Kevin L. Hoover
CITY HALL – The City Council met Monday morning to reconsider the proposed Verizon cellular antenna proposed for leased co-location on a lighting fixture at the southeast corner of the Arcata Ball Park, bordering the City Hall/Arcata Branch Library parking lot. The meeting ended with a 4–0 vote to reject the proposal.
The council voted July 25 to further study the matter, but Councilmember Susan Ornelas wanted a do-over of the decision after citizens objected to possible violation of the Land Use Code and unknown health impacts on those who frequent the area.
“It wasn’t clear to me... that our Land Use Code had already discussed this,” Ornelas said, alluding to the previous meeting. She cited the relevant LUC passage, which prohibits such towers within 1,000 feet of residences and within 1,500 feet of any historic district, school or hospital.
“I felt that we should honor this wisdom,” she said, adding that she might have had a different response if she had known about it and that she wished to rescind her previous motion.
Verizon’s interest in the matter seemed half-hearted. Its initial consultant-advocate has apparently left the company, and two others haven’t returned phone calls made by this newspaper. No Verizon representatives attended the meeting, leaving the floor open for others.
Citizen Kevin Johnson told the council that “you are not representing our town when you voted to move the cell tower proposal forward.” He noted the close proximity of the proposed tower to downtown and residences.
Johnson presented a petition opposing the tower which he said was signed by 2,000 citizens, 1,200 of them Arcata residents.
Beverly Filip cited the World Health Organization and American Academy of Environmental Medicine as listing dangers from microwave radiation, which has negative, cumulative effects on vulnerable children.
Heart palpitations, nausea, dizziness and headaches are among the symptoms that radiation-sensitive Arcata residents are suffering from RF energy exposure, she said, with some people installing makeshift shielding in their homes, living in their cars and in the woods to escape exposure.
Citizen Art Bettini objected to the timing of the meeting, early on a Monday morning, as well what he said as the lack of public notice in print publications other than letters to the editor. He likened the City's exclusionary timing of the meeting to that of Humboldt State in the early 1990s, when it scheduled a meeting on the Behavioral and Social Sciences building on Christmas Eve. (It was actually on held on Dec. 12, 1991.)
Citizen Julianne Bettini said Arcata should be a “model of democratic representation” and hold meetings at a more accessible hour.
Sean McLaughlin, executive director of Access Humboldt, said that the industry has been successful in writing regulations that favor its interests over those of citizens, complicating the council’s ability to locate cell towers.
Councilmember Alex Stillman said the current policy disallows location of cell phone towers virtually anywhere in Arcata. She said proliferating household devices that leak RF energy could also pose similar health concerns.
She said such devices, including the iPads the council will soon be issued, are “the wave of the future” and suggested that perhaps “we should deconstruct America” and return to a non-electronic lifestyle.
Councilmember Shane Brinton asked for assurance that the meeting had been properly noticed, and City Manager Randy Mendosa assured him that it was.
Brinton suggested a review of the relevant Land Use Code statute and the reasons that it was implemented. He opposed the “ill conceived” tower proposal for violating the LUC and said that the benefits didn’t outweigh the downside. He said the $1,000 monthly lease fee was “paltry.”
Ornelas said her previous decision wasn’t about money, but “trying to serve the public with cell phones.” She said the LUC violations “settled it” for her. “We’re trying our best to serve the public with the information we have,” she said, faulting staff for not providing adequate LUC information with which to make an informed decision at the previous meeting.
Brinton said he’d tried a friend’s Verizon phone downtown, and that it seemed to work fine with existing antenna towers. (Verizon had stated that the propose tower was intended to meet present and expected future bandwidth demands.)
Mayor Michael Winkler took responsibility for the scheduling of the meeting, saying the available alternative times were too far in the future.
Winkler said that in principle, he was willing to make decisions that go against popular will. In this case, though, he said, “overwhelmingly, the public don’t want this cell tower” and that he would yield to citizens’ wishes.
Stillman asked what process would obtain if she chose to place a cell tower on her downtown home. Community Development Director Larry Oetker said exceptions to the LUC are possible, but that without them, the Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary and “ag fields,” plus a “small pocket” in Aldergrove Industrial Park would be the only places in town one could legally locate cell towers.
HSU, some school district properties and PG&E transmission towers, Oetker said, are outside City Council jurisdiction and will likely be where future cell towers are located.
On a motion by Ornelas, the council voted 4–0 to reject the Verizon proposal.