By Rick Radin
EL CERRITO -- The City Council validated the Planning Commission's design approval of an AT&T cell phone antenna Tuesday, but not before voicing strong concerns about its appearance.
The go-ahead for the proposed antenna at 7800 Eureka Ave. came with a caveat: The telecom giant must abandon its plan to place an extension on top of a PG&E power pole to accommodate the antenna in favor of replacing the pole entirely.
Installing a new pole seven feet higher than the existing pole would streamline the profile of the installation from nearby homes and for drivers descending Eureka Avenue, providing a more "aesthetically pleasing" view, according to the resolution passed by the council by a 4-0 vote.
Councilman Mark Friedman recused himself from the decision because he lives near the proposed site.
Seaview Drive resident John Spriggs appealed the Feb. 19 Planning Commission decision overturning Design Review Board objections to the appearance of the pole at 7800 Eureka Ave.
At that meeting, the Planning Commission also reversed the design board's rejection on aesthetic grounds of antennas proposed on poles at 906 Balra Drive, 762 Colusa Ave. and 202 Seaview Drive, but the decisions on the other three poles were not appealed to the council.
The Planning Commission's decisions are final if they are not appealed.
The Design Review Board ruled in August that the antennas would "have a detrimental effect on the attractiveness of the community" because they would add more unsightly clutter to utility poles already cluttered with electrical, telephone and cable television wiring.
AT&T has also agreed to replace the pole at 202 Seaview Drive, but the company has permission to install what Councilman Greg Lyman referred to as a "bayonet" extension at the top of the other two poles, something that Lyman, in particular, objected to at 7800 Eureka Ave.
"The (bayonet extension) is a visual blight and a distraction to drivers," Lyman said. "It can't be described as aesthetic."
Nine other residents urged the council to uphold Spriggs' appeal and deny AT&T permission to install the antenna.
AT&T representatives have said that the new antenna system, known as DAS, is a significant upgrade in technology that will provide better cell phone service and more capacity as demand for data downloads grows exponentially.
AT&T has applied to install similar DAS networks in hills neighborhoods in Oakland, Berkeley and Kensington.
The AT&T application process began in January 2013, when it submitted applications to the city for six antennas. AT&T withdrew one application for an antenna on a utility pole at 859 Gelston Place in May.
The Planning Commission approved conditional use permits for the five remaining antennas in June.
The commission's approval of a use permit for an antenna at 851 Seaview Drive was appealed by residents to the City Council, which denied the appeal in August.
That appeal placed the 851 Seaview application on a different design review track than the other four.
"We did have a condition on one of the (antennas) that required us to go back to the design review board and explore an alternative location, but that meeting has not been scheduled," wrote AT&T spokeswoman Alex Krasov in an e-mail.
When the design of the proposed antenna at 851 Seaview or an alternative location nearby is approved, AT&T will apply for building permits and begin work on the project, Krasov said.