Next Up at City Council, 12/3 - 4, 2008

  • Posted on: 1 December 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

It's a relatively short Portland City Council Agenda this coming Wednesday morning, with no meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Then a very controversial list on Thursday afternoon. So let's run with that - check the rest of the Agenda for yourselves, and as always note in the Comments if you see anything else particularly interesting.


*1675 TIME CERTAIN: 2:30 PM - Amend and extend term of a right-of-way agreement granted to AT&T Wireless Services of Oregon, Inc. to build and operate wireless facilities within the City streets (Ordinance introduced by Commissioner Saltzman; Previous Agenda 1641; amend Ordinance No. 178373)

*1676 Amend and extend term of a temporary, revocable permit granted to LCW Wireless Operations, LLC to build and operate wireless facilities within the City streets (Ordinance introduced by Commissioner Saltzman; Previous Agenda 1642; amend Ordinance No. 180518)

*1677 Amend and extend term of a temporary, revocable permit to Clearwire US LLC, to use the City streets to provide wireless broadband Internet access services and establish terms and conditions (Ordinance introduced by Commissioner Saltzman; Previous Agenda 1643; amend Ordinance No. 181246)

*1678 Amend and extend term of a right-of-way agreement granted to Sprint Spectrum, LP to build and operate wireless facilities within the City streets (Ordinance introduced by Commissioner Saltzman; Previous Agenda 1644; amend Ordinance No. 178519)

*1679 Amend and extend term of a right-of-way agreement granted to VoiceStream PCS I, L.L.C. now known as T-Mobile West Corporation to build and operate wireless facilities within the City streets (Ordinance introduced by Commissioner Saltzman; Previous Agenda 1645; amend Ordinance No. 178374)

You might not know those Ordinances are controversial by reading them, would you?

Translation from legalese to regular Portland language:

* These items are talking about putting a lot more cell towers in streets and neighborhoods.

* Bigger cell towers.

* And you probably won't be able to stop a cell tower from being installed in the street by your home, or in your neighbor's yard.

Do I have your attention?

Then read on....

Let me start by saying that I understand all too well that some areas of Portland are not adequately served by all cell phone providers. Coverage in my neighborhood is highly variable, and my neighbors (especially younger ones) are often seen standing in the middle of the street on dark cold nights, since that's where their calls are less likely to be dropped. I understand that many citizens no longer have a land line, and depend on their cell phones for emergency calls as well as checking in on Facebook friends.

I also heard many, many concerns about cell towers over the course of my 13-month campaign. They don't just affect the way a neighborhood looks. I heard a lot about one in Arbor Lodge that hums and vibrates, making life miserable for the residents of the adjacent home. I was told it doesn't even hum and vibrate continuously, which folks might get used to rather like I-5 traffic noise. The nuisance is intermittent.

The Federal Government, in its infinite wisdom, has ruled that there are no health concerns related to cellular facilities, and that jurisdictions may not limit placement of cellular facilities based on health concerns. DO NOT argue with me or at the hearing about this, please. That issue is not on the table. Changes would have to be made in Congress, to alter the national regulations. See this summary helpfully provided by Project staff.

But there are still strategies Portland may use, to reduce the potential and actual impacts of cell towers in residential neighborhoods. We currently severely limit new towers in and near residentially zoned areas, in the regulations I helped devise while serving on the Planning Commission in 2002. See Current Requirements. Portland does not currently allow new cellular poles in streets in residential zones.

The matter is complicated further by the fact that the Zoning Code mostly addresses development on lots. Titles 16 and 17, and Administrative Rules, cover development in the right-of-way. That's one reason why these regulatory changes are mostly amendments to contracts with each individual provider. But I discovered this week that if an adjacent property owner doesn't want to have a car-share parking space in the street adjacent to their site, they have the right to veto the car-share designation. I wonder why citizens should be allowed to say no to the change in use of a parking space, and yet not be able to object to a cell tower outside their home.

I have to deal with the telephone pole in the right-of-way next to my home. I can't plant edibles near it, because of the creosote, but at least I was able to plant a tree and a climbing rose to mask both the ugliness and the smell. And the need for the street light on the pole is clear, and site-specific. There is no other way to provide light to the intersection. I question whether cell phone service can be provided with facilities other than more poles in residential areas.

Although the parties have made good faith efforts to propose standards that addresses aesthetic concerns about cell towers in streets, the new regulations would allow more cell towers in residential neighborhoods, in streets, in Open Space zones, and even on residentially-zoned lots. Higher, wider, bigger towers. Well, OK, 5' lower in some residential areas, but up to 15' higher in Open Space zones. The table comparing current and proposed heights is here. Of course, it's debatable whether having higher or lower poles is A Good Thing or not. Higher poles take the antennae further from people, but can be visually more intrusive. Lower heights may require more poles to provide the desired coverage. I hope testifiers will give opinions on this quandary on Thursday.

The Summary of proposed changes in Residential zones notes that the process is "non-discretionary". That means no right of appeal. Cell companies would be required to meet with neighbors, but neighbors will have no right to reject the tower under the proposed regulations, only to affect how it looks. I wonder what the proposed mandatory meeting is intended to achieve.

The proposed code says cell providers "will minimize the visual impacts of any Facilities located in the Streets by using the smallest antennae, equipment and equipment cabinets available that will satisfy engineering requirements and the service objectives of the site;". That is not a standard, where a planner at the permit desk can check a measurement and assess whether it is under or over the allowed number. Reasonable people might disagree on whether the antenna is the smallest that would work. It will end up being the cell company's professional's word against that of neighborhood volunteers who might object.

The regulations do not appear to address saturation in neighborhoods. There could be a Cellular Facility every 650 feet, since 650' is the minimum needed to not interfere with each other.

These are just a few of my questions and concerns. It's unfortunate the hearing is at 2:30 pm during the work week, but I hope neighbors will show up to testify along with the industry professionals and other staff attending the hearing.

More information is here on PortlandOnLine.