EL CERRITO -- Plans by AT&T for four antennas on residential hillside streets were rejected Wednesday by the city's design review board on the grounds the installations are visually unappealing.
The ruling, in a 3-0 vote from Glen Wood, Cassandra Adams and Carl Groch, the three board members present, can be appealed to the Planning Commission.
The commission had issued a use permit on June 19 for five antennas to be placed on PG&E poles near 906 Balra Drive, 762 Colusa Ave., 7800 Eureka Ave., 202 Seaview Drive and 851 Seaview Drive.
Residents appealed the use permit for 851 Seaview to the City Council, which will hear the appeal at its Aug. 20 meeting.
Board members used the wording in the city ordinance defining the general criteria for approving design for new construction. The ordinance states that it must contribute to "an attractive and comfortable environment."
Plans call for the antennas to rise about 10 feet above the tops of existing poles with electrical power boxes slung on the side of the lower part of the poles, jutting out about 18 inches in the direction of the sidewalk.
"This does create visual clutter in the community, and attractiveness is something we're supposed to be looking at," Wood said, after seeing photos of the poles with mock-ups of the antennas added in. "These towers will be in front of views."
"I'm not approving the appearance on aesthetic (grounds)," she said.
About 25 residents spoke against allowing the antennas, raising questions about radiation emissions, noise, and implications for future utility undergrounding and real estate values, in addition to the view and aesthetic considerations.
Health issues are controlled nationwide by Federal Communications Commission regulations and the noise emitted from a fan used to cool the electrical gear is well below the limits allowed in the city, according to AT&T representatives.
"I'm concerned about the visual pollution of the towers, and it potentially opens the door to other operators installing antennas," said Mildred Dandridge, a Seaview Drive resident.
Balra Drive resident Ken Jaffe questioned the need for the antennas, saying that cellphone service in the neighborhood is excellent.
"They look like large suitcases 10 feet in the air above the poles," Jaffe said. "We're ready to work with the board on (the appearance)."
After the ruling, company representatives said they weren't sure if AT&T would appeal the decision to the planning commission.
Earlier in the evening, the design review board heard for a second time from Verizon Wireless, which has applied to place an antenna on the roof of the El Cerrito Chinese Christian Church at 6830 Stockton Ave.
This time, the panel asked Verizon to come up with an alternative to placing the antenna's power generator on the roof, expressing concerns about visual blight, structural support and noise.