Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blimppy Weekend

Has anyone else noticed the Farmer's Blimp that has been buzzing Bel-Air for the past week or so? Just saying...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Alert Message: Be on lookout for construction site burglaries in Palisades, Brentwood areas at night.

Alert Message has been issued by the LAPD - West L.A..

Friday July 30, 2010 12:07 PM PDT

Be on lookout for construction site burglaries in Palisades, Brentwood areas
at night.

Be on the lookout for suspicious activity at construction sites in
residential neighborhoods in the Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, and Bel Air
areas. Look for vehicles returning to the construction sites after hours.
Report it to your local police station (West Los Angeles Area (310)

For full details, go to

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sunset Bridge Demo Activity

Please see the following notice concerning the Sunset Bridge Demolition and Reconstruction Activity.

Ron Macias
Community Relations Officer
I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project
(310) 846 - 3564

I-405 Project Hotline 213-922-3665

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

UPDATE E-MAIL: PLUM Moved Baseline Hillside Ordinance to City Attorney

Greetings All:

The Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee of the City Council has officially recommended that the proposed Baseline Hillside Ordinance provisions be moved to the City Attorney's Office for their review and preparation of an official Ordinance. The version that was moved forward essentially upholds the City Planning Commission recommendations with three technical changes as recommended by the Department of City Planning; two procedural changes that will enable the Department of Building & Safety to better implement the proposed regulations, and the other is a correction to a typographical error. The recommended changes should be available for download on the online Council File within the next day or two.

Useful Links
April 22, 2010 City Planning Commission Staff Report:
May 27, 2010 City Planning Commission Staff Report:
City Planning Commission Determination Letter:
Online Council File:

What's Next?
The PLUM Committee has referred the proposed Baseline Hillside Ordinance provisions to the City Attorney's Office (with the recommended changes). The City Attorney will now review the proposal for both form and legality and will prepare the official Ordinance (a legal description of the changes to the Code that would incorporate the proposed hillside provisions), in addition to a few other City Charter mandated steps. Once everything is reviewed and prepared, the City Attorney will transmit a report to the City Clerk and will likely go back to the PLUM Committee for their final action on the matter and the proposal will then go before the full City Council.

At this point, Planning staff does not have an idea how long this review and preparation will take, but when we have any updates we will send an email to the interest list.

There are still at least 3 steps left to go before the Ordinance is officially adopted, which have been summarized below:

- The preparation of the official Baseline Hillside Ordinance by the City Attorney's Office;
- The adoption of the proposed Ordinance by the City Council; and
- The signature of the Mayor.

Once these steps have been taken, the City Clerk's Office will post the adopted Ordinance for a period of 10 days and a 30-day effective date will begin after that.

Even if we have an official Ordinance quicker than expected, it is important to note that the City Council goes into a recess period in August and is not likely to act on it in that month. This means that we are possibly looking at sometime in September as the earliest date for an official City Council action. This means that the proposed Baseline Hillside Ordinance could be in effect as early as late-October/early-November, but this timeline is still subject to change depending on how long it takes to get through the next 3 steps.

Feel free to forward this information to anyone you feel might be interested.

If you received this email via forwarded message from someone other than myself, and you want to obtain updates directly from the Department, please email and ask to be added to the interest list. Please type "Add Me To Hillside Notification List" in the subject line and provide your group/organization/company affiliations and contact information (please include at least your ZIP Code).

Facebook™ Users: Look for the Baseline Hillside Ordinance page; add the page and receive updates in your news feed. You can also view our events calendar and participate in discussion boards.

As always, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact myself or Jennifer Driver at or at (818) 374-5034.

Erick Lopez
City Planner
Department of City Planning
Community Planning Bureau - West Coastal Division
200 N. Spring St., Room 621
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 978-1243
(213) 978-1226 - fax

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

Monday, July 26, 2010


There was a Coyote Sighting in Bel-Air today around 12:30pm. A coyote entered a property on Sarbonne Road through a gap in a wrought-iron pedestrian gate no more than four inches wide. The coyote walked straight up to the residence and pawed at the window.

No people or animals were injured, but for obvious reasons, very frightened. The homeowner felt the residence was very well protected, but the predator was able to squeeze through even a tiny fence gap.

