Opinion: Bill would Turn California Utility Poles into Cell Towers

By Nina Beety, Guest Commentary

Most utility poles will become cell towers under (California) Senate Bill 649. The bill strips municipal governments of decision-making power.

Spaced approximately every 10-20 homes, cell antennas will hang in one or more clusters on utility or light poles. Equipment cabinets the size of refrigerators, with cooling fans and back-up generators, will sit on sidewalks. Towers will be located in the public right of way a few feet from bedroom windows, offices, schools, hospitals and nursing homes.

Called “small cells”, there is little difference in size for many of these antennas; the chief difference is the location on utility poles versus large towers. Measurements of these cell towers recently taken in Palo Alto found high levels of radiation on the sidewalk below them — levels higher than those associated in research with breaches in the blood-brain barrier, free radical formation, DNA damage, cancer and tumors, and heart rhythm disturbances.

What the levels are inside buildings a few feet away and in line with the antennas is anyone’s guess.

This 24/7 exposure of the most vulnerable, including children, is ignored by the California Legislature. This isn’t surprising since Capitol Weekly named AT&T lobbyist Bill Devine the 16th most powerful person in Sacramento last year. CTIA — the wireless industry — is the listed source of SB 649. And the telecom industry hosts the Pro Tem Cup in San Diego and Speakers Cup in Pebble Beach — lavish, hush-hush lobbying and fundraising events for the California Senate and Assembly members. How many members of the public can afford to buy a politician?

SB 649 is effectively eminent domain, taking the public’s right of way for another use. The public has not agreed to cell towers in their front yard, but the bill states this is not a municipal affair. Remember the Malibu fires, where officials evacuated the city? This was caused by utility poles overloaded with telecommunications equipment — AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and NextG. Look around you and see the leaning, bowing poles next to homes and buildings, hanging over streets and sidewalks. Malibu Mayor Andy Stern called these time bombs. Add more gear, multiply the number of poles impacted, and what will be the result?

The FCC’s website says there are no federal standards for microwave radiation exposure. FCC exposure guidelines were derived from industry, and there is no policing or compliance testing of cell towers. Many exceed federal limits according to two surveys. Once installed, you’re stuck, and due to federal laws, every company has to be allowed access to a location, even if that means the same pole and higher radiation levels.

Do you have a utility pole in your back yard or along your fence line? That utility easement on or through your property means they can put anything on that pole. Undergrounded utilities in your neighborhood? New poles will be erected, or antennas will be mounted on homes. AT&T’s new service agreement says you must agree to anything they want to install on or in your home (complain to the CPUC if you disagree).

Impacts to agriculture will be costly, with documented effects from microwave radiation to bees and other pollinators alarming international scientists. Industrial ag is already impacted by dying bees from other causes. Damage to trees and plants is also documented, but the Legislature ignores all of this and the costs to the public.

SB 649 is being rushed through the legislature before the public finds out. It has already passed the Senate. If you don’t want cell towers next to your home and office, take action before it’s too late.

Nina Beety is a writer and educator and runs the website smartmeterharm.org. She lives in Monterey. This opinion piece originally appeared in the East Bay Times.

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