A city-sanctioned bid to improve wireless connectivity for internet and cellphone users in Santa Rosa has run into opposition from some residents and generated concern among city officials after the first round of “small-cell” antennas went up on utility poles in recent weeks.
The equipment — including large metal in-ground utility boxes about 5 feet tall — varies greatly in design from anything the city was previously shown by Verizon, the wireless provider installing the antennas, said Eric McHenry, director of Santa Rosa’s Information Technology Department.
While the city had no role in the equipment design, Santa Rosa officials went through a significant amount of back-and-forth with representatives of the wireless carrier on what the units would look like on city-owned streetlights, McHenry said. Officials took pains to make sure the antennas would be as unobtrusive as possible, he said.
“We frankly as a city were also surprised by what these first ones looked like,” he said, referring to the units Verizon is installing on utility poles. “They look nothing like what we had discussed with Verizon for our city streetlights or even the pictures that we shared with the council (of the installations) on wooden poles.”
Judith Monroy, a resident on Link Lane in Santa Rosa’s West End neighborhood, has objected strongly to the installation of a unit about 30 feet from her home, saying only one of her neighbors was notified about the installation and decrying its sudden and unwelcome appearance.
“I’m planning to put this house on the market and the mechanisms on the telephone pole and in the ground are very aggressive and ominous-looking,” said Monroy, 75. “You can’t miss them.”
She’s not the only one who feels that way. In recent days, a neighborhood resident — Monroy said it was not her — scrawled the word “No” in black spray paint on the Verizon units.
“I’m not the only one affected and there were quite a few households that were upset,” she said.
Santa Rosa’s agreement with Verizon, approved in a 7-0 vote by the City Council last year, calls for 72 of the antennas to be installed across the city, a move that came after a 2016 study ranked Santa Rosa fourth worst in the country out of 125 cities for wireless network speed and reliability.
Verizon’s poor data performance was a major factor in the Santa Rosa area being at the bottom — number 122 — in the RootMetrics survey, McHenry said last year, leading the company to reach out to the city. Officials also reached out to AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, but no applications were submitted.
Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato said that 30 of the antennas will be mounted on city-owned streetlights and 42 will be placed on utility poles.
So far, the city has issued 38 permits and 15 of the installations are in the construction phase. The work is set to extend through early next year.
“Small cells are next-generation network solutions to really improve service where and when people need to improve service the most,” Flato said.
With so many members of the public owning multiple internet-capable devices — smartphones, tablets, computers — the demand for wireless carriers to provide better service has become more and more necessary, she said.