City drops cell tower plan

The Sonoma City Council killed AT&T’s plans for the installation of an 80-foot cell phone tower disguised as a pine tree on the Sebastiani Winery property on Fourth Street East and Lovall Valley Road.

Monday’s 4-1 vote overturned unanimous approval by the Planning Commission.

Officials from AT&T said the location was the “least intrusive means” to fill a coverage gap. The tower would have reduced capacity load on the existing AT&T sites to provide greater service to the east side of the city.

AT&T, which studied eight other sites including the Community Center and Arnold Field, will presumably propose another location for the tower. It was originally planned for 97 feet, but the height was reduced as part of the approval by the planning commission.

A group of neighbors appealed that 7-0 decision to the city council. Jennifer Palladini was one of several opponents worried about the health effects of living so close to the tower. “The closer you live, the higher the risk,” she said.

AT&T provided documents stating the radiation levels were far below federals standards. City Attorney Jeffrey Walter said the health argument was essentially moot: the federal law that governs cell tower installations says councilmembers could not take health concerns into consideration.

The argument then became one of aesthetics and visual compatibility with the location, as public speakers said the fake tree would be clearly visible throughout the scenic neighborhood. “This is a blatantly obvious industrial eyesore,” said Michael Palladini.

The “stealth monopine tower” would have included 12 six-foot antennae and related gear, along with a one-story equipment shed at its base.

Cameron Stuckey urged the council “to do what you were elected to do, serve and protect us. This is David versus Goliath.”

Sebastiani Winery, the proposed landlord for the tower, stayed out of the argument. Likely monthly revenue for leasing the tower space would have been $1,500 to $2,000 per month.

The only dissent in the 4-1 vote to deny the tower was Mayor Tom Rouse, who said he trusted the unanimous decision of the Planning Commission. “We have a commission we put our trust in,” he said. “I must believe they did their homework.”

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