Faced with competing public health and safety demands, the Martinez City Council Wednesday favored cell phone access for residents in fire-prone areas.
That means Verizon Wireless will install an antenna at its chosen spot: atop a PG&E tower at 814 Carter Acres Lane.
The council rejected a challenge by neighbors, who were infuriated to learn the property owner had signed a lease with the telecommunications giant without notifying or consulting them.
They complained that proximity to the structure would puncture property values, expose them to health risks and ruin a pristine environment. They also said company officials failed to conduct a thorough search for alternative sites, and tried to convince them that proximity to microwave or cell towers boosts the market worth of homes.
“I am a real estate broker,” said Simone St. Clair, one of the appellants. “I can tell you for a fact that is not the case.”
But the most serious objection concerned public health: Studies done in Belgium, Australia, Germany and other countries have suggested a link between proximity to cell towers and cancers – particularly leukemia. A 10-year German study released in 2004 reported living within 400 meters of a cell tower increased the risk of developing cancer by 300 percent. Researchers at the University of Washington also reported an increased cancer risk. "
But because the tower is so high, emissions will be less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the federal standard, Verizon attorney Paul Albritton said.
Neighbors introduced several alternative sites which “Verizon apparently missed it in its exhaustive search,” said resident Christine Charmer. “It may cost more, but Verizon is a billion-dollar company.”
A Verizon design engineer told the Council the conundrum facing telecommunications companies is that if an antenna is placed too high, it will interfere with other signals. On the other hand, if it is too low to the ground, it simply fails to do its job adequately. Some of the suggested alternate locations, including water tanks on Chelsea Drive and Sunrise Ridge Road, are too high, he said.
In the end, most – but not all – council members said the more immediate public health and safety issue is cell phone access to police and fire in an emergency.
In fact, a fire in the area erupted the day of the council meeting when a car backed into a fuel tank.
“It’s a close call for me,” said Councilman Mark Ross, who said he has studied the health issue. “It is dangerous for people out there, including my parents. I can’t call them on my cell phone and that worries me.”
Councilwoman Lara DeLaney alone voted to uphold the appeal.
“I’m not convinced there are no alternatives,” she said. “I’m not convinced this is the best and only way to go."