole in the southeast corner of Shetland Field with a new 81-foot one.
The project also calls for six antennas that would be hidden inside the pole and related equipment to be located in an underground vault under the existing sidewalk area next to the parking lot.
Opponents have 15 days to appeal the commission’s ruling to the City Council.
In separate actions, the commission also voted 4-0 to approve four requests to upgrade existing AT&T telecommunications facilities, one in Walnut Ranch Park, another in Snow Creek Park, a third at Mt. SAC, and a fourth in the commercial zone on Amar Road.