Users of AT&T’s notoriously iffy cell phone service along the lower Russian River may be hoping the third time’s the charm as AT&T tries again to improve mobile coverage in downtown Guerneville.
AT&T applied for a county permit last week to put up a telecommunications tower in Guerneville, a proposal that’s been shot down at least twice before in the face of stiff neighborhood opposition.
Six years ago when AT&T proposed a faux-tree antenna on Sunset Avenue above town, the proposal ran into fierce neighborhood opposition, including flyers warning residents that “you are about to get nuked” by electromagnetic signals that would increase their chances of getting cancer, said a neighbor, Ron Redmon.
The uproar convinced the Sweetwater Springs Water District, the property’s owner, to back out of the lease. “The district wants to be a good neighbor,” Sweetwater District General Manager Steve Mack said at the time.
Another AT&T faux-tree proposal two years ago at the former Guerneville Bank of America building on Main Street drew staunch opposition, mainly owing to its location in the Highway 116 scenic corridor.
“I don’t want a phony tree in the middle of downtown Guerneville,” said a neighbor, Don Lawson, owner of Lawson Galleries on Church Street, just down the block.
Even advocates for improving Guerneville cell phone service were cool to the proposal for a Main Street antenna. “I’m supportive of AT&T building towers to increase cell coverage in western Sonoma County,” said Cazadero resident Mike Nicholls at the 2017 public hearing, but Nicholls opposed the Main Street location “because it’s in the scenic corridor,” he said.
“I haven’t seen the new application yet so I can’t comment,” Nicholls said this week. AT&T is also preparing a new proposal for a cell tower in the Northwood area near Monte Rio, said Nicholls.
The company’s latest Guerneville proposal calls for a 100-foot-tall “faux pine tree” that would be nestled in the trees off Neeley Road across the Russian River from Johnson’s Beach.
The proposed fake-pine antenna would sit on 2.5 acres of forested hillside property owned by the Burkhardt family, which owns the nearby Parker’s Resort. The tower site would be about 90 feet from Neeley Road and about 600 feet from the Russian River.
“The proposed 100-foot monopine has been placed so that it may be able to provide coverage to the area while being screened from the public by using the area’s natural landscape,” said the AT&T discussion of the project’s aesthetic impacts. The nearest residence is more than 100 feet away on Neeley Road.
For residents and the traveling public, the simulated tree antenna would be out of sight from downtown and barely visible from the historic Guerneville footbridge across the Russian River.
AT&T’s mobile service coverage in Guerneville would go from its current “unreliable or non-existent” status to “reliable coverage both indoors and outdoors” with the new antenna, reads AT&T’s application for a county permit.
“This project will expand AT&T’s existing network and improve call quality, signal strength and wireless connection services,” according to the company’s application submitted to Permit Sonoma.
The Guerneville area now “suffers from poor wireless coverage which can cause recurring lost calls and ineffective service,” according to the AT&T application. “The need for this proposed facility is due to complaints from AT&T Mobility customers, businesses and travelers.”
Phone customers and emergency services will enjoy better mobile coverage within a one-mile radius around the new tower, according to the application.
Permit Sonoma released the 51-page permit application last week for review and comment from approximately two dozen agencies, including local fire and emergency services, state and county parks and the Scenic Highway 116 Committee. Permit Sonoma Planner Marina Herrera requested that comments be sent to her by Feb. 19. The use permit application will also require a noticed public hearing.