Thank you to the Bel-Air Association member who reported this and provided this great photo.

Please keep safety top-of-mind!

It is also VERY important to consider small children being at risk of similar attacks. Obviously, it is extremely unfortunate that pets are lost to incidences like these, but a child would be unfathomable. These, and similar, animals are clearly becoming more prominent not only in Los Angeles, but right here in Bel-Air. Please take extreme caution to protect your pets AND families. For easy reference, safety tips are pasted below!


(Thank you to Director Chris Hameetman for these tips on a previous blog post!)



Coyotes are capable of scaling or jumping fences upwards of 5 1/2 feet in height. They can be deterred by increasing the fence height to at least 6 feet and adding an angle at the top facing outward at 45 degrees and 16 inches wide. (For fences over 6 feet check local fence height laws, a variance may be required.) Bury the bottom of the fence at least 12 to 18 inches underground and line the trench with rock to prevent the coyote from digging underneath. An apron underground at the base extending an additional 18 to 24 inches out from the fence should be added as well.


Keep your pets indoors or secured in an outdoor kennel.

Environmental factors can affect the time a coyote may appear.

Coyotes are active during daylight hours also.

Walk your dog on a leash at all times.

If your yard does not have a fence, use a leash while on your property to keep your pet close to you.

You may carry something with you for protection such as an air horn, whistle, walking stick or cane.

Confine small animals and birds that you cannot keep indoors to covered enclosures constructed of a heavy gauge wire mesh.

Coyotes can break through chicken wire.

Put all trash bags inside the trash cans and keep all outdoor trash can lids securely fastened to the containers.

Place trash bins inside sheds, garages or other enclosed structures.

Pick fruit from trees as soon as it ripens and pick up all fallen fruit.Cut low hanging branches to avoid the coyote feeding from trees.

Trim ground-level shrubbery.

Vegetable gardens should be protected with heavy duty garden fences or enclosed by a greenhouse.

Check with your local plant nursery to see what deterrent products are available.

If you have access to the Internet, you may find some items on-line.

Keep your property well lit at night.

Close off crawl spaces under porches, decks and sheds.

Coyotes use such areas for resting and raising young.

Share this information with your neighbors.

Your efforts may be futile if someone is providing food or shelter for coyotes.

Remember this is a neighborhood effort.

Do not feed wild animals. I

t is illegal to feed predatory wildlife in the City of Los Angeles. (L.A.M.C. Sec. 53.06.5)

Do not leave pet food or water bowls outside if your pet is not outdoors.

Local law requires that food and water be available to your pet when it is kept outside.

However, bring in the dishes when your pet is inside.

Do not allow pets to roam from home.

Do not set your trash out for pick-up until the day of pick-up to reduce attracting predators in the middle of the night.

Do not attempt to pet or otherwise make contact with them.

Coyotes are wild animals and should be treated as such.

Never leave small children unattended.

Do not throw food into an open compost pile.


Spray a little ammonia in your trash can several times a week to cut the odor of food.

Place moth balls or moth ball cakes in areas where coyotes sleep or hang out to deter them from staying.

Motion activated devices such as lights, strobe lights and sprinklers can be useful.

Use radios that are set to talk or news stations to help deter the coyotes.

Use a Coyote Shaker: A can containing a few coins which can be shaken and thrown at the coyote.

Throw balls or rocks.

Bang two pans together, blow a whistle, use an air horn or use high pressure water sprayer.

Alternate the deterrents to prevent the coyote from getting used to one method.


What should I do if a coyote approaches me?

- Wave your arms.
- Shout in a low, loud tone.
- Throw objects at the coyote while maintaining eye contact.
- Make yourself look as big as possible; if you are wearing a jacket open it up like a cape.
- If possible, go towards active or populated areas but do not turn your back on the coyote.

How can I keep my dog safe?

- If you live in coyote country, closely supervise your dog.
- Walk your dog on a leash at all times and stay close to high pedestrian traffic areas.
- Try not to establish a regular routine and route to avoid setting up a pattern for the coyote to detect.- Avoid bushy areas or paths near abandoned properties
If you notice a coyote when walking your dog, keep your dog as close to you as possible and move towards an active area.
- Never encourage or allow your dog to interact or “play” with coyotes.

