Sonoma Planning Commission to Grapple with Verizon 4G Cell Tower Network

By Christian Kallen | Original Sonoma Index-Tribune article here

Three so-called "Small Cell" Cell Towers, also known as Close Proximity Microwave Radiation Antenna installation (CPMRAs) are being proposed for Sonoma’s Commercial areas within hundreds of feet of businesses, homes, schools and churches

Verizon CPMRA Cell Tower Locations

  1. 531 Fifth St. West, in front of US Bank | map

  2. 303 West Napa St. next, in front of Pharmaca Integrated Pharmacy and across from St. Franciso Solano church | map

  3. 25 McDonell St., in front of the North Bay Insurance Building | map

The Sonoma Planning Commission meets Thursday, Sept. 12, at 6 p.m. at City Council Chambers, 177 First St. West. The Planning Commissioners will consider use Permits for three wireless telecommunications facilities on streetlight poles.

Verizon returns to the Sonoma Planning Commission this week to make another pitch for the installation of three “small cell node” antennas in downtown Sonoma to improve “wireless voice and data coverage to the surrounding area.”

Though each cell tower location is a separate agenda item before the commission, the commission is expected to consider them as a single proposal, as they share the same basic design, rationale — and controversies.

The Thursday, Sept. 12 meeting is a follow-up to earlier hearings and study sessions that took place in November of 2018 and July 2019, which produced requests for a redesign of the antennas from the commissioners, and elicited strong opposition from a number of residents.

The engineering team for Verizon, CBR Group, has responded with new designs more compatible with “Sonoma’s existing light pole theme” – as well as changes in the locations of all three proposed cell towers.

According to Sonoma Planning Director David Storer, “the new locations were chosen for places where the new lights would provide a public benefit as there was no light along the streets in the new locations.”

In the new proposal, one tower is relocated from in front of Sonoma Market to 531 Fifth St. W., in front of US Bank.

A second cell antenna has been changed from Second Street West, across from St. Francis Solano Church, to 303 W. Napa St. next to Pharmaca Integrated Pharmacy.

The third newly proposed location is 25 McDonell St., across the street from its original site next to the North Bay Insurance office building.

The design of the antenna poles is substantially changed – to mimic the twin-bulb style of historic street lights in the downtown area, and painted green. The towers are also shorter than the originally-proposed 45 feet. Now topping off at 25 feet, the smaller poles are possible because CBR is proposing newly-constructed towers rather than piggy-backing onto pre-existing street lights or telephone poles.

In its proposal to the commission, CBR Group said the new designs are intended to reflect “Sonoma’s existing light pole theme.”

“The design features, coupled with their locations, will provide for better Verizon Wireless service in Sonoma and help to better support residents, visitors and emergency service providers who rely on the Verizon Network,” said Christy Beltran of the CBR Group in the proposal.

S4WT Comment:

For the three Verizon CPMRA installation in Sonoma, Hammett & Edison projects each will output 460 Watts of Effective Radiated Power (ERP) for the PCS and AWS frequencies (see below).

This means that all day and night, these CPMRAs will transmit up to an average of 230,000 µW/m² (at ground level) to an average of 740,000 µW/m² (at second story level). The corresponding peak levels of pulsed, data-modulated, Radio-frequency Electromagnetic Microwave Radiation (RF-EMR) exposures would be 23,000,000–74,000,000 µW/m². For perspective the scientifically unsound and non-protective FCC RF-EMR maximum public exposure guideline is an average of 10,000,000 µW/m² for frequencies from 1,500 MHz to 300,000 MHz.

For further perspective, Verizon CPMRA installations metered by Hammett & Edison in Palo Alto transmit only between an average of 1,000–7,000 µW/m² at ground level.

Why are the CPMRA installations in Sonoma outputting at so much of a higher output power? The City of Sonoma could require significantly lower power output for these CPMRAs in order to preserve Sonomans’ quiet enjoyment of their streets. (see 2019 CA Supreme Court decision T-Mobile v San Francisco).


  • µW/m² means millionths of a watt flowing through a square area that is about 39" x 39"
  • PCS (Personal Communication) transmits at 1,930 MHz
  • AWS (Advanced Wireless) transmits at 2,110 MHz

Public opposition to the proposed antennas at previous meetings has included some degree of skepticism on the need for improved service to Sonoma businesses and residents, as well as concern over the adverse health impacts of 4G radio waves [1,930–2,100 MHz].

Critics of the Verizon proposal have argued downtown Sonoma doesn’t suffer from a lack of cell phone service. However, this past June, Verizon and other internet connections were down for most of a day due to a tree limb falling on a fiber optics line on Eighth Street East. The June 18 incident highlighted the lack of “redundancy,” or back-up coverage, in Sonoma for internet services.

Inquiries to the CBR Group about the reasons for relocation and if the new cell antenna towers would address redundancy were not responded to by press time.

Apprehension over prolonged exposure to high-frequency radiation has been a common theme, as cell-phone usage has increased dramatically the past decade. Various conflicting studies exist as to the safety of prolonged exposure to radio frequencies; and debate remains as to their methodology, reliability and pertinence.

“These new tower proposals from Verizon do absolutely nothing at all to address my concerns,” said Sonoma resident Nicole Katano, who opposes the new towers. “Verizon seems to simply ignore all the information we have presented… If they cared about consumers they would install fiber optic cable underground.”

Sonoma resident Lin Marie deVincent argues there’s no significant gap in coverage in Sonoma, and questions Verizon’s motivation in the redesign.

“My position is still that there are valid and legal reasons to deny the towers,” said deVincent, a vocal critic of the project. “It has been proven by the city’s own hired (radio frequency) analyst, that there is ‘no significant gap in coverage’ in the city. That is one of the FCC’s own designations to deny the towers.

DeVincent is also skeptical of the change in design, though that was done in response to Planning Commission request.

“(We) would rather have the towers look like what they are – dangerous, powerful, volatile cancer-causing electronics,” said deVincent. “Instead they are disguised as mild mannered street lamps.”

Added deVincent: “Just don’t stand under the light too long, you will be absorbing damaging radiation. Any bee or butterfly that decides to land on them will suffer an early death.”

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