Mountain View Voice

News - November 19, 2010

City approves church's cell tower near preschool

by Daniel DeBolt

Despite outcry about radiation exposure at an adjacent preschool, the city's zoning administrator last week approved a cell phone tower to go on top of Mountain View's First Presbyterian Church.

Unless the decision is appealed to the City Council, the church at the corner of Miramonte and Cuesta streets will soon have wireless antennae devices enclosed in a new steeple atop the chapel on the south-east corner of the property, across from the main chapel.

Zoning administrator Peter Gilli said FCC regulations do not allow him to reject the tower because of the neighbors' concerns with what may be cancer-causing radiation, unless radio frequency (RF) levels are above the FCC threshold. That left him no choice but to approve the project if it was architecturally acceptable, which he said it was.

Parents of the Little Acorn preschool, located less than 75 feet from the cell tower location, are concerned about exposing 70 or so children to the cell tower's radiation. As of last Wednesday, 58 people signed an online petition in opposition, and 15 others signed the paper version.

Gilli said that his approval of the cell tower was on the condition that parents would be able to pull their children from the preschool without being penalized with any fees.

Enrollment harmed?

While the church will make money from leasing the space to Clear Wireless LLC, parents said the preschool may lose enrollment because of it.

An RF study indicated that the theoretical radiation emitted from the cell tower to the site and the surrounding homes would be well below the FCC's acceptable levels, Gilli noted. Applicant Clearwire LLC's representative Gordon Bell agreed to do before and after RF testing to back up that claim, and post results at the church. He said the tests would show almost "undetectable" levels of radiation.

Neighbors were still concerned, saying that there was no scientific proof that such a cell tower is safe. One resident noted that other countries have much stricter regulations that would not allow such a cell tower.

"People are concerned about radiation," said preschool parent W. Tsang. "Does the community really want this or need this or can it be explored somewhere else?"

About a dozen parents and neighbors spoke in opposition to the proposal. Some said the value of their homes would drop.

More notice

"My biggest concern is that we were just informed about this," said a neighbor and preschool parent. "There's no data to let us know this is safe."

Parents and residential neighbors said they had only recently learned about the proposal and Gilli joined them in disappointment over the church's failure to notify everyone who might be affected. But Gilli said the proposal had already been delayed once.

"It should not be a legal obligation for the church, but a moral obligation to reach out to the community," said neighbor Wendy Yee.

A church representative said the church had notified the preschool, along with other tenants on the property, including a group of Boy Scouts and another church on the site called the Open Door Church. No one responded to the church with concerns.

"I'm a member of that church and I didn't even know," said one woman who lives next door and said residential neighbors were the most seriously impacted. "We can't get away from it."

Pastor Tim Boyer said a committee of church members had been discussing the proposal since July.

"We wouldn't do anything on this campus that would hurt God's children," Boyer said Tuesday.

After examining research compiled by the cell phone company and discussing it with church members, Boyer said he was confident the cell phone antennas were safe.

"I would be more concerned with that (cell phone) in your hand that I would be with that (cell phone tower) on top of the church."

Boyer declined to say how much the church would be paid to host the antennas.

"I don't think that's important," he said. The reason for allowing the antennas was more to "provide a service," Boyer said, especially since the location is within a line of sight of El Camino Hospital.

Other options

Clearwire representative Gordon Bell said that Clearwire could not make deals with property owners to put the antenna on top of a commercial building across the street or on top of the nearby Safeway.

Construction of the antennas may begin in January unless opponents win an appeal to the City Council. Appellants must pay a $1,000 fee.

Bell said it would be impossible to find a location for a cell tower in the area that was away from homes. And Gilli said applications for cell towers were becoming more prevalent as service providers prepare for faster service, such as 4G.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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