(Ventura County Star (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 18--Thousand Oaks officials have seen a surge of applications for wireless antennas and modifications in city planning pipelines during the past 15 months.
By the middle of February, phone companies had submitted 21 applications, while 13 more were in the pre-application phase. The uptick began last year, city planning officials said.
Most requests are for upgrading technology from third-generation to 4G LTE and addressing data capacity issues, rather than for new towers to fill coverage gaps.
Officials credit the increase and shift to the growing use of data needed to operate smartphones, tablets and other accessories.
"In the past, more wireless facilities were seeking to provide coverage, to a greater degree, to areas that had no coverage," said Mark Towne, Thousand Oaks' deputy community development director. "Now it's, is there adequate coverage in a car or on a sidewalk, and it's a matter of capacity."
While some other cities have had requests increase during the past two or three years, none appears to have seen the numbers experienced in Thousand Oaks.
Only the county government has issued more permits for modifications and new facilities. The county has issued nine permits this year for new facilities and 39 permits for existing antenna sites in unincorporated areas. The Ventura County Planning Commission issued most of the permits.
Thousand Oaks' high number of wireless applications is due to a confluence of situations, primarily traffic and affluence, said Jonathan Kramer, principal attorney of Los Angeles-based law firm Telecom. Kramer has advised the city on telecommunications issues for 27 years.
Cellular service providers are constructing towers to serve the thousands of motorists traveling Highways 101 and 23. At the same time, wireless companies are upgrading and expanding their 4G technology to the local community, Kramer said.
Federal and state laws do not distinguish wireless service for local residents and those passing through, so a city cannot turn down an application if it is only to serve those traveling on adjacent highways, Kramer said.
"Thousand Oaks is an affluent area and historically residents in Thousand Oaks are heavy users of wireless services," Kramer said. "And if you are a wireless company you deploy your services where there is the most bang for the bunch and Thousand Oaks falls squarely into that target."
In Simi Valley, eight applications were submitted in 2013, while two were filed in 2012. Ventura fielded eight applications for technology upgrades and one new tower in 2012, assistant planner Elizabeth Richardson said.
Hungry for data
While numbers were not immediately available for Camarillo, Planning Director David Norman said the city's big surge was about two years ago.
"From about that time, we saw a lot of change-outs from 3G to 4G," he said. "Most of the applications we've received have been for new towers."
Camarillo has had two applications for towers in the past year.
Norman said Camarillo has spent significant time trying to find appropriate locations for the towers, one of which would be 48 feet tall, 8 feet wide and disguised as a tree.
The size "gives you an indication of how much data is flowing back and forth between company servers and the public," he said.
The Thousand Oaks Planning Commission recently denied its first request for a faux tree wireless tower. The fake eucalyptus wasn't the cause of the tower's downfall, but rather its proximity to homes and noise concerns, among other issues.
Verizon Wireless, which had proposed the eucalyptus wireless tower to serve the Lang Ranch area, recently appealed the commission's decision.
Verizon has submitted 14 applications and pre-applications to the city, while AT&T has turned in 12 this year. T-Mobile and Sprint have submitted two and one, respectively, while Next-G Communications has four pending and MetroPCS has one.
Ken Muche, a Verizon spokesman, said the company is building new sites to stay ahead of the growing demand for services.
AT&T has invested more than $100 million into Ventura County between 2010 and 2012 to close coverage gaps and upgrade data capacity on its network, spokeswoman Eva Kandarpa Behrend said.
Towers in disguise
At the other end of the wireless application spectrum is Fillmore, which hasn't fielded any wireless requests for about two years, said Kevin McSweeney, the city's planning director.
A batch antennas was designed as a water tower, making it the second faux water tank in town that is actually home to wireless antennas. Another batch of antennas is disguised as a barn.
"No one has any ideas that antennas are even here," McSweeney said.
On Santa Rosa Road and off Highway 118 near Rocky Peak Road, wireless sites are disguised as fake boulders or the tongue-in-cheek "phonehenge."
In Simi Valley, wireless antennas are incorporated into existing signs, sign poles and building architecture. Peter Lyons, the city's planning director, said that as wireless companies change technology, the city wants to either maintain or improve the aesthetics.
"We have almost half a dozen new locations that are approved that have yet to be constructed by the carriers," he said. "Our Planning Commission is very concerned about improving coverage throughout Simi Valley. They really do consider the benefit of improved coverage maps the applicant gives us."
Antennas are tucked into church steeples and situated on top of buildings in Thousand Oaks. Of the 21 applications in the city's planning queue, eight are minor projects that would replace antennas or proposed antennas that are completely within rooftop enclosures. Since 2011, the commission has approved eight of the nine applications that have come before it.
New antennas often are added to light poles, a number of which have been in city parks.
The Conejo Recreation and Park District has 11 active cell sites on its properties, Parks and Planning Administrator Tom Hare said.
Wireless companies rent the space from the district, which pulls in about $22,000 a month. The money goes into the district's capital improvement fund.
About $50,000 from the fund was approved this month to help pay for playground improvements at Borchard Community Park.
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