How can I keep my cat safe?

- Keep your cat indoors at all times.
- If your cat must be outside, consider constructing an outdoor 6 sided enclosure that is made of heavy gauge wire or chain-link with an enclosed access way to the house.

Related Link:

Coyote Sighting Log - Help the Bel-Air Association Track Coyotes in Bel-Air

A big THANK YOU to members of the newly formed Bel-Air Association Coyote Task Force and Councilmember Paul Koretz's office for acquiring and supplying this great Coyote Sighting Log. This will provide community members the opportunity to quickly jot down specifics of coyote sightings throughout the neighborhood and surrounding areas. The more information we collect, the more knowledgeable we can be about wild predators (like coyotes) in Bel-Air.

Please visit this link to download your blank log.

Please fill it in accordingly and keep track of your sightings. Be as specific as possible when recording the data. When you feel you've collected a good amount of information, please email ( or mail (100 Bel-Air Road, 90077) the document (with your name, address and phone/email address) to us so we can compile every one's sightings.

Please don't limit your recordings to coyotes, but any wild predator that may be harmful to the neighborhood.

As always, we are here to help. Please feel free to call 310.474.3527.

LAPD WEST LA CPAB Meeting - Welcome Carmen A. Trutanich


Please Welcome Carmen A. Trutanich

Los Angeles City Attorney
Tuesday July 27, 2010
Refreshments: 6:30pm - 7:00pm
Meeting: 7:00pm – 8:30pm

·       Crime & Departmental Reports
·        C-PAB Website

West Los Angeles Community Police Station
1663 Butler Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90025

Co-Chair: Captain Evangelyne Nathan

Co-Chair: Robert A. Ringler

Officer Raymond Barron (310) 444-0730

Questions or to add agenda items contact:

Robert A. Ringler H- (310) 475-5978

 Email: –

The Taste of Beverly Hills - Something for the Calendar

[from The Rundown]
Ain't no food trucks at the Taste of Beverly Hills

Celebrate the country’s most famous ZIP code with The Taste of Beverly Hills, a four-day feast beginning September 2 (ahem, 9/02/10).

Buy your tickets now for Food & Wine's Labor Day Weekend gourmet throwdown, headlined by Jon and Vinny from Animal, Michael Voltaggio and Wolfgang Puck, plus the city's favorite sommeliers.

Friday night opens with a picnic, plus mixologists whipping up cocktails in The Art of Mixing.

Saturday, top chefs and sommeliers share their secrets in the afternoon leading into Date Night, with tasty bites, easy drinking wine and music.

If you’re not too stuffed by Sunday afternoon, head out for free-flowing brunch cocktails, live gospel and jazz and KCRW’s annual pie contest. (KCRW’s ubiquitous Jason Bentley will be handling sounds all weekend long.)

The Taste of Beverly Hills
Thursday September 2 through Sunday September 5

Tickets: $75-$150; $500 festival pass here.
Out-of-Towners: Sweet hotel specials are available at places the Beverly Hilton, The Thompson, the Peninsula, Avalon, Beverly Wilshire, Maison 140, and Mosaic Hotel.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bel~Air Homicide Map

With the exception of Michael Jackson (determined by the LA Coroner to be a homicide), the LA Times' new interactive map shows the greater Bel~Air area to be homicide free (at least since January 1, 2007)!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Closures to begin on 405 Freeway, Sunset Boulevard for bridge project,0,6175124.story

Closures to begin on 405 Freeway, Sunset Boulevard for bridge project

The heavily traveled structure will be demolished and rebuilt in two phases.

By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times

July 23, 2010

The Sunset Boulevard bridge is ready for its close-up.

After weeks of preparation, construction crews Friday night will shut down portions of busy Sunset Boulevard and the 405 Freeway on the Westside to begin jackhammering and demolishing the southern half of the bridge. Workers will then spend 10 months rebuilding it before going through the same drill on the bridge's northern half.

Transportation officials have met regularly with neighbors and businesses, sent e-mail blasts and communicated via Twitter and Facebook to keep them apprised of closures and detours. Still, the project — designed to ease congestion, save carpoolers time and improve safety — promises to wreak a fair measure of havoc for drivers caught unaware as well as for residents who have known for years that this night was coming.

