January 26, 2006 -- La Canada Valley Sun


By Anita Susan Brenner

When Bad Things Happen to Good Cities

Last week, a federal appeals court overturned one of our cell tower ordinances.

Adding insult to injury, the decision was described by the wire services as striking down "a Los Angeles suburb's regulations that had barred Sprint PCS from installing two cell phone towers for aesthetic reasons."

As if losing is not enough, we are now an upscale "Los Angeles suburb." The implication is that we think too highly of ourselves to willy-nilly install ugly cell towers, hazardous above-ground bunkers and buzzing electrical equipment next to our children's bedrooms.

Particularly where there are other, less intrusive and equally feasible sites.

Sprint's proposed Flintridge cell towers would not add coverage. The purpose of the equipment was to improve the ability to download ringtones. Emergency cell phone coverage was not the issue. Competition was. Competition to sign up the 91011 ringtone e-mail customer.

The irony is obvious. If 91011 were less upscale, our streets would not be the target market for cell tower detritus. p class="story-detail">A trial lawyer named Mulligan used to say, "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser."

I'm not sure what he meant by that, but this time the City Council acted reasonably. The ordinance was reasonable. The process was fair. And the City Council considered more than "aesthetics" in denying Sprint the right to dig up Figueroa and Descanso to put in their "vaults" and "micro arrays."

Our ordinance is one of several that control installation of wireless facilities. The ordinance regulates our streets and sidewalks, what is known as the "public right-of-way."

Here are the four factors our city council considered in rejecting Sprint's proposal:

(1) Does the proposed above-ground structure obstruct access for pedestrians, or block view of vehicles, pedestrians or bicyclists?

(2) Is the proposed above-ground structure compatible with existing above-ground structures along the public right-of-way, and will it result in an over-concentration of above-ground structures along the public right-of-way?

(3) Does the proposed above-ground structure preserve the existing character of the surrounding neighborhood, and minimize public views of the above-ground structure?

(4) Will the proposed above-ground structure result in a negative aesthetic impact on the public right-of-way or the surrounding neighborhood.

There was one additional factor not considered by the City Council -- health risks.

Federal law prohibits any consideration of health risks. Despite numerous studies that address bio-hazards from radio frequency radiation, despite the public concern with health and cancer, the City Council is prohibited, as a matter of law, from considering health risks in deciding where to place cell towers.

Health risks are a concern in our family-oriented community, particularly after the lawsuit by the 55 La Caņada cancer victims in the 1990s. The plaintiffs and their surviving family members asserted that they were exposed to carcinogens from the ground water contamination at JPL. The current cleanup project at JPL and Devil's Gate Dam is interesting because the EPA assessments were done in the winter, when there were no summer camps, and concluded that children had not been exposed.

Whether or not we talk about it in public, people in our town are jumpy about cancer. At the Sprint hearings, health was the elephant in the room. But federal law says that no one could talk about their concerns.

So we didn't.

And now, we have another elephant. We can't point out that these things are ugly.

(Anita Susan Brenner practices law in Pasadena with her husband, Len Torres. You may contact her at her web site)

Feedback to mama@andrewtorres.org

copyright December 1, 2005

Anita Brenner, Los Angeles Times La Canada Valley Sun