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Council Green-Lights Controversial AT&T Wireless Hub

AT&T plans to install two antennas on University Avenue.

The Palo Alto City Council eased through a permit change Monday night that AT&T was fighting to get and many local residents were aiming to squash.

The telecom giant has been trying for months to tack on two "wireless fidelity antennas" on the side of at 488 University Ave.

Not much bigger than a backpack, the antennas seemed an easy approval with the city, which has approved similar wireless technology at the same site. 

But permanent residents at the hotel grew skeptical about AT&T's motives after learning that maintenance crews might need to walk through a home to fix the wireless hubs. And some people grew scared about radiation levels. Some speakers described a monopoly theory, in which the city was handing out its airwaves for a paycheck. 

"An ugly nuisance," one speaker said.

But the 8-1 vote, with Karen Holman dissenting, brings much-needed improvements designed to fill service gaps in Palo Alto for wireless users, now estimated at 300 million in the U.S., AT&T attorney Paul Albritton told the council. 

The council moved forward on the issue largely because AT&T realized outside maintenance was possible. Albritton told the council a day of minor traffic jams on University Avenue will likely be the worst consequence if crews work on the antennas in a cherry picker.

"It's my understanding that it can be done inside of one day," he told the council, referring to maintenance and installation times.

Holman described the debate as a social justice issue, one that leaves tenants subject to the whims of a large corporation.

"I will not be supporting this tonight," she said.

Councilman Greg Scharff, however, who made the motion to approve, described the process as vetted.

"It's a balancing of interests," he said.

The company aims to place the two antennas on the inside of the railing facing University Avenue. Monday's decision follow strong approvals by the Transportation and Planning Commission and a decision by the council late last month to call a public hearing on the topic because of the public controversy.

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