Standing beneath the looming 98-foot-high radar tower on Sulphur Mountain, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer told about 50 Ojai Valley residents Friday that she is committed to getting the weather tracking system moved to a less populous location.
“This is a fight that I am in,” she said. “Our ultimate hope is that this is moved.”
Opponents of the National Weather Service’s radar tower have written to Boxer (D-Calif.) and other elected officials in recent months seeking their support in demanding that the government relocate the tower, one of 165 weather tracking systems being constructed nationwide to improve the monitoring of storms.
Some residents say they fear low levels of radiation emitted from the radar could pose health risks, but weather service officials say studies show the system is safe. A federal judge has rejected efforts to stop its operation and has ruled that further health studies are not needed.
Boxer, who took up the residents’ cause in February, said if no agreement can be reached with the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the National Weather Service, she will introduce legislation and take the matter to the U.S. Senate.
“When I ran for the Senate, I promised I would fight for the people of California and the environment--those were not hollow words,” Boxer said amid rousing applause.
Boxer spoke for about 15 minutes on a grassy hill by the tower and assured residents that she is committed to their fight. She campaigned twice in Ojai in 1992 and has many supporters in the small valley.
“I finally have been able to get the attention of the deputy secretary of commerce (David Barram),” Boxer said. “He now knows he’s got a problem here.”
Boxer discussed the tower with Barram earlier this month, she said, and told him it was “unacceptable” in its present location. She has arranged a Monday conference call for representatives from her office, the National Weather Service and Barram to “get the facts on the table,” she said.
If negotiations with the Commerce Department are unsuccessful, the senator said she will look for a solution further up the chain of command. “We always have the President,” she told the crowd.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) has already introduced a bill in the House of Representatives seeking further study of possible health risks associated with the weather service’s towers.
But Boxer said Friday her chief concern was not health risks but the “sneaky” manner in which the government erected the tower last fall during the Thanksgiving holiday, when many residents were out of town.
“We’re not in the middle of a war where the Department of Defense comes in and says, ‘Take that hill,’ ” Boxer said. “This is the National Weather Service.”
Ojai Valley residents were thankful for Boxer’s visit and optimistic that with her help the tower might be moved.
“I’ve always believed that we are right and we’ll win,” said actress Mary Steenburgen, who called Boxer months ago seeking her support. “We’re hoping that we can handle this in a cooperative and civil way.”
Ojai Mayor Pro Tem Nina Shelley said Boxer’s visit was a testament to the power of activism in the Ojai Valley.
“When something happens here . . . we all come together,” she said. “We’re just tired of being trampled on.”
Shelley said she believes the senator will be influential in getting the tower moved.
“She’s not going to let it go,” she said. “She’s going to go all the way to the top if she has to.”
Wiping tears from her eyes, Linda Fuller spoke with the senator after her brief speech and said she appreciated Boxer’s visit. The Fullers vacated their house, which stands about 200 yards from the tower, earlier this year, fearing low levels of radiation might harm their children.
“I don’t want to move,” Fuller said. “It’s hard for me to work. I can’t sleep. It’s just a real emotional strain on all of us.”
Dr. Richard Scribner, an Ojai resident and USC professor of preventive medicine who has investigated the possible health risks associated with the tower, said Boxer’s visit justifies the position of the residents.
“It’s not like we haven’t had support before,” he said. “But when a politician goes to this effort it shows how committed the people are.”