A ninth cellular antenna will be added to a water tank off Foster Road, despite the concerns of its nearest neighbors.
On Thursday, the Napa Planning Commission denied an appeal by neighbors who did not want the additional AT&T Mobility data antenna added to the water tower north of the Foster Road and Golden Gate Drive intersection.
The four commissioners who were present for the meeting said their hands were largely tied by federal and state laws that prohibit them from denying such an antenna application. They did set forth some conditions that must be met in order for the antenna to be installed.
As a condition of denying the appeal and thereby approving the antenna, AT&T will have to find some way to shield the equipment from the view of its nearest neighbor. Additionally, the company must send a technician and equipment to the neighboring residence before and after installation to show neighbors the level of radio waves emitted from the antenna.
In mid-October, city staff granted a use permit for the additional antenna. About 10 days later, neighbors Mary Lee Plass DelZompo and Ailene Stewart Plass appealed the decision for several reasons. On Thursday, they argued their case before the commission.
“The antenna that they’re proposing goes right in my window,” DelZompo said, adding that she has read studies showing harmful waves can pass through windows. She said her bedroom window is about 85 feet from the site of the now-approved antenna.
Carl Schetter, representing Stewart, also claimed negative effects would come from the antenna’s installation.
“This is kind of uncharted water,” Schetter said as he gave commissioners copies of two studies claiming such antennae can have negative health implications. “If these are true, there’s going to be some electromagnetic radiation emitting from this antenna and it will definitely effect the quality of living there, particularly for the young children” who live at the home.
Schetter asked the city to require some kind of environmental analysis of the project. In 1997, such a study was done when the initial eight antennae were added to the southern side of the city-owned water tank. The new antenna, which will be a 4-foot-tall panel, will be placed on the north side of the tank.
An engineer testifying on behalf of AT&T said the panel will be tilted toward the horizon and will not emit frequencies at a dangerous level.
“One or two studies doesn’t refute the decades of research and the considered opinions of the standard-setting bodies from around the world,” Bill Hammett told the commission. “Those bodies have all found that there is a threshold condition above which effects are observed, below which they are not. The standards are set 50 times below that.
“You’ve got enormous margins of safety against what science has shown is a level of possible impact,” he added.
City staff cited federal and state regulations that prohibit local jurisdictions from denying a co-location application.
“Cities cannot deny discretionary permits for co-located facilities if they meet five certain requirements, and those five requirements are met with this application,” said assistant planner Karlo Felix, who added that a city may not deny an antenna because of health concerns if the project meets federal safety standards.
The commissioners lamented that there was not much they could do. They told AT&T to look at possible landscaping options that could shield the antenna from DelZompo’s view without interfering with the equipment’s data signal.
Commissioner Gordon Huether was not present for the meeting.