"The longest detour is two miles max," said Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "It's not going to be that large, and it's going to happen in the middle of the night."

Sotero said crews will work day and night to rebuild the bridge with 16 pre-stressed concrete girders. When completed, the bridge will be 30 feet wider, a bit higher and better able to withstand earthquakes.

Nonetheless, the prospect fills some Westsiders with dread.

Some people "will be upset no matter what because what you're dealing with is change," said Cori Solomon, president of the Brentwood Glen Assn., one of the neighborhoods most heavily affected.

For months, "short-term pain for long-term gain" has been the oft-expressed mantra of the MTA, which is partnering with the California Department of Transportation on the $1-billion-plus project, funded by local, state and federal money.

The project will add a 10-mile northbound carpool lane to the stretch of the 405 between the 10 and 101 freeways through the Sepulveda Pass. The extra lane will allow carpoolers and some drivers of hybrid vehicles to traverse the entire 405 from Orange County to the San Fernando Valley. The project also calls for realigning 27 onramps and offramps, widening 13 existing underpasses and structures and building about 18 miles of retaining and sound walls.

Sunset Boulevard is one of the most heavily traveled east-west roads on the Westside. On average, about 3,500 vehicles cross the 54-year-old Sunset bridge each hour. More than 300,000 drivers travel on the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass each day, officials said.

Demolition-related activities are expected to begin about 9 p.m. on each of six consecutive nights. Ramp closures might begin as early as 7 p.m., the MTA said, with traffic control officers directing motorists onto local streets.

On Friday night, lanes on the northbound 405 will close one by one until all have been shut down. The bridge, freeway and local streets will be reopened starting about 6 a.m. for the daytime travel hours.

Even before the launch of demolition, residents and businesses have been coping with disruptions caused by the project. Concrete K-rails, new striping and sound curtains have dramatically altered the look of the bridge.

"Traffic backs up to PCH in the afternoon," said Corby Baumgarten, who lives off Gunston Drive just south of Sunset and west of the freeway — in the thick of the action.

Complicating matters, Church Lane, which runs parallel to the freeway just to the west, has been closed to all but local traffic because of a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power project.

As a result, Acari Drive, a narrow street that curves through Brentwood Glen, "is a freeway now," said resident Barbara Stolar. "It's always been a shortcut. Now it's an alternative route to Sepulveda."

The bridge demolition is starting about a month behind schedule. Later this year, workers plan to begin demolishing the bridges at Skirball Center Drive and Mulholland Drive. The MTA and Caltrans expect the entire project to be completed in 2013. In the intervening years, construction will occur on all three bridges at the same time.

During demolition, Sunset Boulevard will be closed at night in both directions Friday through next Wednesday. Detour information and maps are available at

"It is our goal to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible," said Mark Van Gessel, a manager of the project. "If people could avoid the area at night, it would be beneficial."

Sunset Bridge, the early years

[from Supervisor Yaroslavsky's Weekly Web Flash]

Say goodbye to the Sunset Bridge over the 405. The overcrossing—a symbol of California’s freeway-building love affair that profoundly affected the evolution of Los Angeles—was completed in 1956.
On Friday, after 54 years of loyal service, the bridge will start coming down, to be rebuilt as part of another ambitious transportation initiative—the $1.034 billion project to construct a 10-mile northbound carpool lane on the 405 Freeway, along with a wide range of other improvements.
The bridge cost $722,657 to build over what was then called the Sepulveda Freeway. California Governor Goodwin J. Knight was on hand to address the “groups of civic leaders, businessmen and residents of nearby communities” who turned out for the 1954 groundbreaking. “Highways are no longer a luxury, but a necessity to move goods and people, the Governor told them,” according to a report at the time in a publication called California Highways and Public Works.
The publication also noted: “Early development of the Sepulveda Freeway is of importance to the west and south coastal sections of the Los Angeles metropolitan area as well as to afford traffic relief on existing highways and streets through the San Fernando Valley leading into and through central Los Angeles, the Governor stated.”
On the question of traffic relief, at least, some things never change. But Los Angeles itself has—dramatically—as these historic Caltrans photos of the Sunset Bridge show.
Now, more than a half-century later, six nights of demolition work on the south side of the bridge are expected to start after midnight Friday. The tool of choice to bring down the bridge piece-by-piece is the hoe ram—basically a crane with a huge jackhammer attached. There will be three of them working Friday night in a work area that will be swaddled in 6,000 square feet of sound blankets that contractors hope will help muffle the noise. Anyone with questions or concerns is encouraged to call the project hotline, (213) 922-3665.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I-405 Quarterly Community Meeting

