Group says tower could negatively impact health, property value of community
A proposed new AT&T wireless communication facility in the Stevenson Ranch has caused an uproar among residents, who now have one more opportunity to appeal the project with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors before Aug. 31.
The L.A. County Regional Planning Commission voted 4-1, with Vice Chair Michael Hastings dissenting, that the public hearing be closed, approve the project, deny the appeal and affirm a conditional-use permit during a commission meeting on Aug. 17.
“The next step is that we have the opportunity to appeal to the Los Angeles County Board of supervisors, and we will be doing that,” said Tiffany Hedgpeth, a Stevenson Ranch resident. “We hope that the Board of Supervisors will really give this the close scrutiny that it deserves.”
Once a second appeal is filed by the Stevenson Ranch residents, the proposed project will be in the hands of the Board of Supervisors. Until the supervisors consider the appeal and affirm the commission’s actions on the project, AT&T cannot start construction.
AT&T submitted its project plans and applied for a conditional use permit to authorize the construction and operation of a new wireless facility, which would consist of one 75-foot monopine and appurtenant facilities, at the start of the year.
According to documents submitted to the Department of Regional Planning, the proposed project will be built at 25550 West Kavenagh Lane in Stevenson Ranch on approximately 975 square feet of land — with parts of Stevenson Ranch Elementary, single-family residential dwellings, Dr. Richard H. Rioux Memorial Park, walking trail and community gardens all within 500 feet of the project.
Jerry Ambrose, a representative of AT&T, who testified in support of the conditional use permit during a public hearing in February, said the project site was the only available site for lease in the vicinity, which would serve the purpose of filling a service gap in Stevenson Ranch.
According to AT&T representatives, the proposed project is in response to the public’s plea for improved wireless connectivity in the wake of the 2017-2018 fires, most notably the Woolsey Fire.
“The proposed site in Stevenson Ranch is part of our ongoing investment to improve service and coverage for residents, businesses and public safety in the area,” AT&T representatives wrote in an email. “We have worked closely with local officials and permitting authorities to identify a solution that balances the needs of the public safety community and our customers.”
Opposition by residents has steadily grown since the first public hearing, Hedgpeth said, with more than 400 residents now opposing the project.
In the reasons for the appeal, residents contend it would pose health hazards to children and residents of Stevenson Ranch as a result of exposure to radio waves and possible radiation, a decrease in home values, and aesthetic reasons.
Hedgpeth, who is leading the opposition alongside Annette Peterson, said no one truly understands the full health effects of radio frequency exposure.
In a recent case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Federal Communications Commission’s 1996 guidelines, which govern and determine health safety related to radiation levels coming off cell towers, were “arbitrary and capricious.”
The case, Environmental Health Trust, et al., v. FCC and United States of America, was argued in January 2021 and the decision to have the FCC review and update its 1996 guidelines was issued by the court in August 2021.
“In other words, you could not rely on these guidelines as being safe to protect people from the radiation coming off the cell towers,” Hedgpeth said.
According to Hedgpeth, county planning commissioners received everything that AT&T said at face value.
“They did not provide any analysis of the information AT&T gave them,” Hedgpeth said. “For example, part of the requirement to obtain a conditional use permit is an establishment that there’s a significant gap in coverage.”
“AT&T provided a propagation map that essentially shows almost no coverage through Stevenson Ranch. But those of us who have had AT&T for years know that we’ve got perfect coverage at many of our homes, and up and down most of the streets that are identified as not having coverage.”
Roger Bhasin, with Pinnacle Estate Properties, who been a real estate agent for more than 20 years and worked in the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita Valley, sent in an email to commissioners about the negative impacts the AT&T project would have on property value.
“People purchase homes in the Stevenson Ranch community because of the beautiful views, the seclusion away from traffic and the lovely community of families that live there,” Bhasin wrote in his email. “The proposed location of the cell tower …will cheapen the look of the neighborhood given the size.
“In my professional opinion, I expect homes near the cell tower to lose about 10-12% in home value.”
In response to these concerns, the Department of Regional Planning reviewed documents from AT&T, which included but were not limited to, an alternative site analysis that confirmed that the proposed site is the only available site in the coverage area that is capable of “closing the significant coverage gap.”
Federal laws prohibit local land use regulatory agencies from reviewing the aspects of potential health risks of wireless communication facilities, according to a report to the Regional Planning Commision.
Department of Regional Planning staff also noted aesthetics cannot be the sole ground for denial of a project as ruled by multiple court cases, impacts of a wireless facility on property values is not within the parameter of L.A. County Planning review or consideration, and AT&T will be required to include two pine trees at the project site to help the design of the facility.
“I will tell you, after having practiced environmental law for 30 years, I have never seen well, let me say, in regard to every industry out there, that emits pollutants, you see the regulations becoming more and more strict,” Hedgpeth said. “Except when it comes to the telecommunication companies.”
“Legislation and regulations are continuing to be more and more relaxed to allow cell towers to pop up everywhere, which is a very dangerous thing until what levels are deemed safe is better understood.”
According to Hedgpeth, residents also feel like AT&T and their own homeowners association lacked transparency.
In particular, Hedgpeth said AT&T did little to notify residents of the proposed project in the beginning of the year when they just posted flyers “hidden” throughout the neighborhood.
And when AT&T representatives attended HOA meetings in the past few months, residents didn’t know how or where to participate in the meetings, according to Hedgpeth.
Members of the board of directors of Stevenson Ranch Home Owners Association declined to comment on the issue.
In addition, Newhall School District officials were not aware of the proposed project until concerned residents conducted a presentation in July.
“[On July 19] was the first time that we heard from parents and residents up there about the cell tower,” said Donna Rose, Newhall district governing board president. “Before that meeting, when we put that on the agenda, we contacted AT&T, we contacted the HOA, and we were trying to get additional information, so that we could make an informed decision.”
No representatives from either AT&T or the Stevenson Ranch HOA came to the July 19 meeting. Newhall district officials also invited both parties to attend another meeting prior to the Department of Regional Planning Commission’s appeal hearing on Aug. 17.
However, in the Newhall district’s governing board meeting on Aug. 9, the HOA sent a consultant they hired to address the board virtually.
“We did have the opportunity at that meeting to at least ask him some questions and get information on what he had looked into over the last year or two on it,” Rose said. “We still have concerns.”
Ultimately, the governing board passed a resolution proclaiming three things: pursue active discussions with AT&T concerning the cell tower operating near Stevenson Ranch Elementary, supporting the county of L.A. in immediately establishing local municipal zoning setback rules of 1,500 feet or more from an operating cellular facility and a school site, and requesting the county of L.A. to provide timely notification to the superintendent and principals of affected schools, when any new cellular permit applications are filed within 1,500 feet of a school.
“There is a need in the Stevenson Ranch area for improved service,” Rose said. “We were also questioning whether or not this particular tower is going to improve service in some areas that need it.”
“We know that on our school campus, if you’re standing out in the yard, you don’t always get service, or it’s spotty, so the school district has an interest in improved service. But at the same time, we also have an interest in making sure that this tower is going to be safe for our kids and our staff.”
Meanwhile, pending the appeal, the group of residents opposing the cell tower vow to continue fighting it.
“We have been just completely submerging ourselves in the world of cell towers since that notice first popped up in front of our houses in early January,” Hedgpeth said. “People should be afraid because if it can happen in Stevenson Ranch, it can happen anywhere.”