Despite objections from residents, who alleged it would create health hazards and reduce property values, Santa Monica City Council approved the installation of a wireless communication facility by AT&T (now Cingular Wireless) on the roof of the Public Storage building at 3010 Wilshire Boulevard last Tuesday.
Neighbors of the Wilshire site originally opposed the City’s Zoning Administrator’s approval of the facility in October 2003, and filed an appeal with the Planning Commission. When the Commission denied their appeal in February 2004, they appealed the denial to the Council.
The Council’s 5 to 2 vote to deny the appeal was based on a statement from an independent consultant hired by the City that the proposed tower met the appropriate specifications set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for radio frequency (RF) emissions.
Given that, under Section 704 of the telecommunications Act (TCA) that decrees “No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effect of radio frequency missions to the extent that such facilities comply with the [Federal Communication] Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions,” the Council lacked the authority to uphold the appeal and deny the license.
Resident Matt Baird, who lives at 3009 Arizona Avenue, less than a block from the proposed tower, disagreed and claimed to the Council that “this tower would be in direct violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as it will have a very significant environmental impact on our neighborhood and the surrounding area.”
He also pointed out that as the City doesn’t maintain a database of the location of wireless communication antennas, cumulative impacts of the devices would be difficult to establish. In addition, he claimed that such installations could lower property values by as much as 20 percent.
In an interview with the Mirror, Baird cited several studies that allege that people who live next to microwave cell phone towers are subjected to “substantial health risks such as cancer, brain tumors, loss of memory, and high rates of suicide due to loss of serotonin.”
At the hearing, resident Pat Hale, who lives behind the proposed site, reported that she had “a friend that just had a tumor taken out of her skull from right over her right ear and her neurosurgeon said it was probably from excessive cell phone use.”
Another neighborhood resident, Patty Factor told the Council about a friend she “lost a year ago” from a brain tumor who worked next to a cell phone tower. In this instance she claimed her doctors “believed she had more radiation than she could handle.”
The residents also showed a video in which neighbors demonstrated that their cell phone coverage as AT &T cell phone customers was already adequate so there was no need for an additional tower to be added.
The City’s telecommunications consultant Jonathan Kramer explained to the Council that A T & T wanted to install the tower “to enhance existing RF coverage primarily along Wilshire Boulevard” and that the health concerns regarding the RF emissions were unfounded because RF energy goes out horizontally toward the horizon, not downward towards neighboring structures.
After hearing from City Attorney Marsha Moutrie “that as a matter of law … you can’t rely on the health impacts of RF emissions or the alleged financial impacts from the installation of antennas” to make a decision, two Council members abstained from voting.
“I’m really unhappy … with the position this City Council has been forced into. We’re being forced to care because the FCC doesn’t. I find myself chaffing at our legal handcuffs because we’re being asked to blindly trust the telecommunications companies and the federal government and I don’t,” stated Council member Kevin McKeown. After stating that he had never abstained from a vote in his six years on the Council, McKeown said, “to show my protest against the federal administration that I don’t trust on radiation health, I will abstain,” and won a round of applause.
Council member Herb Katz also abstained, saying, “The only way I can protest is to abstain. I’m concerned about the health issues. I lost two sons to radiation-induced tumors so I have a little personal concern…though it wasn’t due to cell phones.” He then called for the City to fully document the locations of all wireless communications facilities in the City.
In other business, the Council approved the allocation of $10,000 for use by the Exodus House Recovery to help locate a building near the Brotman Medical Center in Culver City that could be used for a Westside sobering center.
The Council also adopted an emergency ordinance to extend modifications to development standards for single-family homes in Sunset Park and north of Wilshire neighborhoods to help ensure neighborhood compatibility until August 31, with the proviso that the Plannning staff would make some changes in the ordinance in the interim to address concerns expressed by residents at the meeting.Finally, Council members appointed Sally Breiter to the Commission for the Senior Community.