The other day, I received a postcard from the city of Palo Alto. No, it didn’t say it was missing me (I’d been on vacation). The card told me Our Fair City was considering allowing AT&T to install a “wireless communication antenna” just around the corner from my house. In fact, the city is considering allowing AT&T to install all sorts of “antennas” in the neighborhood. Soon, if AT&T has its way, we’ll be a veritable forest of “antennas.”
To be honest, I forgot about the card. I put it with the bills and other mail I planned to ignore for as long as possible. That is until the other day when I happened across an article on a new study that links changes in brain activity when using cell phones. If cell phones are changing our brains, I wondered what are cell towers doing to us?
Turns out, it is unclear. Do they cause cancer? Who knows.
The longitudinal study has not been (cannot have been) done yet. There are 200,000 cell towers in this country. Most have been put in place within the last decade. The long-term impact of the towers cannot be studied, because they have not been around long enough to study. Current experts would likely argue there is no negligible effect. Perhaps, they are right. Of course, experts once suggested that smoking was good for your health, and we know how that turned out.
What of the short-term impact? A study in 2007 showed a measurable health risk to residents who lived within 15-300 meters of a cell tower. Reduced sleep, depressive mood disturbances, lethargy and listlessness, appetite disturbances and inner agitation were confirmed in the vast majority of the residents who lived near a newly installed cell tower.
I will live within 300 meters of the “antenna” planned to be installed at 1865 Byrant St. In fact, my second-story bedroom is directly aligned with the top of the tower where electromagnetic waves ensuring connectivity for all will be emitted. If the study is right, the good news is that I can stop blaming perimenopause and can soon start blaming the cell tower for my lack of sleep and general curmudgeonliness.
Assuming this is all in my head, there are other considerations regarding installing a cell “antenna” in the neighborhood. I don’t need a study to know that when Steve Jobs and Larry Paige live in your neighborhood, your home prices go up (thank you, boys). I also don’t need a study to show me that unsightly towers emitting potentially hazardous radiation might lower them. But we do have proof for the later. A recent study in Florida shows that property values decline 2-20 percent when cell towers are present. Why? Because buyers are afraid. If they are, why aren’t we?
But, you say, we need better cell coverage around here. Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I spend more time redialing then talking on my cell phone. The reality is cell phones are the present and future of communications. We can’t ignore the need for better coverage. Plus, if Palo Alto is going to continue as the hub for Silicon Valley, the least we can do is offer our daily guests (i.e.: those who don’t live here but who travel far and wide to work here) good cell coverage.
I wonder though, are the currently planned locations the best choices for our community? According to the EMR Policy Institute, the FCC does not support the placement of a cell tower within 1500 feet of a school, playground, day care center or other child care facility, or homes with small children.
So where are these new “trees” going to be planted? Here are the addresses:
1221 Waverly St.
1664 Waverly St.
179 Lincoln Ave.
1401 Emerson St.
119 Coleridge Ave.
1865 Bryant St.
135 Rinconada Ave.
255 N. California Ave.
395 Leland Ave.
Seems to me, there are a lot of little children living within 1500 feet of each of these sites. Are we willing to put the next generation at risk for our convenience today?
This debate is raging in towns across our country. Glendale residents don’t want them. They are battling the city and industry to keep out cell towers. Garden City, NY, didn’t want them and won. Long Island, Hopewell Valley, Hempstead, Burbank, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Greenwich—the list goes on.
If cell towers aren’t good enough for these cities, why are they good enough for us?
AT&T has created a really friendly looking website called Wireless4PaloAlto. It states that downtown Palo Alto has one of the highest concentrations of smartphone users in the country (thanks, Facebook). So maybe we can put the cell towers there and not in the neighborhoods with small children, or large children for that matter?
I spoke at length with Lane Kasselman, media relations director at AT&T. He says his company wants to work with the community "to find the optimal solution for everyone.” AT&T already hosted two information sessions, but according to Lane, only 45 people showed up to the last one. I didn’t go, because I didn’t know about the meetings. Perhaps, AT&T could do a better job of reaching out and touching someone.
AT&T has applied to put a macro antenna at St. Albert’s the Great church. This single antenna would obviate the need for the initial nine, and ultimately 80, micro antennae planned to be placed on top telephone poles around the city.
The challenge we face is that one single tower (or a bunch of micro antennae) may well solve the problem for AT&T, but what about Verizon and T-Mobile and other cellular carriers? “The city needs a strategic plan,” says Curtis Williams, director of planning and city environment, “and the city is working to get one.”
Williams says that by FCC regulations, municipalities have 150 days from the initial application from a carrier to determine how to incorporate expanded cell coverage. We have two applications submitted by AT&T. The city is busy trying to get up to speed on this issue and will eventually host council hearings.
There are many things to consider, of course, For example, according to Williams, we can’t keep cell towers out of Our Fair City based on emission challenges, but we can fight them on aesthetic grounds. Does the current application make aesthetic sense? Curtis Williams isn’t so sure. Unfortunately, while the city gets up to speed, the clock is speedily ticking.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-progress and not even anti-cell tower. I am, however, pro-information. If you, like me, aren’t 100 percent sure this is the best idea to improve Our Fair City, you can do a few things:
- Call Curtis Williams, 650-329-2321, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to the Antennae Information Network. When council hearings are scheduled, he promises to get the word out by e-mail to those who have indicated interest in this issue.
- Sign up on AT&T’s website to be sure you get the information it offers. wireless4paloalto.att.com/
- E-mail Randy Okamura, area manager for external affairs at AT&T to learn more about the company’s plans. If you can’t reach him, you can e-mail Lane Kasselman.
- Read the EMR Policy Institue’s Tool Box for Citizens. It offers helpful information about how to get informed on the issue and how to ask the right questions when cell towers are being considered in your neighborhood.
Perhaps these “antennas” are the right thing. Perhaps not. But, I don’t want to have to look my child in his third eye and justify why I did nothing when I could have gotten involved.