The City Council overturned the approval of six of eight applications for wireless antennas filed by ExteNet Monday, upholding an and saying the wireless proposals are too intrusive.
A community group of about 300 residents called Action Burlingame led by Doug Luftman and Mark Wilson filed an appeal last week asking the council deny eight applications from ExteNet, saying the company failed to prove a significant gap in coverage and thoroughly examine alternatives for providing service.
Burlingame’s Public Works department approved the applications earlier this year.
Attorney Jamie Hill, speaking on ExteNet’s behalf, stated the company performed all the steps necessary proving coverage gaps and is protected under state and federal law, which allows cities to regulate wireless communication facilities based on aesthetics, but not if those concerns prevent a company from providing service.
However, Luftman and Wilson argued that as a provider on antenna services acting on behalf of T-Mobile, ExteNet is not a wireless company, and therefore lacks protection by state and federal law.
“ExteNet does not provide any service,” Wilson said. “ExteNet’s plans amount to nothing more than a field of dreams, or in ExteNet’s case, a field of antennas.”
The presentation from ExteNet left councilmembers with many questions as to if ExteNet did its best to find the least intrusive means of providing service.
“Considering we are the city of trees I would think you would have found better spots,” Vice Mayor Ann Keighran said, noting antennas can be hidden in the foilage. “I can understand we have to provide the service…but I will debate intrusiveness.”
Councilmember Cathy Baylock agreed, saying that intrusiveness is one element that the city does have control over.
“There’s not a inch of this city that’s not subject to design review,” she said. “I think there’s one out of the eight that meets the needs of this community.”
However, Hill said the company has examined any alternative sites suggested, but must follow constraints of PG&E utility poles and consider the placement of water and sewer lines. He said ExteNet worked to provide the least intrusive means of service, undergrounding boxes at two sites and taking suggestions on concealing antennas.
Public Works Director Syed Murtuza said he had worked with ExteNet to tweak the applications so they had less impact on the community.
However, Councilmember Michael Brownrigg questioned what precedent allowing these permits would set. Brownrigg was part of the committee responsible for drafting a new wireless ordinance in Burlingame earlier this year, but wants to see them done in the right way.
“I want hoping to get to yes on this,” he said. “But I don’t think this is good enough and more importantly I don’t see where it ends.”
Moving forward, wireless facilities will be handled under a new ordinance finalized in February. Wireless antennas became an issue when ExteNet, along with T-Mobile, applied to install cell towers in Burlingame more than a year ago. At the time, Burlingame had no ordinance governing such structures and placed a until an ordinance could be drafted.
Councilmember Terry Nagel suggested delaying a decision until a better solution to filling coverage gaps in a less intrusive manner could be found.
Residents packed Council Chambers, many upset with the prospect of eight new antennas and seeking answers from ExteNet officials. Additionally, residents and City Council members alike questioned why a representative from T-Mobile, the company ExteNet officials said the antennas would provide service for, was not present at the meeting and why the company has been silent on the matter.
Councilmembers asked ExteNet officials to come back with more information and alternatives on the six rejected sites.