Residents rage over antennas

LA CRESCENTA — County planning commissioners on Wednesday approved 12 cellular antennas for the rooftop of a Foothill Boulevard office building, infuriating its tenants and nearby residents who say the equipment could pose health risks and wreck local aesthetics.

Opponents of the project on Thursday vowed to appeal the unanimous decision of the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission to allow Sprint-Nextel to erect the 6-foot-tall cellular antennas and a global positioning system antenna behind screens atop the three-story office building at 2450 Foothill Blvd.

Chris Workman, who lives behind the building in the 2500 block of Community Avenue, said she and her husband, Glen, would file the $775 appeal to the county Board of Supervisors and seek help from the community in forming a coalition in opposition to the project.

“We are doing it not just for ourselves,” she said. “I will not live here with another (antenna) in my face. Enough's enough.”

Federal regulatory agencies maintain that telecommunications facilities, including cellular antennas and towers, do not pose a significant health risk to nearby residents, but opponents of the equipment say those findings are based on ambiguous research.

Local governments and commissions have, under the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, been unable to consider the potential ill health effects of radio waves or radiation when hearing an application to install communications equipment, forcing opponents to center their protests on aesthetic grounds.

Even then, architectural masking — fake trees, paneling, textures and other tools — has often been enough to persuade local land-use commissions and court judges to approve the applications.

“It's almost like, what can we do?” said Kristen Wheatley, an employee of Monarch E&S; Insurance Services, which occupies the entire first floor of the 2540 Foothill Blvd. building.

Executives for the company, which recently re-signed a 10-year lease for the space, said their employees feared the antennas' potential health effects so much that several have threatened to leave the company.

With that in mind, Monarch managers on Thursday said that if the antennas cannot be blocked, they will consider breaking their lease and moving elsewhere.

“We're not going to lose our employees .?.?. just because [the landlord] wants to make more money,” said Hanriette Avedian, a vice president for the company.

The building's owner could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Sprint-Nextel spokeswoman Kathleen Dunleavy defended the planned antennas as necessary to fill in what is considered a relative dead zone in terms of signal strength.

“If a paying customer wanted to use the high-speed network, they could not in that area,” Dunleavy said.

The antennas will stand about 6 feet tall and be shielded by screens that will be painted and textured to blend in with the building's facade, according to plans submitted to the county.

Property owners — public and private — typically make thousands of dollars each year in land-lease agreements to telecommunications companies seeking to expand their service areas.

The Glendale City Council in May approved a Metro PCS cellular tower in the form of a 60-foot flagpole at a community park in a 10-year land lease deal worth $2,500 per month. That rate will increase by 4% each year.

Dunleavy would not disclose the leasing terms for the Sprint-Nextel antennas.

The Crescenta Valley Town Council, which has been careful in its opposition to steer clear of directly accusing the antennas of being harmful to public health, has backed opponents of the project in collecting signatures for an online opposition petition.

The petition calls on county officials to halt construction of the antennas until independent studies on the potential health effects of radio frequency radiation on people can be completed.

Dunleavy, backed by federal findings, said there is no evidence that radio waves from the antennas negatively affect public health.

But nearby residents and building tenants remain unconvinced, and many said they would support an appeal of the planning commission's decision to the county Board of Supervisors.

Paul Novak, planning deputy for county Supervisor Michael Antonovich, whose district includes La Crescenta, said appeals to cellular equipment applications at that level are relatively rare.

A spokesman for Antonovich said issuing an opinion on the Sprint-Nextel application would be inappropriate until a potential appeals hearing is held.

Opponents have until Aug. 13 to file an appeal, according to the county Department of Regional Planning.

Appeals typically take several months to reach the board.


?JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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