Planners zap plan for cell tower

The increasingly testy issue of cell phone towers being constructed in residential neighborhoods has reared its head again in La Jolla.

This time it revolved around plans to erect a 30-foot faux pine tree with 12 cell antennas and a microwave backup dish adjacent to Congregation Adat Yeshurun synagogue at 8625 La Jolla Scenic Drive.

Those plans by Verizon were rejected on a 12-0-1 vote of the La Jolla Community Planning Association members who expressed concerns about visual impacts and noise.

In a brief presentation, Verizon spokeswoman Shelly Kilbourn discussed the wireless carrier’s plans, noting a noise study done in April showed the contemplated cell tower “is not going to add noise” to the synagogue or to nearby residences.

She also said all emissions from the new tower would comply with recognized safety standards.

Verizon’s proposal is a response to a Federal Communications Commission requirement that cell phone carriers address insufficiencies in coverage.

Tina Van Vechten, an electrical engineer and a neighbor living near the proposed cell phone tower, said she felt Verizon’s noise study was flawed.

“The energy coming out of these antennas, which are about 25 feet up, is a pretty narrow beam - think of a flashlight,” she said. “The (Verizon) analysis was done considering a 6-foot-high person at various distances, not in the same beam, down below the energy of this antenna. My house, our second story, is right in the main beam. The analysis does not reflect the neighborhood.”

A couple of residents complained that Verizon’s noise study had failed to consider noise from the synagogue’s air conditioner, which begins operating in June and is an irritation to neighbors.

“Why are you proposing a fake tree that’s really pretty ugly?” asked planner Glen Rasmussen. “Isn’t there some way of camouflaging an antenna like this?”

“We looked at a lot of alternatives but agreed this one was the best,” replied Kilbourn. “The synagogue facility is beautiful with a lot of mature landscaping. We could add more landscaping around the tree itself.”

Planner John Berol said noise studies are deficient on the project. “This has to be done correctly,” he noted.

Audience member Phil Merten, an architect, pointed out the synagogue would profit from lease rental on the cell tower, adding he felt the tower would negatively impact area property values.

Some raised the potential of harmful consequences from emissions from the tower, but planning group chairman Joe La Cava noted federal law prohibits discussion of health issues related to cell towers since harmful effects have never been proved. “We can only discuss siting and land-use issues,” he said.

More from the La Jolla CPA

  • The planning group voted to table a proposed amendment to the La Jolla Planned Development Ordinance (PDO). It would have reaffirmed a clause in the ordinance’s wording precluding third-story development within the city’s 30-foot height limit in planning areas designated for two-story development only. The issue was sent back to the PDO committee for reassessment and will likely be heard at the full board’s February meeting.
  • A similar planning issue involving the board’s approval of an amendment in the La Jolla Shores PDO distinguishing projects which are “minor in scope” - and therefore not subject to community planning review - was also postponed until Februrary. This issue was to be discussed at Wednesay’s La Jolla Shores Association meeting.
  • City officials detailed two overlapping sewage projects which will replace approximately 2,400 linear feet of sewer line in the Village and La Jolla Shores starting in mid-September this year. The projected cost for both projects is about $5.8 million.