By Lee Perlman
For The Hollywood Star News, February, 2010
One of the physically smallest private developments possible aroused the one of the largest and angriest responses in recent years last month, as the Beaumont-Wilshire community contemplated a new cell-phone transmission tower.
Consultant Kevin Martin, representing the Clearwire LLC Wireless Broadband Services, addressed a crowd of more than 70 people at Beaumont Middle School on company plans to install transmission facilities on Northeast 37th Avenue at Fremont Street. The company is proposing to replace an existing telephone pole with a metal pole 45 to 60 feet high with a transmitting facility at the top. An equipment panel will be housed in a seven- foot-by-seven-foot box stored on the property of the adjacent Wilshire Market, whose owners will be compensated for the service. The meeting, conducted by Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association chair Al Ellis, is required prior to applying for permission to install such facilities under a city ordinance passed last July.
The concerns of those who came were primarily potential health impacts from radiation generated by the facility and noise generated by the fan used to cool the instrument panel. They also wondered why Clearwire picked a site designated Priority Four, a low-traffic street in a predominantly residential area, which according to city policy is to be used only when something less intrusive is not available. And they were frustrated by the lack of power they have to affect the siting.
According to David Soloos of the Office of Cable Communications, the siting of the pole-top facility, and of the equipment panel, are separate processes, the first handled by him and the second by planner Sylvia Cate. The first decision cannot be appealed at all, the second only to the state Land Use Board of Appeals on technical grounds. Moreover, Soloos said, “The federal government has forbidden cities from interfering with electronic facility sitings based on human health considerations” if their energy output falls within federal guidelines. “Here the output is .5 percent of what’s allowed,” he said. He added, “When Clearwire submits its application, we have absolutely no legal authority to delay our processes.” (Martin said the review would probably continue until sometime after April.)
Soloos said that the city has a binding contract with Clearwire running through 2011 to allow their facilities subject to existing regulations. The city receives $5,000 for every facility placed on a power pole.
Regarding the siting, Martin said that the site is one of the “dead zones” that cannot be served by existing facilities. The transmitter they propose to install has a maximum range of one-half to one mile and “everything it must pass through except air weakens the signal…We’ve turned over every rock looking for a way to serve this area, and this is the last resource. There are no Priority One, Two, or Three streets nearby. There are no tall buildings. There are no lots large enough for a tower.” Asked about Rose City Cemetery he said, “We’re already there. It’s too far away.”
The equipment cabinets contain a fan that comes on automatically if the cabinet shows signs of overheating. A neighbor of one such facility at East Burnside Street and 50th Avenue said that when the equipment cabinet was first installed near his house, “From every room you could hear loud, obnoxious humming 24/7.” The resident called city noise officer Paul Van Orden, who fined Clearwire $300 and threatened to issue additional fines if the problem was not abated. Since then, the city has required Van Orden’s approval of proposed noise buffering as a condition of approval for the equipment cabinet.
With the new buffering, the cabinet “isn’t as obnoxious as it used to be, but it’s still loud,” the North Tabor neighbor said. “They’re allowing commercial noise levels into residential neighborhoods. My house is 25 feet away.” Turning to neighbors of the proposed facility he asked, “You’re 15 feet away? Wow, you’ll hear it.”
The biggest issue is the feared health risks associated with living near the facilities, or even with frequent cell phone use. “Clearwire uses microwave radiation,” Martin said. “It’s very intense if you’re standing in front of it, which is why it’s located up in the air.”
Here Clearwire received a boost from Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association board member Jim Karlock, who claimed there is no evidence of health risks. When others in the crowd cited studies in Europe that allege otherwise, Karlock labeled these “junk science.” Some of those present said that a documentary on the issue “Full Signal” will be shown at the Hollywood Theatre on February 21.
Collin O’Neill, one of the closest neighbors to the facility and a leader of the opposition to it, said, “I’m fine with someone using a cell phone; that’s a choice they can make. (The siting) takes away our choice; it affects the home I live in, my children. I’m just not willing to sit back and let that happen. If there’s constant noise outside my house, that’s unacceptable. These people should be held to the same standards as everyone else.”
Glenn Johndohl, who lives several blocks away, said, “We all agree this is a health risk; we just don’t know how much. I’m not willing to accept that risk. If this affects my property values, I have a problem with that.”
At times, some of those in the crowd shouted angrily at the presenters, despite Ellis’s pleas to keep the meeting civil and orderly. Several said they should not accept Soloos’s opinion that there is little they, or the city, can do about the issue; they proposed forming a city-wide, perhaps national, coalition to change the regulations. Pointing to Martin, Nancy Newall said, “You have no interest in the welfare of this community. It’s about you and your money. We can change the ordinance and ask the city to break its contract.”
As to federal regulations, another neighbor reminded those present that the federal government tried unsuccessfully to pressure the state to do away with its Death With Dignity Act. “This is a state’s rights issue,” he said. “We’re Oregonians, and this is what Oregonians do.”
It is not the first time that cell tower facilities have been a controversial issue in Starland. The T-Mobile Company recently placed such a facility on a pole on Northeast 26th Avenue south of Fremont Street, on property owned by Fremont United Methodist Church, in the Alameda neighborhood. The matter is currently the subject of mediation between T Mobile, the church and neighbors. Two years ago, the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association unsuccessfully fought the placement of an equipment cabinet in the front yard of a residence near Northeast 39th Avenue.
At press time, the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association had yet to take a position on the issue. They had tentatively set a special general meeting for December 28 to consider doing so.