Cell towers' stealth factor stuns neighbors
by Sebastian Ruiz
Jan 10, 2008 | 1392 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Point Loma resident Mark Berger looked around his neighborhood last November, he noticed an unmarked, privately owned van and a work crew installing a tan canister about 24 inches long and several inches in diameter. The crews were mounting the canister atop a utility pole in the public right-of-way in front of Berger's home.

Over the course of about a month, Berger and several of his neighbors would stop to ask the work crews "” which were different every time "” exactly they were installing.

When Berger discovered it was part of a project to install seven cell phone antennae on public utility poles in Point Loma without alerting neighbors, Berger brought the issue to the attention of the Peninsula Community Planning Board during the board's December meeting.

Some residents live within yards of the newly erected antennae and had no idea what was going on, Berger said.

"That, to me, is so unbelievably nearsighted," Berger said, "this subtle undermining of the permission of the public to know, or even find out about, the [installation] uses."

At the meeting, Berger revealed the locations of these seven installations in Point Loma. City officials confirmed installations at the following locations: the 3900 block of Polack St., 2300 Famosa Blvd., 4400 Adair St., 3700 block of Wildwood Road, 3700 block of Cañon St., 4100 block of Naragansett St. and the 4100 block of Alisha Dr.

According to Karen Lynch-Ashcraft, a city project manager, the installations belong to ExteNet, a wireless communications network provider. The antennae relay cell phone signals to areas without service such as the rolling hills of Point Loma, she said. Sprint will be among the possible users of the signal, according to ExteNet officials.

ExteNet has a public right-of-way use agreement with the city, said Lynch-Ashcraft. The city's current land development code regulations allow a company like ExteNet to piggyback such projects on public utility poles, she said.

If a company like ExteNet applies for a right-of-way permit and complies with the city's permit regulations, the permit can be approved ministerially and without public notice, said Lynch-Ashcraft.

Several years ago, the owners of a house near Catalina Boulevard and Naragansett Street proposed to install a cell tower site atop the roof of their home, she said. The proposal drew much opposition from neighbors, said Lynch-Ashcraft.

She said the city would rather have the facilities in the public right-of-way where officials can exert some regulation, where they could not at a private residence, she said. The project would have called for the cell phone antennae to be disguised as two chimneys, Lynch-Ashcraft said.

Disguising the antennae is common practice.

The city requires that companies disguise the site antennae as palm trees, Masonic temple flagpoles and church steeples to make them more acceptable and less intrusive to the community, she said. There are about 2,000 cellular phone transmission sites in the city of San Diego, said Lynch-Ashcraft.

The ExteNet network currently carries Sprint wireless service, the installations can provide service to several other companies simultaneously, she said. Next G Networks also provides networks for wireless service, Lynch-Ashcraft said, adding that Next G leases about 250 of these sites to wireless companies.

While Point Loma and other communities in the nation are precluded by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 from stopping these site installations because of real or perceived health reasons, concerned Peninsula residents like Berger and others say the long-term effects of transmission on people have yet to be determined by scientists.

The U.S. government and the Federal Communications Commission continue to use safety standards adopted in 1999 to determine how much radio frequency (RF) radiation is safe for people, said Clyde Enflin, FCC media relations representative.

And while the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has language that allows for the laws to change as science reveals the long-term effects of RF radiation on humans, public policy has yet to catch up with the latest science.

According to a report released by Bioinitiative Working Group, a group of American and international scientists, the current public standard in place for RF exposure "fails to take into account bio-effects from long-term, low-intensity exposures that may lead to adverse health impacts over time."

The full report can be found at www.bioinitiative.org. The group advocates for change in American public policy concerning RF radiation exposure.

Meanwhile, some Peninsula residents continue to raise concern over the possibility of declining property values because of the towers placed in front of their homes and over the possibility of adverse health effects from long-term exposure to RF radiation.

They have little recourse, however, in shooing the cell towers out of Point Loma as the companies continue to install sites, said Lynch-Ashcraft.

The companies install the antennae in response to customers' complaints about the lack of transmission capability in the area, she said.

"Everybody is complaining they don't want them in their neighborhood but they need their cell phone," Lynch-Ashcraft said. "Maybe they're too dependent on cell phones."
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