Planning denies appeal of microcell facility, 1 of 10 to built in Malibu

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Residents voice concern over health risks believed to be associated with wireless communication equipment.

By Jonathan Friedman/Special to The Malibu Times

Saying it had no authority to do so, the Planning Commission last week refused to deny Sprint PCS’s application for the installation of a wireless microcell facility on Boniface Drive. The microcell consists of four antennas, 38 inches in height and 8.7-inches wide, attached to an existing utility pole with a 36-inch-high and 19-inch-wide equipment cabinet placed nearby. Sprint has applied to install 10 of the facilities in Malibu so it could upgrade its service. Interim Planning Manager Ed Knight approved all 10 at special hearings earlier this year, but three microcell facilities were appealed. However, according to federal law, local governments have limited authority to deny these applications.

“It sounds like we’re pre-empted (by the federal government) unless we say ‘yes’ (to the application), which I question,” Commissioner David Fox said. “But I think I’m required to deny the appeal.”

Deputy City Attorney Greg Kovacevich said that federal law and recent court decisions prohibit a local government from rejecting an application for a wireless facility if the company can prove two things-that the facility will fill a significant gap in coverage and that it has selected the least intrusive method to install it. Additionally, a local government cannot claim health risks as a reason for denying an application, as long as the facility meets the Federal Communications Commission standards. Kovacevich said there is even a decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a city’s belief that a facility would create interference for public safety communications could not be used as a reason for denying an application.

However, Boniface resident Bob Carmichael, who made the appeal, raised the issue of health concerns during his presentation. He provided the commission with studies that said there were significant health risks associated with wireless communication equipment. He added that he believed this issue would become as significant as the discovery of tobacco health risks.

“As a good liberal I have an inherent suspicion of all corporations,” Commission Vice Chair Deirdre Roney said. “I have no problem believing that there are serious health concerns. And I think a good place to address those concerns is Congress.”

Commissioner John Sibert, however, was skeptical of the evidence. Although he said there is reason to have some concern about cellular phone equipment, the former Yale chemistry professor said he was not inclined to accept what Carmichael and the others presented.

“The problem with most of these things is they start with a conclusion and only bring in the evidence that supports the conclusion,” he said. “That’s not science.”

The commission will hear another appeal on the installation of a microcell facility on Bison Court at its next meeting. The third appeal was dropped after a resolution was made between Sprint and the appellant.