Community groups sue LA County over new wireless antenna ordinance

0
1855
Monsignor John Murreta, an environmental activist, speaks during a press conference held by Fiber First LA. Contributed photos.

Groups say recent changes eliminate community involvement, flout environmental laws, and ignore safety concerns

A coalition of community and environmental groups, including Malibu For Safe Tech, as one of the petitioners in this suit, recently filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County over new wireless antenna ordinances.  

The nonprofit organization Fiber First LA held a press conference last week in East Los Angeles to ask the court for a temporary injunction, pending the resolution of the lawsuit.

East LA community organizer and a founding member of Fiber First LA Brenda Martinez said they are suing the county because of Titles 16 and 22. 

“Part of those changes was to remove the right to notify the community, the right to place cell antennas in the public right away, or near homes, school, childcare centers, and so some of the changes were removing the notification and the removing appeal,” Martinez said. 

This ordinance amends Title 16 — Highways and Title 22 — Planning and Zoning of the Los Angeles County Code to establish regulations for the review and permitting of wireless facilities in the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, including in county highways.

The amendment to Title 16 – Highways will establish permit requirements for small cell facilities (SCF) and eligible facilities requests (existing qualifying towers and base stations) within county highways, including on county-owned infrastructure; authorize the road commissioner to adopt a design standards checklist and permit conditions that implement the requirements of this chapter; provide for a permit approval process that meets the requirements of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and applicable law; and provide for relocation or removal of SCF for failure to obtain a permit, for failure to comply with applicable law, or upon a determination by the road commissioner of a paramount need of the county to utilize county-owned infrastructure.

The amendment to Title 22 – Planning and Zoning will establish regulations for wireless facilities on private property in the unincorporated areas of the county and associated provisions to provide a land use review and permit approval process that meets the requirements imposed by the FCC and other applicable law. It will establish standards to regulate the placement, design, and aesthetics of wireless facilities to minimize visual and physical impacts to surrounding properties; create streamlined permitting procedures for the installation, operation, and modification of wireless facilities while protecting the public health, safety, and welfare of county residents; require conditional use permits for macro-wireless facilities that do not meet development standards or require a waiver for special circumstances; and help facilitate the provision of equitable, high-quality wireless communications service infrastructure to serve the current and future needs of the county’s residents, visitors, businesses, and local governments.

Martinez said citizens have the right to voice their concerns about their health, safety, and their future. 

“Their future is fundamental to American democracy,” Martinez said. “The LA Board of Supervisors has clearly put the interests of giant telecoms ahead of the interests of the people they’re supposed to represent. There’s no other reason to take away the right of people in our community to be heard.”

“People will be exposed to cumulative radiation; instead of just being close to one of them, you’re going to be close to three, four, five of them or even a hundred,” Martinez said. 

During the LA County Board and Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 10, members of the public argued that the amendments will increase health, safety, and fire risk.

Martinez attended that in-person meeting and said the cellphone service provider Verizon did not inform the community about the cellphone installation in her community in East LA.

Brenda Martinez
East LA community organizer and a founding member of Fiber First LA Brenda Martinez speaks at the LA County Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 10 opposing the Title 16 and 22 wireless antenna ordinances. Screenshot from LA County Board of Supervisors

“We believe many of those signatures are questionable, since many of those comments were petitioners and they submitted public comments that they did not sign that petition,” Martinez said. “Also Verizon is not community-oriented, they removed our group of children, parents, and grandparents from our community garden to place a cellphone tower and they did not have a CPU and brought armed guards and police officers to remove our community from our community garden.”

Susan Foster, co-founder of the California Fires and Firefighters and member of Fiber First LA, said the staff’s recent changes to Titles 16 and 22 do not address the concerns raised by the board or the residents. 

“You will have another telecom initiation Malibu Canyon fire on your hands or another fire from SCE’s own telecoms facilities, as well as the Woolsey Fire in 2018,” Foster said. “They should be built right in the first place.”

Foster said the proposed changes look inviting but are deceptive. 

“California has not yet adopted [these] federal standards,” Foster said. “Fiber First LA stands ready to assist the county with the fire safety protocol we designed specifically for Malibu, which is contained within our red lines to Title 16 and 22, I implore you to vote no until these ordinances are worthy.”

Speakers have also expressed concern that living, working, or going to school near a cellphone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health problems. 

The widespread use of cellphones in recent decades has led to a large increase in the number of cellphone towers, also known as base stations, being placed in communities. These towers have electronic equipment and antennas that receive and transmit cellphone signals using radiofrequency (RF) waves.

According to the American Cancer Society, there’s no evidence that exposure to RF waves from cellphone towers causes any noticeable health effects. However, ACS states it does not mean that the RF waves from cellphone towers have been proven to be absolutely safe. Most expert organizations agree that more research is needed to help clarify this, especially for any possible long-term effects.

Executive Director for Malibu For Safe Tech and Executive Board Member for Fiber First LA Lonnie Gordon said W. Scott McCollough has worked with the planning department and City Council, and has been working with Fiber First LA, as one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, to draft a similarly strict ordinance for LA County.

“The (LA Co) ordinance is purposefully designed to create a back-room, tower permit rubber-stamp process that excludes the public and even nearby residents that will be directly affected and aggrieved,” McCollough said. “The ordinance does and individual permit decisions will entirely ignore the environmental and other effects on people. It will exacerbate, not solve, the digital divide.”

“Malibu currently has the safest fire and electrical standards in the country built into the telecom application process for new installations, unfortunately the Board of Supervisors did not take our advice and voted in a terrible ordinance,” Gordon said.

“We want the people of Los Angeles County, the state, and the nation to have safe protocol for telecom installations. Telecom companies only care about profits, not people or the environment,” Gordon said. “Wireless installations are not safe or reliable and are aesthetically ugly, and they will not solve the so-called, ‘digital divide.’”

First District Supervisor Hilda L. Solis addressed the public’s concerns before voting on the item.

“We have also built into the process requiring that applicants notify residents within 500 feet of any proposed small cell facility, that wasn’t done before,” Solis said. “People have that information ahead of time. It may not be everything the advocates wanted, but I think it’s a step in the right direction and like anything, we also evolve.”

Third District Supervisor Lindsey Horvath also responded to the public speakers regarding fire safety concerns in Malibu.

“There were comments regarding fire safety measures that take place in Malibu and those directives are going to be a part of the checklist process as well,” Horvath said. “So while some of the language that we heard today will not be written in the ordinance part of this directive, it will be included in the checklist along with a letter that will be issued as part of the noticing.”

Supervisor Lindsey Horvath
LA County Third District Supervisor Lindsey Horvath responded to the public speakers regarding fire safety concerns in Malibu. Screenshot from LA County Board of Supervisors

The motion passed 5-0 on Jan. 10. 

The coalition Fiber First LA includes Mothers of East LA, the Boyle Heights Community Partners, Children’s Health Defense (CHD), the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and other groups. More information visit, www.FiberFirstLA.org.