Government hearings yesterday in San Francisco and Los Angeles reflect a national standoff: unrelenting public opposition to cell sites in residential areas, against the wireless industry’s procedural strategies, attorneys and business professionals deployed to impose unwanted sites on neighborhoods. Also yesterday, a consortium of health and environmental advocates called on Congress to review obsolete FCC wireless exposure guidelines.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to settle T-Mobile’s lawsuit over the board’s 11-0 vote in May 2010 to deny a conditional use permit. T-Mobile filed the lawsuit after residents steadfastly opposed its plans and after that successful appeal to the board. Several residents spoke at last week’s Rules Committee, urging a vote against settlement, reasoning that it would send a message to wireless carriers that all they
have to do is sue the city and then settle the lawsuit to get what they want. One resident said, “By catering to these well-heeled corporate litigators, this board will be sending the wrong message. Since 2001, there have been 17 conditional use appeals involving cell sites like this one. Just last year there were two; both were unanimous 11-0 votes in favor of the residents. 14 have been decided in favor of residents, 3 resulted in federal lawsuits, the city prevailed in all three which entailed the same questions before you today.”
Court decisions prevent carriers from seeking attorneys fees or damages for contested site denials, even if they prevail against municipalities. In this case, neighborhood residents even offered to pay for the city’s retention of an expert for trial of the ‘significant gap’ issue. Despite the pleas, Supervisors voted 7-4 to settle, with John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi voting against: Avalos and Campos spoke about the settlement as being bad precedent, while Supervisors who voted in favor of settlement gave no reasons for doing so.
More on public comments in this matter: citizens pointed to charts showing the large number of cell sites maintained and proposed by T-Mobile and AT&T and speculated that T-Mobile was attempting to muscle in as many sites as it could in advance of a hoped-for merger. Citizens were also concerned about the settlement’s effect on T-Mobile’s lawsuit filed with NextG Networks and ExteNet opposing newly-enacted legislation that regulates public right-of-way installations in San Francisco.
Those rules, and the impact of that lawsuit’s outcome, were referenced more than once by the Los Angeles City Attorney in a Planning and Land Use Management/Public Works Committee meeting yesterday on proposed new rules for LA. Members present included Paul Krekorian, 2nd Council District, who has had ongoing discussions with Sherman Oaks and Sunland/Tujunga residents upset about T-Mobile installations in their neighborhoods.
Krekorian warned there could be negative impacts if utility pole exemptions in existing city code were removed, because carriers would have less incentive to “co-locate.” Richard Alarcon, 7th Council District, raised other provocative points. He asked how decisions about cell sites could be based on aesthetics when utility poles on which they are often placed are already ugly. The City Attorney responded that such arguments are attempts by municipalities to “carve out some means of discretion over siting.” During public comment, Pacific Palisades Residents’ Association President Barbara Kohn said that there was no fine line between ugly and uglier – the bulk of additional equipment and associated electrical boxes made utility poles burdened with wireless equipment far more prominent and far uglier. She and every other neighborhood representative speaking emphasized that it was critical something be done to regulate installations.
Alarcon also opined that the 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act, which greatly restricts municipal authority over wireless siting, was enacted in response to local attempts to make money off of telecom installations. He said it is a question of “who gets the campaign contributions.”
Tally of speakers at the LA hearing: Residents/resident association representatives – 8; Wireless industry/business interests – 5. Among the residents were representatives of the Sherman Oaks group Get the CELL Out, who have worked extensively with Krekorian and voiced strong support for the City Attorney’s recommendations to 1) remove the utility pole/light pole exemption; 2) expand notification requirements; and 3) enhance existing aesthetic criteria. They also asked for permit duration limits, and a requirement that renewed permits and pending applications fall under the new ordinance. Pacific Palisades resident Patrick Hart said that the city should consider evaluating permit applications by additional criteria including functionality, public safety, and environmental standards.
Cindy Cleghorn, Secretary of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council, said residents need to see “the full project”, since what is sent out in notifications for proposed new sites is often not complete. She complained about emissions and noise from existing sites which were not adequately disclosed.
Anita Gabrielian, current Glendale Community College Trustee and Executive Director of External Affairs for AT&T in Los Angeles, recited stats heard before and urged the committee to consider how to improve policies for everyone including the wireless industry. Just as Richard Roche, AT&T External Affairs VP, stated recently in Burbank, Gabrielian said that demand has grown 8000 percent over the past four years and is projected to grow 8-10 times higher by 2015. She said AT&T invested $19 billion last year, and $20 billion this year on infrastructure, to bring optimum wireless service to customers.
The three other representatives of wireless companies, together with Doug Arseneault of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, all urged the committee to establish a working group drawing from city departments, LA DWP, wireless carriers, residents, and other stakeholders to study the issues and report back to city council.
Committee members resisted the industry
delay tactic suggestion to form another body to study an issue that more than 50 residents groups want to see resolved. They directed the City Attorney to start drafting a document while identifying working group members that could provide input once the document is drafted. Staff were directed to return in 60 days with ordinance recommendations.
This is just California, and San Francisco and Los Angeles are just two very big cities in a huge state, and that was just yesterday’s news in those two cities. Similar fights have started for more than a decade, they are growing in number, and they are going on all over this state, and all over the country, in municipalities and counties large and small. The reason: municipalities are bound by federal law which enforces acceptance of FCC guidelines in these matters, but citizens do not trust current FCC guidelines for safe exposure to wireless frequencies, and they do not trust the FCC to have the best interests of local communities in mind as it handicaps local zoning authorities.
Also yesterday, a coalition of three environmental and health advocacy groups issued a public call to citizens, urging them to contact their representatives in Congress to request the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update its obsolete cell tower safety regulations. Excerpt:
The FCC’s cell tower safety regulations need to be revised immediately because:
1. WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified RF Radiation as a “Possible Carcinogen”
2. Current Regulations Have Long Overlooked the Harm from RF Radiation’s “Non-Thermal” Biological Effects
3. Biological and Health Effects from RF Radiation Are Widely Occurring In Both Adults and Children
4. Evidence for RF Damage to the Ecosystem is Mounting
To protect the public from risks from radiofrequency radiation (RF) the FCC must establish new safety guidelines for cell towers, Wi-Fi and cell phones that reflect the current science showing harm to human health, wildlife and nature.