Kasey Shuda
I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project
Metro Community Relations, Wilshire Segment
6060 Center Drive, 2nd Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90045

(310) 846-3563

I-405 Project Hotline 213-922-3665

DWP board may allow L.A. to water more often

Los Angeles residents may soon be able to water more. The board of DWP commissioners is set to consider new watering rules on Thursday.

The L.A. City Council is recommending residents get 8 minutes a day, three days a week, to water lawns.

The new rules were proposed after a series of water main breaks. A report blamed the current watering schedule for putting too much pressure on the city's aging water mains.

Under the new plan, odd-numbered addresses will be able to irrigate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and even-numbered addresses on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunset Bridge Information - Letter from Metro

Dear CAC Members,


This e-mail is to inform you that the I-405 Project staff will be hosting extended office hours at our Wilshire Construction Office on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 from 7-8pm. The purpose of the office hours is to provide an opportunity for residents to talk one-on-one with project staff about the Sunset Bridge demolition activities that are scheduled to begin on the night of July 23, 2010.


A letter announcing these office hours went out earlier this week to approximately 200 residences and businesses in close proximity to the bridge. The letter describes the mitigation measures the contractor will put in place to reduce noise during the demolition as well as the process that neighbors can follow if they have urgent concerns, including noise-related concerns, at night.


Some of the highlights from the letter include the following information:

·        The demolition of the Sunset Bridge is expected to generate noise. In advance of this work, our contractor will implement noise mitigation measures intended to decrease the impact of noise on the surrounding community. Throughout demolition, sound blankets will be placed around the work zone to reduce construction-generated noise to sensitive receptors.

·        According to the approved FEIR/EIS and to state and federal standards, construction noise generated at night must not exceed 86 decibels (measured 50 feet from the source). Technicians will be onsite during the bridge demolition activity to measure noise levels and ensure compliance with this requirement.

·        Throughout the duration of construction, Community Relations Officers (CROs) will be on-call at night to address emergency situations related to construction. The cell phone number for the on-call CRO is listed each night on the project hotline (213-922-3665).

·        In the event that you have an urgent concern or emergency to report outside of business hours, including nights and weekends, please feel free to call the on-call CRO. He or she will contact the Caltrans Engineer on-duty at the work site to obtain information related to the emergency you are reporting. If your concern is specific to noise, the Resident Engineer will obtain information regarding actual noise levels, expected duration of the activity and additional measures that may be taken at the work site to mitigate the noise. He or she will then report this information back to you as quickly as possible. 

Please share this information with interested members of your organizations. If you or members of your organizations have additional questions or concerns, I encourage you to attend the extended office hours or call us at 213-922-3665. All of this information will also be discussed in detail at the July 22 CAC meeting.


Kind Regards,


Devon Cichoski

I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project

Metro Community Relations

Office: 310-846-3552

Cell: 213-256-9796



Visit us online:





Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Lite - Lady Gaga rests her Disco Stick in Bel~Air

July 14, 2010. Lady GaGa has leased this $7 million home in the hills of Bel Air which had been listed for rent at a price of about $25,000 per month. The pop diva, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, leased this 6 bedroom, 8 bathroom Mediterranean estate in October of 2009. According to listing information the high-walled and gated residence, located at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, has 6,143 square feet of interior living space. Amenities include a double height entry with marble floors and a curving staircase, french doors throughout, an office/ library that opens to the pool terrace with outdoor kitchen. The hillside property has a resort-style swimming pool and spa with a terrace that hangs over a canyon with unobstructed panoramic views of the city.
Lady GaGa has leased this $7 million home in the hills of Bel Air which had been listed for rent at a price of about $25,000 per month. The pop diva, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, leased this 6 bedroom, 8 bathroom Mediterranean estate located at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac.  The high-walled and gated residence has 6,143 square feet of interior living space and amenities include a double height entry with marble floors and a curving staircase, french doors throughout, an office/ library that opens to the pool terrace with outdoor kitchen. The hillside property has a resort-style swimming pool and spa with a terrace that hangs over a canyon with unobstructed panoramic views of the city.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Big blankets vs. 405 night noise

