City Council has denied a pair of appeals that would have prevented the construction of new cell antennas in residential neighborhoods.
Residents objected to the installation of the new technology on the 900 block of 18th street and the 2200 block of 23rd street but Council said appeals were either overruled by federal mandates or lacked a basis in current municipal code.
The appeals cited health concerns related to function of the towers, aesthetic problems, concerns over depressed real estate values, alleged problems with the permitting process and questions of the future maintenance of the antennas.
Staff said federal law prohibits denial of an antenna based on the environmental effects of radio waves provided the equipment complies with FCC regulations. In addition, City rules only allow for consideration of four criteria when reviewing the applications: the proposed facility complies with all of the applicable laws, the proposed facility will not interfere with the use of the public right-of-way, the proposed facility’s impacts have been mitigated through the use of camouflage / concealment elements and the proposed facility is in compliance with all Federal electro-magnetic frequency (EMF) emissions standards.
Manish Butte, a pediatric doctor at UCLA, was one of the appellants. He acknowledged the restrictions on EMF arguments but said the proposed equipment posed other safety concerns, would reduce property values and was the result of a defective approval process.
He said safety studies are invalidated by elevating the antennas above ground level (installation would occur atop existing light poles) and that the nature of the raised work creates privacy concerns for residents like his young daughter whose window is directly across from an antenna.
“I think we really need to make sure there are regulations requiring notice and restricting times of day that these cell towers can be serviced,” he said. “That might partially benefit all of us if this is going on.
Butte said while there are limitations on the council’s authority, they do have some authority over installation and maintenance.
“Your hands are not tied in this matter you do have the ability to regulate and protect us on this issue,” he said.
Butte also said the entire approval process is broken and in need of repair.
Councilman McKeown reiterated the restrictions on local governments. He said Federal laws have systematically reduced the power of local jurisdictions over cellular technology and that no arguments over radiation fears can be entertained provided the equipment meets federal standards.
He said the council will be overwhelmed by similar appeals if it doesn’t incorporate some of the legitimate concerns into their approval process.
“There’s a lot of towers that people are going to be very concerned about and I don’t want to spend every night for the next five years talking about cell towers,” he said.
While Council approved the two locations, they directed staff to come back with additional rules to govern future applications that will cover the appropriateness of locations, service rules, perception of blight, perception of real estate values and possible working hours for antenna owners.