City must treat antenna concerns more seriously
The Daily Planet received this letter, edited for length, addressed to Mayor Shirley Dean and members of the City Council:
By Leonard Schwartzburd, Ph.D.
This open letter is written to express concerns growing out of the council hearing on Jan. 23 concerning the Nextel application to place twelve RF radiation emitting antennas on the Oaks Theater and on the antenna moratorium in general.
Since the previous meeting when the council established the moratorium, it appears as though there may have been a weakening of the knees which is of great concern to me and many of my neighbors. There is particular concern because of the manner in which the city has handled this situation all along and now that Nextel has launched a major offensive to force its application through, the reasons for concern continue.
Nextel has begun to resort to what I think of as "dirty tactics." One of the speakers for Nextel, apparently a hired gun saying he is a Berkeley resident, who doesn’t know me or the other neighbors supporting the appeal and moratorium, made a slur about us in front of the council, suggesting by an innuendo evoking racial overtones, that we want to dump the antennas on residents from other parts of the city, specifically West Berkeley. It was disheartening to see one council member, who also doesn’t know us nodding in agreement.
I ask that the Council members keep an open mind about us and open hearts towards us. I’d be proud to discuss my own civil rights credentials with any interested members, and you all might want to know that I and other members of our all Berkeley coalition have spent many hours in meetings and drafting a proposed ordinance for antenna siting to protect all of Berkeley’s residential areas.
Though those of us affected most by the Nextel application naturally have personal concerns, we also care about all the people of Berkeley and believe that all the people of Berkeley have a direct and vital interest in this issue. Let it be clear that our position is not one of “Put it in your back yard but not in our back yard.” I want to be crystal clear. Our position is that antenna siting policy protecting residential areas should apply to all residential areas equally. It is not us but Nextel that is operating with disregard for the concerns of residents of Berkeley.
I am hopeful that some of the concerns I am voicing about the position and conduct of various elements of our city government are about innocent actions and that there is no caving into the pressure from the cellular industry and the full court press by Nextel in particular.
Let me explain some of the recent history which is the cause of some of the anxieties the situation arouses in me. Most recently, after the hearing of the 23rd, while standing in the corridor outside the council chambers, in the presence of a member of the council, the apparently paid Nextel supporter who cast the slurs with racial overtones asked me questions in a challenging tone which I took to be an attempt to intimidate me by threatening my own livelihood.
Early in the process, a member of the city staff whom I had been critical of for failing to provide adequate notice to the people of the immediate neighborhood of the early stages of the application review process, among other things, attempted to intimidate me in a similar manner. Initially there was great resistance on the part of staff to taking our concerns seriously. The same staff member who attempted to intimidate me, duplicated and made available at the community meeting with Nextel about 50 copies of the lengthy report by Nextel and did so at city expense.
The city has permitted the cellular industry to sprout antennas around Berkeley like mushrooms and has not even kept track of where they are. This makes it impossible for anyone without making special tests, which have not been made, to comply with FCC guidelines concerning calculating the cumulative levels of radiation in Berkeley.
The industry stresses the Federal law which limits the determination of health and safety standards to the FCC and then blithely ignores FCC requirements for compliance with those standards. And so far, until the declaration of the 45 day moratorium, the city has appeared complicit with that conduct. Will the city government now back down to the implied threats of Nextel and their cadre of hired guns? Will the city extend the moratorium and not grant Nextel the special privilege it seeks in being exempted from it.
One member of the council caught a member of the Nextel forces in a misrepresentation of the relevance of the proposed antenna placement to the Berkeley Police Department.
The tactics of Nextel have led my neighbors and me to have no trust in their presentation and allegations about the need to place their antennas in any given area to get coverage.
During the community meeting a number of months ago, I asked Nextel’s expert a question about a published report regarding a 50 percent rise in the incidence of childhood leukemia in a population exposed to high but FCC accepted levels of RF radiation. Nextel’s expert made a statistical response which negated the significance of the report. What is disturbing is that when I remarked to another neighbor who was there – a professor in a biological science at UC – that while I am no statistician by a long shot, I did have a year of advanced statistics in graduate school and I couldn’t understand a darn thing the expert said, the neighbor said that he couldn’t understand any of it either.
It’s disturbing that when Nextel showed huge enlargements of photos of the Oaks Theater at the hearing, photos which show views of the theater not including the roof, the photos were crystal clear and sharp. The one photo that did show the roof itself was very small by comparison and in blurry focus.
Recently I attended a meeting at the Berkeley Jewish Community Center with some of my neighbors who are working on this issue. The JCC hired an expert to consult on their consideration of placing antennas from another cellular provider on their roof for a rental fee. The meeting was for parents of the day care and preschool children at the JCC. The expert told us how the standards are set by the FCC.
Rats are exposed to RF radiation. The level of radiation at which a rat manifests observable behavioral changes caused by the radiation is established. The FCC standard is 50 times less than that which causes rats to react behaviorally in an observable fashion. The same expert confirmed the report by the Stewart Commission in the UK that a one year old sustains 100 percent more impact from RF radiation than an adult, and a five year old sustains 60 percent more impact. The Nextel proposal for the Oaks Theater is for an array of antennas 1,200 percent more powerful than that which had been proposed at the JCC. The JCC Board of Directors decided not to lease their roof for antennas in response to the concerns of the parents.
My neighbors and I are concerned about an industrial strength installation in a largely residential area and the effect on the residential character of the neighborhood. We are concerned whether we can trust Nextel’s representations about the aesthetic character of the installation, particularly as we caught an earlier misrepresentation of its physical character.
We are asking that our city government afford us the protection we feel we deserve .
Leonard Schwartzburd, Ph.D.