On July 13, 2010, AT&T Director of External Affairs Richard Roche appeared before the Sierra Madre City Council to discuss the addition of two new cell towers for Sierra Madre, one in the east, one in the west. In introducing Roche, then Mayor Mosca stated that “It’s been a notorious problem in Sierra Madre that we don’t have cell reception in all that many places.” Unannounced by the Mayor was that Consumer Reports had just reported that AT&T was in last place nationally in a survey of its cell phone customers, and also in last place in every City in which AT&T surveyed its readership.
The timeline discussed by Roche was anywhere from 18 to 24 months, which he described as “a normal process, in just looking at other cities.” Roche stated that of that period, probably 8 to 12 months of that is processing within a city. He expressed that he hoped that “we can work with you guys on an expedited basis, get this up and working in a much shorter amount of time, because there is a problem, there are concerns, and I personally would like to see this move ahead as quickly as possible.”
Mosca addressed the public, noting that the City understands that this is an important issue for all of us, we will expedite this as quickly as possible. After a comment by Council member MaryAnn MacGillivray that we’re happy that you’re going to help resolve the problem, and if everybody hasn’t switched to Verizon by then it’ll be a good thing, Roche said “I promise you we will move quickly. Whatever I can do working with the City, if there’s internal issues or whatever, I’ll try to remove those roadblocks and I’ll work with you guys to remove any of those roadblocks also.” He stated that in the next couple weeks he would be working with the City to strive and start moving ahead to identify possible locations so that “we can put in applications and move ahead with that.
Nearly seven months later, April 12, 2011, the City Council approved a CUP that would allow AT&T to co-locate a tower in the City Yards alongside an existing T-Mobile cell site. Council approval was required because the tower was on City property. The second tower at Methodist Church at Michillinda and Sierra Madre Blvd. is on private property, so approval for the CUP could be given by the Planning Commission without involving the City Council, an additional step in the process that extends it for however long it takes for the item to make it’s way off the planning commission and onto the Council Agenda. The request for that CUP was approved in May, on May 19, 2011, more than 8 months after the appearance by Roche.
AT&T had submitted plans for the East tower on March 8, 2011. Less than 5 weeks later, on May 4, 2011, the Planning Dept. released a set of marked up plans that had been reviewed by some of the five departments the plans must go through plan check for. AT& T picked up those plans, and the next step in the process would seem to be to have the drawings corrected so they satisfy the City, and resubmit them. Four and one half months after AT&T picked up the drawings for corrections, they have not resubmitted them.
Meanwhile, the tower for the West end of town, at United Methodist Church was anticipated to bring relief to the west and south end of town, within a few short months. After all, the CUP had been approved in April. Instead, nearly four months later, AT & T submitted drawings on July 14th, 2011, a year and a day after the Mayor and the External Affairs Director promised to expedite things. Those drawings were reviewed by some of the Planning departments and the check set was issued on 8/18, a scant five weeks after the plans were submitted. Current records show that AT&T has now submitted the plans as of 9/6/11 for further review.
To review, according to AT&T’s rep, normal plan to get operation is 18 to 24 months, with 8 to 12 months of that coming from the government side of things. While we do not know the red tape involved in selecting the two sites, Roche implied that it could be a couple weeks. The fact that it was seven months before the East Tower plans made it in to plan check makes me question the desire to expedite the tower installation on the part of A T&T. Particularly when the Planning department cranked the drawings out in less than 5 weeks, and AT&T has essentially sat on them in the four months since.
As to the west end tower, Planning Commission approved the CUP on May 19th, 2011. On July 14th, AT&T submitted its plans. Marked up corrections sheets were released on August 18, and AT&T resubmitted on September 6th.
I heard a rumor that AT&T had cancelled the East end tower due to cost, which made sense when you figured that the plans were in AT&T’s hands for correction for nearly four months and no action had been taken.
So I attempted to contact Mr. Roche. I left two voice mail messages, and he did not return either message. However, Mr. Roche, our local representative whom I’ve met on multiple occasions apparently didn’t want to talk with me. Because a couple days after I left my second voice mail, the assistant to a Mr. Lane Kisselman responded that she needed my e-mail address so that Mr. Kissleman could respond to me when he was out of his meetings. Shortly thereafter, I received Mr. Kissleman’s response. Mr. Kissleman works out of San Francisco, in the PR department for AT&T. I’d venture to guess he doesn’t know Sierra Madre or its needs. But here’s what he said: “AT&T is looking forward to improving wireless coverage throughout Sierra Madre. Our proposed site in west Sierra Madre will start construction at the end of this year and is scheduled to be operational by second quarter, 2012. We are currently reviewing options for the proposed site in east Sierra Madre. Please let me know if you need anything else, Lane”
So after assurances in July 2010 that we were getting two new cells and that we would be getting those in a timely manner, say maybe the end of summer 2011, we now find ourselves with one cell site that is currently still undergoing plan check, but AT&T optimistically tells us they will begin construction 3 months later than we thought they’d be done, in order to be completely done 3 months later than that.
And the second cell cite is being reviewed for the proposed site in east Sierra Madre. Doesn’t sound right. What does sound right? T-Mobile owns the cell site at the east end of town. AT&T wants to buy T-Mobile, giving them access to the existing cells, and allowing them not to spend the money to put up the cells they promised us a year and a half ago. Little wrench thrown in when the US Gov’t sued AT&T to stop the sale. So, with litigation, I guess I can understand that site being put on hold. West site, though? Promised in expedited fashion in July of 2010, drawings submitted a full year later. Now we are told construction is three months away, and functionality 6 months away, spring of next year.
There are stopgap solutions that AT&T could employ to improve service on a temporary basis. Some Sierra Madreans have plunked down $150 to receive a Micro Cell which improves cell reception on multiple cell lines in your home. Others, like myself, have talked to the people at the AT&T store and received the MicroCell at no charge, just because Sierra Madre service is so bad.
It’s also my understanding that AT&T has portable antennas that sit on trailers and can be parked on a temporary basis to improve service in the area. If it truly is only going to be six months, why not just bring the cell trailers down to Sierra Madre for a few months? My guess? The temporary poles might give us better service than the permanent fixtures, and that would be embarrassing to AT&T when they pull the temporary equipment out and discover that service quality went down with the permanent equipment. Pure speculation on my part, I have no facts to back it up.