DOWNTOWN — What is the value of human health?
Denise Barton has a number: $1.7 billion, plus another $1.7 million every month thereafter.
Barton, known amongst City Council regulars for her detailed reports during public comment periods, filed a claim against City Hall for that hefty sum alleging that new “smart” parking meters were impacting her health.
In the claim, Barton asserts that radiation from the wireless signals emanating from the meters, which is similar to Wi-Fi Internet or cellular waves, is causing ringing in her ears, ear infections and tightness on the back, left side of her neck.
“I know it seems a little big,” Barton said, “but they can’t do things that affect people’s health without their consent. I think that’s wrong.”
Barton’s problems began in April, not long after the meters began rolling out throughout the city.
She went to the doctor in late May with an ear infection, which required antibiotics to cure.
Barton is concerned because there is some evidence, including a flag raised by the World Health Organization, that the low-level radiation may cause cancer and other illnesses in humans.
This claim is the only time that anyone has raised the issue about the meters, wrote Assistant Finance Director Don Patterson in an e-mail.
“The Wi-Fi is very low level and only communicates between the meter and the sensor, about 5 to 8 feet,” Patterson wrote.
Furthermore, the cellular communication only occurs when the meter is in use, like when a person uses a credit card to put time on the meter or when a car arrives or departs.
“It’s the same as someone using a cell phone walking on the sidewalk,” Patterson wrote. “The meters comply with all necessary regulations related to wireless communication.”
A very vocal minority of people have begun raising the issue of whether or not that is enough.
Liz Barris, who founded the nonprofit People’s Initiative Foundation, is among those concerned about the damage that wireless transmissions have on the human body.
The medical community has not uniformly embraced the concept that cell phones, wireless networks or other low-level emitters cause any kind of adverse health effects.
However, Barris stood before the City Council over a year ago to ask that they take a look into cell phone towers that had proliferated around the city as well as another kind of smart meter — this one put forward by Southern California Edison — that tracks energy use in homes and apartments in real time.
All of those devices use wireless technology that Barris and others believe causes everything from headaches to cancer to genetic damage.
“Smart technology needs to be halted because it poses a huge public health hazard,” Barris said.
She and 40 other southern California residents are suing Southern California Edison over the $75 fee that they have to pay to opt out of the wireless meters.
“They’re trying to charge people to not give them cancer and invade their homes,” Barris said.
This isn’t the first complaint about the new meters, although it is the most expensive.
The City Council approved a $4.5 million contract with IPS Group for 6,100 of the meters with ground sensors in October 2011.
The devices first grabbed headlines across the country when it was revealed that sensors installed in parking spaces zeroed out meters after a car exits its spot, ending the friendly practice of leaving time on a meter for the next parker.
City Hall defends them, saying that the new technology will help make parking easier and more convenient by providing real-time information about which spots are open and which are taken.
That prevents people from circling around in search of parking, which causes traffic and pollution.
The meters also open up spots on the street by preventing “meter-feeding,” the practice of staying in a spot longer than the allotted time by putting more money in the meter.
Convenience isn’t a good enough response for Cai Dixon, a Santa Monica resident who worries about the proliferation of wireless technologies.
“So few people even have the slightest inkling that wireless devices pose health risks,” she wrote in an e-mail. “No one would dream of lighting up a cigarette in the line at a grocery store.”
She is hoping to move out of Santa Monica within the year to escape the wireless soup.