Residents oppose cellular antenna

NORTH GLENDALE — Cumberland Heights residents have entrenched themselves in opposition to a planned T-Mobile cellular antenna there, calling on city officials to back their position despite federal rules that allow the equipment in their neighborhoods.

About 50 residents mobilized at a neighborhood meeting Thursday to solidify their opposition to a wireless “micro-cell” site proposed for the 500 block of Cumberland Road in the Verdugo hillside.

The meeting took place a week after residents who expressed concerns to the City Council over the planned project said they got a less-than-inspiring response.

Councilman Dave Weaver, citing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, told the neighbors to take up the issue with those who had real authority over the wireless equipment permits, namely the Federal Communications and state Public Utilities commissions.

And Councilman Ara Najarian said he had misgivings over the implications of moving an antenna from one protesting block to another.

“It was upsetting,” said Cumberland Heights resident Marguerite Lincoln, who is helping to organize neighborhood opposition. “Everything is really, ‘The burden of proof is on the neighborhood, not T-Mobile.’”

Telecommunications companies have been pushing more into hillside neighborhoods to shore up “dead spots” as more households ditch land lines in favor of their cellphones.

More than 20 million households nationwide — or 17% of all homes — have made the switch, up from 12.8% just two years ago, according to a tracking survey from Nielsen Mobile.

T-Mobile and Sprint-Nextel representatives said Tuesday that their proliferation into the hillsides surrounding the Los Angeles basin are in response to those national trends.

“We continue to work with the cities because there is demand,” T-Mobile spokesman Rod Delarosa said.

The proposed antenna, which would be fixed atop an existing lamppost near the intersection of Cumberland Road and North Pacific Avenue, is one of four T-Mobile antennas under evaluation by the city for installation in the Verdugo hillsides, Public Works Director Steve Zurn said.

A Sprint-Nextel antenna is under review for the intersection of East Chevy Chase Drive and South Adams Street at the base of Adams Hill, he added.

Municipal governments, from Pasadena to Hollywood and Los Angeles, have been under greater pressure from their hillside constituents as telecommunications companies start spreading out.

Glendale’s large swaths of hillside residential communities could make the city particularly vulnerable to the micro-cell site permits, opponents said.

All four micro-cell site permits have been received in Glendale over the past 18 months, Zurn said.

Comparatively, Burbank has seen just two such permits in as many years, city planners there said.

“We’ll continue to evaluate population growth for demand for cellular service,” Sprint-Nextel spokeswoman Caroline Semerdjian said.

To a certain degree, city officials can push the companies to relocate their antennas and boxy vaults to be less obvious visually, but even then, “in some circumstances, we’ve had to push harder,” Zurn said.

The federal government has ruled out any local control based on public health concerns, arguing there is no evidence that the radio waves cause ill effects.

But some residents disagree, and have been willing to fight in hearings and courtrooms to have the permits denied.

A group of workers and nearby residents of an office building at 2450 Foothill Blvd. filed an appeal to a July county planning decision to allow the installation of 12 Sprint-Nextel cellular antennas on the roof.

Opponents argued that the ambiguity over the health effects of radio waves were a valid reason to overturn the ruling.

Cumberland Heights residents took their grievances to the City Council again Tuesday night as they strategize for what they conceded would be a tough fight.

“It’s an uphill battle, but it’s not hopeless,” Lincoln said.

Even Glendale’s authority ends up being usurped on the issue. Mayor John Drayman said it was the job of local elected officials to “get our backsides out of our chairs and become proactive advocates” when residents make a compelling argument for help.

“This is an area where city government should be advocates for our residents, not just bystanders,” he said.

City Hall is looking into developing a policy for how to address future micro-cell site permits, and Zurn said a city delegation would be meeting with T-Mobile representatives at their Mountain View headquarters in coming weeks to address their pending applications.

Meanwhile, Delarosa said T-Mobile intended to set up a neighborhood outreach meeting for Cumberland Heights residents, although a date had not yet been set.

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