KENSINGTON -- Despite hearing dozens of speakers opposed to an AT&T plan to install cell phone antennas in the community, the Kensington Municipal Advisory Council voted Tuesday evening to recommend the county planning commission approve two of the six installations.
The six-member panel backed proposed antennas at 18 Highgate Road and 121 Windsor Ave. because AT&T lowered the proposed height and size of the units in accordance with suggestions made by the KMAC at a Feb. 25 meeting at which it rejected all the antenna applications.
The antennas would be placed on top of utility poles owned by PG&E.
In its new proposal, the company lowered the number of applications for Kensington antennas from nine to six and added an application for a seventh antenna to be installed at the top of Moeser Lane in El Cerrito.
The KMAC again recommended that the planning commission turn down applications for antennas at 8 Sunset Drive, 248 Grizzly Peak Blvd., 4 Stratford Road and 110 Ardmore Road.
The KMAC's recommendations are advisory only, and the planning commission will consider them alongside the recommendation of the planner assigned to the applications.
The planning commission's decision can be appealed to the county board of supervisors, which would have the final say on an appeal.
The antennas would enable the telecom giant to improve the reach of its cellphone service, Ken Mintz, AT&T's external affairs manager for Contra Costa, told the assembly of about 80 residents.
They would also allow customers to download larger amounts of data as phones with larger download capacity come on the market, he said.
"In five years, there is going to be eight to ten times growth in the use of data devices," Mintz said. "There are areas in Kensington where upgrades are needed to meet this demand."
But several residents questioned the need for the upgrades, claiming AT&T is mainly interested in maximizing profits at the community's expense.
Speakers and panel members brought up health concerns over radiation emissions, damage to property values of homes near antenna locations, noise emitted by fans used to cool the antennas, diminished views and other issues.
Agencies are not allowed to consider health issues in evaluating applications for cellular antennas, which was assigned to the Federal Communications Commission in the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act, said Alex Krasov.
In addition, the KMAC is not allowed to consider potential damage to property values in its advisory role, KMAC chair Patrick Tahara told the gathering.
Bill Hammett, an engineer contracted by AT&T to do independent testing, said noise from electrical units for the antennas that would be mounted on the poles or on the ground would be below limits set by the county for a distance 2.5 feet from the units, but several speakers were skeptical.
"People were told BART would be silent, too," said resident Barbara Steinberg. "The noise could increase as the equipment deteriorates with time."
AT&T representatives agreed to a stipulation that the antennas would be removed in any PG&E project to take down the poles and place utility lines underground.
The KMAC rejected the antenna application for 8 Sunset Drive on the grounds that the company had not changed its plans for the height, design or size of the antenna.
At the KMAC's request, AT&T installed wooden "story poles" that mimic the profile of the proposed antenna at that site and other locations.
"It looks like a rocket ship," said KMAC member Catherine Engberg about the story pole at 8 Sunset Dr.
Likewise, the panel recommended denying the applications for antennas at 248 Grizzly Peak Blvd., 4 Stratford Road and 110 Ardmore Road because the height and/or size of the proposed antennas would be unacceptable.
Kellin Cooper, the homeowner at 110 Ardmore Road, said the antenna would ruin his view of the San Francisco skyline.
"I will have to look at these additions (to the PG&E pole) and this ugly (electrical) box," Cooper said. "There are noise and health repercussions and aesthetics."