This mindset comes despite many findings that cell phone users are susceptible to receiving much more radiation from a handheld phone placed against the ear and carried close to the body in a pocket or purse than they ever would receive from a cell tower, or in this case its closely related cousin: a new WiMax tower that transmits data to cell phones and computers.
Nevertheless, many neighbors and preschool parents have been vehemently opposed to plans by the First Presbyterian Church at Miramonte and Cuesta to install a WiMax tower hidden in a steeple. They fear children attending the Little Acorn Preschool, about 50 to 75 feet from the tower, will be harmed by cancer-causing radiation. About 70 students attend the school, which is located on church property.
Many of the protestors are upset that the church did not notify them before a deal was struck to accept the tower, which came about after the company was unable to get approval to put it on the shopping center or office building across the street. Church spokesmen say the tower deal with Clear Wire LLC has been discussed internally since last July and that after examining research from the phone company, the church decided to go ahead.
Pastor Tim Boyer said the antennas were approved to provide a service, especially since the location is within a line of sight to nearby El Camino Hospital. Pastor Boyer declined to say how much the church would be paid to host the antennas.
After losing a November ruling from city Zoning Administrator Peter Gilli, who said he could not withhold approval of the tower unless radio frequency waves exceed FCC guidelines, the protestors attempted to use the city's own zoning ordinance, which does not specifically permit cell phone towers, to overturn the approval. But that argument failed Tuesday, when the council voted 4-1 to back the current ordinance and start the process to craft more definitive language that would permit towers in residential neighborhoods. If the ordinance had been interpreted as some protestors wanted, most of the city would be off limits to the towers, city staff said. Even new Google WiFi towers could be in jeopardy of violating the ordinance.
Absent any real data from protestors that showed the towers could be harmful, the City Council did the right thing in permitting them. They have been shown to emit only tiny radiation levels, well under the thresholds set by federal regulators. The council's decision should allow installation of First Presbyterian's tower, although we doubt that preschool parents and neighbors will be satisfied.
Zoning Administrator Gilli said approval of the tower is on the condition that parents would be able to pull their children from the preschool without being penalized with any fees or extra charges. That may not be enough for those who say the Little Acorn preschool is the most convenient and affordable for them.
We recommend parents study results from a "before and after" radiation level test planned by Clear Wire official Gordon Bell. He promised to post results at the church, which he said would show almost "undetectable" levels of radiation. If that is the case, as we suspect it will be, there will be no reason for preschool parents or neighbors to worry about cell phone tower radiation.