Cell Phones, Cell Towers, and the Rhetoric of Public Notice in South Park, San Diego

Originally, I began this article at the behest of a friend of mine, a local acupuncturist, holistic health professional, and mother of two, who lives right across the street from a proposed cell phone tower installation site in South Park. In addition to her obvious concerns related to well-documented studies on the possible health hazards (see links section), she was appalled at the lack of public notice. Though she had learned about this from the City, when she called them for further information, they never responded to her calls. When discussing the notice with neighbors, she learned that everyone in her area hadn’t received the notice. One of the reasons for this, she theorized, is that the notice itself was rather non-descript and could be mistaken for junk mail (i.e., it was printed on a plain piece of paper and didn’t appear to be anything of importance).

Could this be an intentional strategy, or are public notices usually devoid of signs that denote issues of vital importance?

Apparently, the reason I hadn’t been notified of the proposed siting was due to my living just beyond the corner of Grape and 32nd Streets rather than Fir and Fern Streets. Ironic, isn’t it, if the scientific data is to be believed, that I, my daughter, and all the other families in my neighborhood are also at risk.

Once I began looking into the matter, I, too, was amazed at the lack of public notice. I was also overwhelmed by the amount of material available on cell phones, cell towers, and the health hazards thereof. There was also a considerable amount of information on court cases relating to a variety of service providers (e.g., Cingular). I admit to being overwhelmed by the sheer volume, as well as the high-tech and scientific verbiage.

The First United Church “siting”, located at 3025 Fir St., is slated to “host” twelve cellular towers. Adjacent to and leased from the CUC is the McGill School of Success, a charter school and day care center for infants through first grade, which my daughter attended for kindergarten and first grade. I can tell you that if my daughter were still in attendance, I would be leaning heavily on the administration for both entities, hence this article. When I contacted McGill, I was surprised-and disturbed – to learn that they weren’t aware of the proposed cell towers. A staff member referred me to Mrs. Griffith, the Church’s administrator, who was never available to take my calls and never returned my messages.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a McGill School Staff members (off-campus), who claimed to be unaware of the cellular towers project.. Does that constitute adequate public notice? True, they may have been directed NOT to address this issue with anyone, but I have the feeling that this was not the case. If public notices are to be considered as a viable – and legal-means of communication, shouldn’t they be consistent? What does public notice really mean? A flyer up at City Hall? A Ã?¼-page info-ad in a local paper? Being on a specific e-mail or snail mail list?

Or perhaps the lack of public notice in this case signifies that the project is in the early planning stages and not yet a “done deal”. There’s the matter of taking on the Federal government, too-and perhaps the church is between a rock and a hard place, even though a source who requested anonymity stated that CUC, with the twelve proposed towers, will receive approximately $10,000 per month. That’s quite a bit of money-but at what cost to their congregation? To their children?

I know very little about cell phones, cell towers, and their assorted emissions. In fact, I only had a cell phone for a brief time several years ago. I was ripped-off big time, but the FCC intervened and slapped the proverbial hand of my service provider, who then refunded most of my money. No doubt many of you have had similar experiences. I may get a cell phone again, but only one of those prepaid ones-and for emergencies. While I admit that they’re handy, even indispensable, for people-on-the-go, they are also the subject of much debate. It’s really rather simple, though: If you have cell phones, then you’re going to have to live with cell towers.

Or perhaps there’s a high-tech team in a lab somewhere in the universe working on alternatives? What about placing them in non-residential areas such as parks where people aren’t exposed for eight hours or more per day?

While I would enjoy ranting about the annoying, inconsiderate, and often perilous behaviors of some cell phone users, the issue at hand here is that of cell phone towers and public notice. When was the last time you received-or viewed – a public notice? To what did it pertain? Did you toss it in the circular file without reading it? Did you give it a cursory read and still toss it? Did you file it away and then forget about it?

Or maybe you’re lobbying this issue right now . . .

We see public notices on the bus that notify us of fare and route changes. In newspapers such as The Daily Transcript, we see notices that inform us of divorces, adoptions, fraud cases, and deals on foreclosed properties. At the Post Office, bulletin boards contain notices on registering for the draft and other issues of federal concern.

But what actually constitutes fair-or reasonable – public notice? How many of you regularly search for public notices-period? How much time do you spend on that per day? Per week? Per month? Does any one source contain all public notices relevant to the citizens of San Diego? Or are these notices slanted to a particular audience while they are withheld from another? What if someone doesn’t have computer access? Doesn’t comprehend the language-or the significance-of the notice? What if they’re house-bound? In hospital? Out-of-the-country on business?

Being informed is, I believe, our Constitutional right. It is also our civic duty, our responsibility, to exert individual effort in order to obtain information and to then remain informed. Is it possible, though, for any one person to know the proverbial everything? Of course not. Hence the responsibility-and what some might call, the duty – of government to ensure that each and every citizen receives notice on issues which affect their daily lives. Just imagine if we received public notices instead of all that junk mail?

What if we don’t know a project is even in the works, hence our need, it seems, to research these notices? Does the legality begin and end with the mere posting of a notice, regardless of whether or not anyone knows it’s there? How many notices are posted per day? Per week? Month? Year? How does one learn about all of the proposed projects, etc., of personal concern. Once again, isn’t the personal, public, the public personal? Once notified, what can-or will – we do about it?

My friend, the acupuncturist, attended one of the Golden Hill Steering Committee meetings where she learned that Federal Law-Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is used to intimidate people from denying cell towers. Basically, the Golden Hill Committee can, according to city “land use” policies, set regulations on the towers’ height and appearance, but what about the amount of radiation? Are they able to control that?

