Lucas Valley residents fight plan to install wireless poles
Residents who live in a peaceful section of Lucas Valley with no street lamps or above-ground utilities are fighting a proposal to erect three poles for wireless equipment in their neighborhood.
ExteNet Systems Inc., an Illinois-based telecommunications company, has submitted applications to San Rafael, Marin County and Novato to install a 16-node network to improve cellphone service in the Lucas Valley Road area, said Patti Ringo, the company's director of municipal relations for the West.
"We do not transport signal — we only build infrastructure," Ringo said. "Each individual location is multi-carrier capable, meaning I have the capacity to put more than one carrier at each location."
ExteNet has already installed equipment at five sites in unincorporated Marin County. The company normally affixes its equipment to existing poles, but must construct approximately 30-foot poles at two proposed sites on Idylberry Road and another on Creekside Drive, Ringo said.
That's because the Eichler community in that neighborhood has no poles or above-ground utilities — a look many residents say they want to preserve.
"The master plan for the community that I live in is that there be an undisturbed view of the hills," said Eric Forbes, who lives on Mount Whitney Court and has been researching the proposal with a subcommittee of the Lucas Valley Homeowners Association.
Forbes, along with about a dozen other residents, hasgathered about 330 signatures opposing ExteNet's plan in the community of 538 homes.
Residents say Sprint coverage is good in the area, but many other carriers don't have a strong signal, leading some homeowners to install "microcell" network extenders at their houses.
ExteNet is installing its network for T-Mobile, but is in talks with two other major carriers, Ringo said.
Bill Hansell, a Marinwood Community Services District board member, said he's interested in learning more about any proposal that would boost wireless service in the area.
"There are a lot of people who I've heard who want to get better coverage," Hansell said. "I don't think people really have much of a choice in terms of providers, because Sprint's the only thing that really works."
Forbes said he and others would welcome better cellphone coverage in the area but don't want to sacrifice their neighborhood's character or appearance to get it.
"There are no two-story houses back against the open space," Forbes said. "It's a really amazing place. It looks like you're camping almost when you look outside, especially at night. There are no lights."
Lindsay Beaman, a resident who lives near both proposed sites on Idylberry, agreed, saying, "We have no wires, no poles, no streetlights and people want it that way.
"It's on the books with the county and the county has enforced this," he said.
ExteNet filed an application with Marin County earlier this year, which is currently incomplete as officials await the company's response to various questions, Supervisor Susan Adams said.
Residents were angry to learn that ExteNet also filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission on Oct. 5 to proceed with the project, Beaman and Forbes said. About 80 people from Lucas Valley and North San Rafael packed a meeting with ExteNet last week to learn more about the project and voice their concerns.
"It appears that the ExteNet company is trying to do an end run on our local planning process," Adams said. "By going to the (California Public Utilities Commission) and asking them to make the determination, it further removes our local government."
Adams said she expects the Board of Supervisors to get involved in the utilities commission process and push for local jurisdiction. She added that ExteNet should be considering alternatives to the poles.
"There's lots of creative opportunities," Adams said. "They can find a homeowner that might be willing to allow their home to be used or a tree-top device. ... There's different ways to do it besides installing a pole."
Ringo said ExteNet has been simultaneously getting approval through the utilities commission for projects and obtaining permits from local agencies.
She emphasized that the company will get permits from local officials before it begins building.
ExteNet is also considering moving the poles a couple of hundred feet from the current proposed sites and possibly putting some equipment under shrubbery, Ringo said. The company put a temporary hold on its Lucas Valley application with the utilities commission Tuesday so it can research those possible changes.
However, "we can't put antennas underground," she said.