AT&T plans to expand range on Point Reyes peninsula

11/11/2020

Cell service could improve in one of the most remote areas of the Point Reyes National Seashore not only to the benefit of tourists, first responders and the park service, but for Shoreline Unified School District students working from home. The county has approved a coastal permit, design review and use permit that will allow AT&T to make infrastructure improvements at a telecommunications facility near the lighthouse. The project, which entails replacing a 60-foot pole with a 54-foot pole carrying two antennas supporting 4G cell coverage, will expand AT&T’s service from a tiny spot to a sprawling range across the peninsula. Bob Raines, the Shoreline superintendent, estimated that around 70 students stand to benefit from the increased service. AT&T will modify the existing facility—which includes two 60-foot wooden utility poles, a storage structure and a gravel driveway enclosed by a chain link fence—that functioned as a radio station for overseas communication in the 1950s. The county received two public comments that opposed the project over concerns for the health effects of the electromagnetic fields and radio-frequency radiation. Marin County Deputy Zoning Administrator Michelle Levenson explained what compelled her to approve the project during a hearing on Oct. 29, highlighting the fact that state and federal laws significantly limit her discretionary authority over applications for wireless facilities. “The Federal Telecommunications Act prohibits the county from conditioning or denying a project based on concerns stemming from E.M.F. if it complies with federal radiofrequency standards—which this project does,” Ms. Levenson said. “Second, federal law prohibits the county from denying a telecommunications project if a facility is necessary to fill a significant service gap in the applicant’s wireless network and is the least intrusive means of filling that gap—and this project will be built on an existing facility and would fill a significant gap.” AT&T’s plans to improve cell coverage in West Marin have been in the works for some time; a map with numerous other sites for new facilities was shared in the company’s application for one on a ranch north of Tomales last year. AT&T has yet to start building two new utility poles on the ranch, though it has received permits. The Tomales area and the Point Reyes Peninsula have presented the greatest challenges for students distance learning from home, Mr. Raines said. Still, he cautioned that this was far from a final solution to the district’s connectivity issues, which both the Marin County Free Library and the West Marin Fund have stepped in to help address. “[The tower is] a step toward bringing digital services to our underserved families, but it isn’t going to solve the isolation or disconnect for many of our students,” he said. “Just like students in other rural parts of our state, it has been a huge struggle to deliver digital content to many of our families.”