One of the major concerns that has been voiced by a number of South Park/Golden Hill residents is that despite the ongoing “gentrification” (especially of South Park, where the median price of an average home was recently $600, 000), many throughout San Diego still consider this to be a low-income area. Does every area, despite its average income, have a prevalence of cellular sitings? Could one could argue that cell phone possession is non-income specific? That there are hidden costs in addition to the fees that seem to creep into your monthly bills?

While conducting research for this column, I was referred to Amy Worthington’s “Cell phones: Communications for the 21st century or a road to medical armageddon?”, which was originally published in the Idaho Observer (April 2002). Worthington offers fuel for thought. In her introductory comments, she states:

Prior to the Federal Telecom Act of 1996, it was almost impossible for the cellular communications industry to flourish because there was local control of cell tower siting. Science had already established the ill effects microwaves have on plant and animal life and no one wanted a cell tower in their backyard. Since passage of the federal act, however, cell towers have sprung up everywhere because their siting can no longer be blocked effectively at the local level. Why, in total disregard for published medical and environmental science, did the federal government provide the authority to site cell towers all over the nation? Was it to increase our cellular communications capabilities? Or, does logic and prior experience indicate something more sinister? (available at: http://proliberty.com/observer/20020409.htm)

Do we need to look to the Federal Government to resolve our local issues? Sacramento? Or, does the local government act in an advisory capacity with selective input gleaned from the proverbial “interested parties” (AKA those who will benefit from cellular contracts)?
According to Worthington,
Since WWII, European, Russian and U.S. scientists have known that microwave frequencies are extremely damaging to human tissues. Research in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry demonstrates that microwave frequencies can cause cancer and other diseases by interfering with cellular DNA and its repair. (available at: http://proliberty.com/observer/20020409.htm)

Furthermore, she lists more than twenty possible effects of microwave cell phone usage, which include headaches, fatigue, cataracts, eye cancer, digestive problems, immune system damage, short-term memory loss, and chromosomal damage. (available at: http://proliberty.com/observer/20020409.htm) She also discusses Dr. George Carlo, an epidemiologist originally “hired in 1993 by the telecommunications industry to head an industry-sponsored whitewash of the biological effects of cell phone radiation” (available at: http://proliberty.com/observer/20020409.htm). Upon completion of his research, and in adherence, I contend, with the Hypocratic Oath of “First, do no harm”, Dr. Carlo relinquished his industry position and wrote Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age: An Insiders’s Alarming Discoveries About Cancer and Genetic Damage. (available at: http://proliberty.com/observer/20020409.htm)

At the onset of my research, I contacted Council Member Toni Atkins’ office, who then referred me to April M. Chesebro, the Council Representative for the South Park and Golden Hill communities as well as Karen Lynch-Ashcraft, the Project Manager for the Cingular-Christ United site. They were both extremely helpful in providing information.

In a response to one of my e-mails, Project Manager Lynch-Ashcraft wrote:

The project consists of a total of 12 panel antennas and associated equipment. Of the 12, eight would be placed on the rooftop (in a box-like structure) of the
existing two-story building nearest Fern Street. The other four would be
placed behind a new parapet extension proposed on the north side of the same
building. The equipment cabinets are proposed to be located outside of the
east side of the same building.

The project requires a Neighborhood Use Permit (NUP) for the use and a Site
Development Permit (SDP) for the height deviation (the zone allows a maximum
of 30- feet; Cingular is requesting to exceed the height limitation). The
project will require a Process Three decision level, meaning the Hearing
Officer will make the decision; however, the decision will be appealable to
the Planning Commission.

All property owners and tenants within 300-feet of the project site receive
a Notice of Application and then once the hearing is scheduled, the same
group will receive a Notice of Public Hearing. A notice is also published
in the San Diego Daily Transcript. . .

The Telecommunication Act of 1996 imposed certain restrictions upon local
governments regarding their ability to regulate telecommunication
facilities. For instance, land use decisions may not be based on the
environmental effects of radio frequency (RF) emissions to the extent that
such facilities comply with the Federal Communication Commission’s
regulations concerning such emissions. Additionally, land use decisions may
not unreasonably discriminate among providers of wireless services. As long
as the City maintains consistency with the Act, there is nothing that limits
or affects the City’s authority to regulate the placement, construction or
modification of personal wireless facilities.

An assessment letter has been sent to Cingular identifying several issues
that need to be resolved before the project can continue. The issues
include: historicity of the building, height, design and site justification.
Cingular has not yet responded.

I hope this has addressed your concerns. If you have any other questions
regarding the project, please let me know.

Thank you,

No doubt many of you have heard of The Brown Act, as it has been referred to quite a bit in the media of late. Introductory remarks to The Brown Act California Codes Government Code Section 54950-54963 are as follows:
54950 In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.
The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. (available at: http://www.vanguardnews.com/brownact.htm)

To be continued . . .


CFAC: California First Amendment Coalition:

Electronic Frontier Foundation: Defending Freedom in the Digital World

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996

The First Amendment Project:

The Ralph M. Brown Act (PDF file):

The San Diego Daily Transcript

Wireless Consumers Alliance:

Sites Recommended by Amy Worthington:

Hand-held Devices AKA Books:

Dr. George Carlo’s Cell Phones invisible hazards in the wireless age.

B. Blake Levitt’s Cell Phone Towers Convenience or Environmental Hazard?

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