By Karen Billing
Residents expressed opposition to a proposed cell tower structure on top of the Carmel Valley Library that they feel is not only unsafe but will drastically change the appearance of the popular and much-used library at the center of town. A public meeting was held on Jan. 28 as part of the community outreach effort in the city’s planning process and people questioned why this centralized site was chosen — a library filled with children next door to an elementary school and surrounded by residential units.
“This is such a concentrated area, I don’t understand how they can choose this location I think it’s so wrong. It’s a wrong decision for people who live here, for people who work here, and for kids that go to school here,” said resident Shelly Ptashek. “I don’t understand why we need it here. When we came here there wasn’t supposed to be a cell tower and we don’t want a cell tower here.”
Doug Munson, vice president and senior planner for M&M Telecom Inc., said the site is needed for AT&T to increase coverage and capacity as its clientele grows. Currently the proposal for 12 antennas and 24 new remote radio units (RRUs) mounted inside raised cupola enclosures on the library is in the process of being adjusted for height and location concerns.
A second public meeting will be held before the plan goes before the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board as those in attendance wanted to see the revised plans and receive the results of an electromagnetic energy (EME) study that looks at what the proposed site would produce in radio frequency (RF) emissions.
Munson said an EME report would be available in the next 30 days. After a second meeting, the planning board will then vote the project up or down in their recommendation to the city, which will have the final say.
One of the biggest issues expressed at the meeting was the public’s exposure to the towers atop the busy library.
Munson said the city can only regulate planning of the site but not health concerns, however, he said they do pay attention to the FCC regulations. The FCC has set limits on human exposure to RF energy and has mandated that a third party conduct an EME study for all proposed wireless sites to ensure they are within the limits.
According to an EME report on the plan as it stands without alterations, in the areas where the general public would have access, the maximum output is 2 percent of the FCC allowable.
“That’s pretty small,” Munson said, noting that as you move away from the project the output decreases exponentially.
Munson said they have studied Carmel Valley extensively and have been scouting potential locations since late 2012. They looked at a cell site atop the fire station and atop Carmel Country Plaza, where Verizon has a unit. Other sites were considered too low to reach Townsgate Drive.
“Frankly, the library wasn’t our first choice because it was going to take a lot to incorporate it into the building,” Munson said.
While the plans are currently in the process of being adjusted, the cell sites are proposed to be housed in cupolas (towers with a domed roof) added on to the library building with texture and color to match.
The cupola structures were originally proposed to be 45 feet high, taller than the library’s existing dome of 41 feet.
“That’s the part the city suggested changing because it alters the overall look of the library,” Munson said. “The focal point of the library is the main dome and the towers pull the eye away from that and change the aesthetic of the library.”
Changes to the plan will lower the towers to 2 feet below the top of the dome, but not remove them.
The plans also include an equipment room on the side patio. As the plans are being modified the location of that power and radio equipment room may be moved, Munson said.
The rent from the cell site will not go directly to the library but into the city’s general fund. Bruce Johnson, deputy director of the branch libraries, said while the rent revenue doesn’t go direct to the library, the library’s operational budget does come out of the general fund.
In a room of about 20 residents, there was very little support for the project and several wondered why they were even having a meeting at this time if the plans are all in the process of changing. There were also several engineers in the audience who questioned the site selection and asked to see alternative site analyses as well as the EME report.
While some people stated that they didn’t care how they beautified the project as public safety was more important, others who lived near the library said anything they add will negatively affect their view.
Residents said the cupola towers, even if lowered to 39 feet, would significantly change the library’s look. The building is considered a “landmark building” in the community and just underwent a new paint job for its 20th anniversary — residents said the towers would look huge and loom over the library and the school.
“It’s totally ludicrous, it’s taking the whole façade away from the building, it’s an outrage,” said Neville Stanger, a local resident and civil engineer. “I’m going to fight this tooth and nail and go around the neighborhood house by house because it’s a joke.”
People can submit comments on the proposed cell towers to project manager Karen Lynch at KLynchAsh@sandiego.gov or (619) 446-5351.