With Mayor Jac Siegel saying he wanted the city's regulations on cell antennas to be "flexible," the council voted unanimously at its Sept. 20 meeting to allow exceptions to a height limit on utility poles to accommodate new technology called "Outdoor Distributed Antenna Systems." No one spoke from the public on the issue and council did not deliberate on the matter.
The change in the zoning code will allow the city's zoning administrator to consider the new cell antennas on a case-by-case basis as he would a traditional cell tower. The antennas could add 6 to 15 feet to the height of a utility pole.
City staff members say they considered a height limit for the antennas, but decided not to because of the variations in utility pole heights, and because possible changes in technology may require different sizes of antennas. Instead the new ordinance requires wireless phone companies to demonstrate that the antenna is the shortest possible in a development review process that is the same as has been used in the past for cell towers.
Neighbors who oppose such antennas can appeal the decision to the City Council.
The move was prompted by AT&T and Extenet, which have both expressed interest in building "Distributed Antenna Systems" to fill gaps in cell phone service in the city, usually in residential neighborhoods where it's difficult to place a large cell tower. The antennas would likely be placed every quarter-mile along a street, according to a city staff report.
Palo Alto and Los Altos have also been approached by cell phone companies wishing to build such antenna systems in a region where use of wireless devices has created unusually high demand on cell phone networks.