AT&T is seeking a permit for a 75- to 95-foot cell tower in the middle of Stevenson Ranch, by homes and Stevenson Ranch Elementary School. The hearing is Tuesday. Hundreds of Stevenson Ranch families oppose the tower. The Newhall School District opposes the tower. Planning Commissioner Mike Hastings (appointed by Supervisor Kathryn Barger) opposes the tower. Local Realtors oppose the tower.
Recently an opinion piece published in The Signal argued that the hundreds of homeowners are a “small group” of “selfish” NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard) and, without support, claims the remaining 12,000 residents favor the tower. In fact, only about 30 residents have informed the county that they support the tower, none of whom indicated they have AT&T and most of whom, according to AT&T, live in areas outside the reach of the proposed tower’s signal. The tower is a bad idea for the entire community for the following reasons.
First, health concerns. Cell towers emit radio frequency radiation. In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission adopted radiation guidelines for cell towers. Last year, based on numerous studies, the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals held in Envt’l Health Trust v. FCC that the FCC’s conclusion that the radiation levels in the guideline are safe was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered the FCC to reevaluate the guidelines. Numerous studies link exposure to cell tower radiation to adverse health effects, including cognitive issues. Unlike operating a microwave or other device for a few minutes, living or going to school by a cell tower subjects a person to constant, full-body radiation exposure. The tower would be about 1/8 mile from the elementary school and adjacent to Richard Rioux Park. Unfortunately, the Federal Telecommunications Act prohibits the county from considering health impacts when making permitting decisions once the FCC develops guidelines – even if the safety of the guidelines is not supported.
Second, aesthetics. Although the current proposed tower is 75 feet, under FCC regulations, it may automatically be extended by 20 feet, which AT&T indicated is likely. There is no question that at 95 feet (approximately 10 stories) the tower will be a major eyesore throughout much of the community. While a monopine design is proposed, a trip down the Interstate 5 freeway reveals just how ugly monopines are. They fool no one and this one will be visible for miles. As my teenage son said, “That will look really stupid.”
Third, property values. Numerous trusted Realtors who regularly work in Stevenson Ranch and the Santa Clarita community have stated that homeowners in Stevenson Ranch can expect property values to decline up to 10-20%. In a down market, the homes may not sell at all. Homes in the line of sight (which thousands in Stevenson Ranch will be) suffer the most. Of course, when comps are reduced in a community, all home values decrease.
Fourth, the tower won’t provide coverage where it is needed. The northwest portion of the community has little cell service. However, according to AT&T the northwest portion of the community will not receive coverage from this tower.
Fifth, alternatives are available. Everyone with WiFi has access to WiFi calling. For about $100, cell boosters are available from Amazon. Landlines cost less than $30 a month. New iPhones have satellite service for emergencies. Rather than a 95-foot tower, AT&T could consider alternatives, such as microsites, smaller towers and different locations. AT&T’s alternatives analysis submitted to the county did not identify any other sites considered.
In light of the above, it is unclear why anyone would support the cell tower. Earlier this month the Board of Supervisors adopted the new Los Angeles County Wireless Facilities Ordinance, which prohibits towers taller than 35 feet in residential-zoned areas, such as Stevenson Ranch. However, there are loopholes that AT&T will seek to take advantage of. The supervisors should stand by their ordinance and deny AT&T’s proposed monstrosity.
For more information, visit www.stopthesrtower.com.
Tiffany Hedgpeth is a community volunteer, member of Homeowners Protecting Stevenson Ranch, and has been practicing environmental law for almost 30 years.