City Council members are grappling to find a balance between bringing needed technological infrastructure into La Cañada and maintaining safe and attractive thoroughfares.

The issue came to light Monday when the council considered two appeals over the placement of an AT&T U-Verse equipment cabinet on Foothill Boulevard. After a lengthy discussion, they decided not to vote on either one, returning the matter to the Public Works and Traffic Commission.

This week’s discussion occurred during a public hearing regarding a March 19 application for a permit submitted to the commission by AT&T for the placement of an above-ground, 4-foot wide equipment cabinet at 1651 Foothill Blvd.

The cabinet is needed to support the company’s high-speed Internet service. Two other similar cabinets, one owned and operated by AT&T and the other by Charter Communications, currently exist at that location.

The permit was approved, but was appealed by nearby resident Robert Ford, who claimed the installation would cause an over-concentration of above-ground structures along the public right-of-way, according to the city’s Municipal Code.

“To me, three of these big boxes is an over-concentration,” Ford told the Council.

Public Works Director Edward Hitti, agreeing with Ford on that point, asked AT&T to provide screening for that cabinet and the other structures. Hitti suggested landscaping as an appropriate and aesthetic screening material.

On March 31, Richard Roche, AT&T’s director of external affairs, appealed that decision, claiming landscaping would prevent crews from accessing the cabinet.

Roche attended Monday’s meeting with AT&T engineering area manager John Johnston, who also addressed the Council.

“Currently, the AT&T cabinet has doors on both sides. Screening between it and the curb is not practical,” Johnston maintained.

Council member Laura Olhasso asked the representatives about alternative sites, but no suitable location could be determined. Resident Joe Wilson, speaking in a public comment, defended the need for faster Internet.

“If you’re going to have U-Verse here, high-speed Internet, there’s going to have to be some compromises made,” Wilson said. “We need to do what we need to do to get high-speed Internet connections here.”

Ultimately, Olhasso sided in favor of AT&T, agreeing on the city’s need for service. Mayor Pro Tem Don Voss said he agreed with Hitti’s screening request, saying it was made according to procedure and should be followed.

Council members Jonathan Curtis and Dave Spence echoed Olhasso’s sentiments, and Mayor Mike Davitt addressed AT&T, saying, “I don’t think it’s that big a deal to put up some fencing. I think it could be done.”

Hitti clarified that denying AT&T’s appeal would completely scuttle the project, forcing it to reapply even if representatives agreed to the screening. So the panel agreed not to vote on either appeal, staying firm on some kind of screening requirement.

“Our hope is that AT&T will get very creative and come back with a way to make this work,” Olhasso said.

-- Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter: @SaraCardine.

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