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Closer Look at Cell Towers

Lobbying the federal government to obtain local jurisdiction in regulating the location and distance of cell towers from schools, parks and homes is something the city council voted this week to investigate.

The city will study ordinances passed by other municipalities, particularly the city of Glendale, and any related developments. Other cities looking into similar ordinances are Richmond, Burbank and Hempstead, New York, according to media reports.

Discussing whether to pursue wrangling Washington, D.C., for more local control over where cell towers are placed was the result of a suggestion from the city’s former environmental committee. The committee disbanded earlier this year due to internal discord and frustrations with city procedures. It was revamped as the environmental sustainability committee, purportedly with more influence over city policy, and seven new members were appointed earlier in the council meeting.

City staff, however, stated that current Federal Communications Commission regulations were adequate protection from radio frequency emissions. City Manager John Pietig said the staff and the city’s planning commission, which would normally review the issue, are busy with other priorities. “So, if you do anything,” he suggested to the council, “I think you keep it simple and just review some of the ordinances in other cities and see if it’s even worth spending more time on. It’s not broke and we’re not recommending it be fixed.”

Instead, the council directed the city staff to look into steps other cities are taking to oversee the placement of cell towers, particularly the lead taken by the city of Glendale, and present its findings directly to the council.  Currently, cities are limited to offering the FCC input over cell-tower esthetics and the amount of consolidated emissions from each site.

“It’s frustrating to me that the planning commission has such a long list of projects and we don’t seem to have the staff to work on them. In this particular case, I wouldn’t want to see this get in line behind 33 other items,” commented councilmember Verna Rollinger.

“I know there’s a lot of frustration from the old environmental committee,” commented Charmaine Craig, resident and UC professor, speaking in favor of more local control. “They did a lot of work to try to make these recommendations and they weren’t to be ignored or swept under the rug.  There’s a perception that there’s nothing to be done legally when, in fact, there is.”

Councilmember Toni Iseman recommended supporting the former environmental committee’s suggestion and acknowledging the importance of the new committee.  “We just appointed an amazing group of people, and I think we should model some behavior tonight and try to respect the work…of people who have done the work…and came up with this conclusion.”

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