Cell tower protestors speak at council meeting

Some Arch Beach Heights residents oppose the proposed installation of a communications installation they feel is too close to Moulton Meadows Park where their children play.

Three opponents of the project asked the City Council at the Nov. 16 meeting to intervene in the installation on a home at 1100 Balboa Ave. and one proposed a city limitation on locations near areas where children congregate.

"There is already at least one and maybe two in the home," said Charmaine Craig, a UC Riverside professor who said she was speaking for the residents of Arch Beach Heights.

Craig said she had not heard of any public hearing on the project and asked if the city isn't legally obligated to notify neighbors.

Telecommunications facilities require conditional-use permits and the installations on Balboa were reviewed by the Planning Commission in 2008. Neighbors were noticed, Director of Community Development John Montgomery told the council.

The request for an additional installation will be heard by the commission at its Dec. 8 meeting, which will be legally noticed.

"The [proposed] antenna is very scary for parents who have kids playing at Moulton Meadows Park," a resident identified as Jack Dillow told the council.

Arch Beach resident Kristy Wemys proposed banning the installations within 1,500 feet of areas where children frequent, which she said other communities have imposed.

Asked by Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman how other communities were able to the 1,500-foot ban, Montgomery said he had no idea.

The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits local municipalities from interfering with telecommunications services, including placement of towers based on health concerns, particularly cognitive effects and sleep quality.

International health experts reported in 2007 that living near the installations had not been found to cause brain cancer. UC Irvine professor and Laguna Beach resident Joie Jones has testified before the council and the Planning Commission that the towers do not pose a health risk, but not all the public is not convinced.

Some are and installations on private property can be lucrative. Councilwoman Jane Egly said property owners are paid as much as $40,000 or $50,000 per installation.

The council wrestled with the issues of location long before the latest application.

In 1994, outraged parents persuaded the Board of Education to pull out of deal to construct a 75-foot tower on the El Morro Elementary School campus.

More recently, a proposal by T-Mobile to install a 35-foot tower disguised as a fake eucalyptus at Fire Station 3 rallied a protest by parents of Top of the World students.

City Manager Ken Frank informed the council and the protestors at a January meeting this year that several cell phone reception antennas had already been installed in the TOW neighborhood, including one at the fire station that connects Laguna's emergency services to all other Orange County public safety agencies.

Antennas also have been installed at the Laguna Beach County Water District reservoir on Alta Laguna Boulevard, a few blocks from the proposed T-Mobile site.

The parents' protest was heeded by T-Mobile, which abandoned plans for the installation at the fire station. But Frank has warned the council that the company could force an installation on the Alta Laguna Boulevard.

The inability to control the locations has led at least once to a heated public debate by council members.

"We could all just get rid of our cell phones and then we wouldn't have to worry about the dangers of the poles," Councilwoman Jane Egly said at the January meeting, exasperated by a prolonged discussion about location, over which the council had no discretion.

Iseman, who sympathizes with the opponents of the towers, called Egly's comments glib, which Egly denied.

"We want a service; we want a service to use our cell phones," Egly said. "Part of having that service is the equipment that is needed. The question is: Is that the best place?"

Iseman said the best place is not near a park or a school, but in Laguna's close quarters, finding a child-free place for an antenna is impossible, Egly said.

Iseman pledged at the Nov. 16 meeting to meet with concerned Arch Beach Heights parents.

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