405-freeway-from-getty280Demolition work on the Sunset Bridge over the 405 Freeway will take place within a massive cocoon of sound blankets—some 30 feet long and suspended from cranes. Others will be draped from the back side of the bridge, while additional blankets will encase concrete barriers around the site as the south side of the bridge is dismantled piece by piece on six consecutive nights.
The sound absorption blankets—all 6,000 square feet of them—are a bit of “pre-emptive mitigation” that officials hope will help muffle some of the expected noise from the project, which, after weeks of prep work, is about to enter the bridge demolition phase on July 23.
“We’re basically encircling the site with sound blankets,” says Devon Cichoski, Metro’s community relations manager on the project to add a 10-mile northbound carpool lane to the 405 Freeway, along with other improvements. “The idea is you kind of encase the bridge in these sound blankets and less noise is escaping into the community.”
Nighttime construction noise is allowed up to 86 decibels, as measured 50 feet from the site.
“Could it still be loud with all that stuff up? Absolutely,” Cichoski says.
So people with urgent noise complaints—or other emergency issues—are encouraged to call the project’s hotline number, (213) 922-3665.
Operators (well, Metro community relations staff) really will be standing by, Cichoski says. After-hours callers will be connected to a line that provides the cell phone number of that night’s on-call representative. Callers with more routine comments or questions can leave a message. The hotline also offers a recorded rundown on each day’s lane and ramp closures.
For a look at all the planned freeways and street closures—and recommended detours—during the Sunset Bridge demolition work, check out this construction notice and attached map.
The Sunset Bridge is the first of three bridges over the freeway that will be demolished in sections and reconstructed in new-and-improved form during the course of the project. (The others are at Skirball Center Drive and Mulholland Drive.)
After the south side of the Sunset Bridge is rebuilt—which should take about 10 months—the process will be repeated on the north side. The bridge will have four lanes open to traffic during construction—two in each direction.

More on Femtocells - AT&T "market trial" Providing Free Devices

Although no one in Bel~Air has yet reported receiving a free AT&T MicroCell (Femtocell), most of us have reported horrible to non-existent cellular coverage in our hillsides. 

AT&T has provided free MicroCells to AT&T customers (see letter below) as part of a "market trial" which - IMHO - should be extended to those in Bel~Air that pay for service - but get none - from their homes.

If you are an AT&T customer (heck, why not try this with all cellular providers) and suffer from this condition, do not be shy and call AT&T (or your respective provider) requesting a Free Femtocell to address your lack of area service.  And please let us know if you succeed.  

It certainly does not hurt to try!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bad Cellular Reception In Bel~Air - The Femtocell May Be Your Solution

For background, a femtocell is a small radio transceiver that plugs into your home broadband network connection (i.e., via DSL, cable modem, etc.) so you do not have to rely on that feeble signal from a central cell phone tower.

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted these devices in the following article, which devices are offered by the major mobile providers AT&T, Verizon & Sprint.
A Cell Tower of Your Very Own

Major Carriers Sell a Personal Device That Improves Signal  By ROGER CHENG

Up until a few weeks ago, Mike Gillin was a tough man to get a hold of.

[cell-Tower]Erica Beckman for The Wall Street Journal
His basement apartment in Smithtown, N.Y. is a virtual black hole for cellular signals. AT&T Inc.'s cellular service is just good enough that Mr. Gillin's iPhone would ring when dialed—but the calls would usually fail to connect. Text messages would arrive hours, or even days, late. Friends trying to reach him would have to switch back and forth between dialing his land line and his cellphone in an effort to get through.
"It was always a process of calling one number, and then the other and hoping I answered one," says Mr. Gillin, 35-year-old email systems manager. "It was always a pain."
Roger Cheng tell us about a textbook-size cellphone gadget known as a femtocell that helps with unreliable cellular service. So why aren't major cellular carriers promoting the device?
So it's no wonder that in May Mr. Gillin jumped at the chance to buy AT&T's 3G Microcell—a textbook-size cellphone gadget known as a femtocell that helps with unreliable cellular service. Think of it as a personal cellphone tower. It operates on the same technological principle, receiving an incoming call signal via the home's DSL or cable Internet connection, and then broadcasting the signal to the user's cellphone.
Never heard of a femtocell? Many other cellphone users haven't, either. Major cellular carriers do virtually no advertising for the devices—a rare example of reticence in an industry that spends heavily on ads. Industry experts say big carriers are reluctant to highlight a product that calls attention to the problem of spotty network coverage.


