EL CERRITO -- The City Council this week denied the appeal by a group of residents of a use permit for an AT&T cell phone antenna, but came up with a list of conditions the telecom giant must meet if it wants final approval to install the device.
The residents were appealing a conditional use permit granted by the Planning Commission in June for an antenna to be placed on a hillside PG&E power pole near 851 Seaview Drive.
The council, during an Aug. 20 public hearing on the appeal, told AT&T representatives that they must pay for a consultant of the city's choice to do an analysis proving that there is a cell phone "coverage gap" in the El Cerrito hills that requires the new installation, as the company claims.
It must also come up with alternative ways of placing its equipment on the pole at 851 Seaview Drive or propose placing a pole in another location to reduce or eliminate the impact on residents' views.
AT&T must also do annual inspections for five years of the equipment at the site to measure radiation emissions, submit a report about how much noise the antenna equipment will emit, and inspect the pole at 851 Seaview to see if it is structurally sound and replace it if it isn't.
Four other applications for antennas at 906 Balra Drive, 762 Colusa Ave., 7800 Eureka Ave. and 202 Seaview Drive also received use permits from the planning commission in June, but none of those permits were appealed.
Those four antenna applications will come before the Planning Commission once again for a design review, probably in September, after the city's design review board rejected their design for being visually unappealing.
About 25 to 30 residents turned out to protest AT&T's plans at 851 Seaview and urge the company to work with them to find an alternative solution.
"The antenna is unsightly, ugly and will contribute to the degradation of the landscape," Seaview Drive resident Diana Inchauspe told the council. "Give AT&T time to consider other options."
Judith Rosen, another Seaview Drive resident, said she is concerned about the extra weight of the antenna, which rises about 10 feet above the 35-foot-high pole.
"What additional stresses are going to be on the pole that could affect it in an earthquake?" Rosen asked.
Several speakers disputed that the coverage gap exists, saying that their AT&T cellular service is excellent both inside and outside their homes.
"It's ironic that AT&T says they need better coverage, but the people in the neighborhood say they don't need it," said Mayor Greg Lyman, in backing the independent assessment of AT&T's coverage gap claims. "If there's no gap, there's no need for an (antenna)."
Ken Mintz, AT&T's manager for external affairs for Contra Costa County, said the antennas will be needed to fulfill exponentially rising demand for data downloads, adding that the company has focused on the five antenna sites after weighing all alternatives.
"This is about more than just the ability to make a phone call," Mintz said. "There are no more sites that can fulfill these needs."
Later in the meeting, the council gave tentative approval to a single-use plastic bag and polystyrene food container ordinances.
The bag ordinance, similar to one in effect in Alameda County, would prohibit retailers from providing free plastic bags to customers at checkout and would impose a charge for paper bags.
The food container ordinance would prohibit using polystyrene containers for takeout food, that don't degrade in the environment, in favor of compostable or recyclable containers.
The ordinances would go into effect Jan. 1 if the council gives a final go-ahead later this year, said Garth Schultz of the city's environmental services division.