  • 3G Microcell
  • $149.99
  • Provides signal for data and voice up to 5,000 square feet
Verizon Wireless
  • Network Extender
  • $99.99
  • Provides signal for voice only up to 5,000 square feet
Sprint Nextel
  • Airave
  • $99.99, plus $4.99 a month
  • Provides signal for voice only up to 5,000 square feet
AT&T has been rolling out the 3G Microcell, which provides a full signal to a surrounding area of up to 5,000 square feet, as an answer for customers in areas with poor reception. The price is $149.99.
Verizon Wireless's femtocell, the "Network Extender," is priced at $99.99; Verizon doesn't sell it in stores. Sprint Nextel Corp. sells its Airave for $99.99 with a mandatory $4.99 monthly charge to customers who ask a service representative. T-Mobile USA doesn't sell the device.
The carriers say they put limited marketing behind the devices because they don't see them as mass-market products, although useful in certain situations. "It is designed largely for customers who—because of architectural issues or location geography—want enhanced calling," a Verizon spokesman says. Sprint says the femtocell "helps enhance" coverage and notes there are situations where reception problems are out of the carrier's control. AT&T says it plans to offer the 3G Microcell in a direct marketing campaign to customers facing unique physical or geographic obstructions.
The carriers have been sensitive to criticism of poor coverage and the propensity for dropped phone calls. AT&T still faces reception issues in New York and San Francisco, largely due to the popularity and data- hungry demands of Apple Inc.'s iPhone. AT&T says it is working on improving coverage in those areas, and expects to have upgrades in both cities later this year. The two cities were among the first to get the 3G Microcell following the April launch. AT&T's device improves signals for both data and voice; those from Verizon and Sprint boost only voice quality.


As for the devices' potential health risks, some experts say they are probably no worse—and may be less—than the still-unproven risks posed by regular cellphone signals. Industry observers note femtocells are no more harmful than the typical Wi-Fi hotspot, and may be less harmful than a cellphone because they aren't held close to the body.
"At this point, there's no conclusive evidence showing all these radio signals are hurting people," says Harry Wong, analyst at research firm Parks Associates.
Film director Barry Sonnenfeld purchased Verizon's Network Extender nearly a year ago for his East Hampton, N.Y., house, which doubles as a home theater where he screens projects. Mr. Sonnenfeld, who uses three major wireless carriers—Verizon Wireless for his BlackBerry Bold, AT&T for his iPhone and Sprint for his Evo 4G—says service is bad in the area. "Verizon is sketchy and AT&T is profoundly bad," says Mr. Sonnenfeld. He says with the Verizon device, the BlackBerry has full bars; he says he is planning to buy AT&T's device, too.
Femtocells can be a pain to set up. Activation can take up to 90 minutes, and Mr. Gillin says he occasionally has to reboot it. And because the device relies on a global positioning system to confirm its location in a service area, it needs a clear line of sight to the sky.
The devices have to be in areas where the carrier already offers service, so they won't work overseas. AT&T, on the first weekend after the launch of the iPhone 4 last month, had a system outage that left some 3G Microcells from activating.
For customers on limited-call plans, the carriers also offer an option to pay an additional monthly fee and get unlimited calls using the femtocell. Some consumers have bristled at paying extra to improve what they believe are the carriers' own coverage problems. The carriers say fees cover the cost of running wireless traffic from the femtocell back to their networks.
Some people who have the devices say the improved service is worth the cost. David Nowicki, a marketing executive for Airvana Inc., which is working on a data femtocell for Sprint, says he personally uses all of his competitors' devices because his North Andover, Mass., home sits between two hills that interfere with cellular signals. "You have a part of the network that's dedicated to you," he says.