by Winston Chua
Mayor Dennis Kneier held his monthly mini-town hall meeting at Crowell Library last Thursday morning before a group of about a dozen to two dozen concerned citizens and employees of the community, focusing on cell towers and the city budget.
The cell tower located near the maintenance yard that borders Huntington Middle School and Valentine Elementary School remains a concern for parents and residents because of the tower’s radio frequency emissions, proximity to students (some classes are less than 20 feet away) and the uncertainty of what might happen if the tower falls during an earthquake.
The original tower, installed in about 2006, is subject to a conditional use permit (CUP) because it is a non-educational facility. Educational facilities on school grounds are not subject to CUPs. Verizon never obtained a CUP for its maintenance yard tower.
Verizon will in all likelihood move its tower or construct a new one. The reality, however, is that the new destination of the tower will probably still remain near its current location because Verizon has the right to either build a new tower or move their existing tower within their 1100-square-foot lease area, to an area that might be no more than a few feet from its existing location.
The group who gathered at Crowell sought alternatives to the 80-foot-tower’s current location, including asking Verizon if they would consider moving it to a more commercial part of town like Colonial Kitchen or break up the tower and install multiple, smaller towers. Smaller towers can provide just as much coverage as one large one. Other locations mentioned at the meeting included the parking lot outside Citizen’s Bank or near Lacy Park.
Miriam Nakamura Quan, Dr. Ray Quan, Ming Jiang and others voiced their opposition to the tower’s current location. Dr. Quan showed the group a map that illustrated how relocating the tower to aforementioned and nearby sites would benefit not only San Marino residents but Verizon and its customers. Valerie Jinnette, who relocated her daughter to Westridge, said she is simply tired of seeing other parents remove their children from San Marino schools because of the presence of the tower.
Ming Jiang, a former Motorola engineer, has transferred her son to a private school beginning in the fall. She feels that some people are more vulnerable to the RF emissions than others and that diseases can be triggered. She is also concerned about the close vicinity of the tower due to the fall zone, electromagnetic radiation, grounding and possible toxic chemicals from the backup battery.
Planning and Building Director Dave Saldaña discussed major parts of the 20-year history of cell towers in San Marino and how the city had always preferred their location in commercial areas to protect the single-family neighborhood character of San Marino.
Supt. Loren Kleinrock told the group that safety concerns were less of an issue during the tower’s construction and installation several years back because money was a bigger concern for SMUSD. The district will this year receive $1,229 per month from Verizon for the tower in the maintenance yard ($14,478 for 2014).
They will receive about $1,150 per month from the American Tower tower on the high school campus. Monies from the high school campus go towards paying for the Internet bandwidth on the Titans’ campus.
The district, no longer in as much of a fiscal bind as it once was, agreed to contracts with telecommunications companies in part to fill in the fiscal gap left by the State.
Saldaña said he would try to initiate further discussion between the city and Verizon based on the study brought forth by Dr. Quan, hoping to encourage Verizon to take a closer look at alternative properties for cell tower installation.
This year is the tenth year of Verizon’s 25-year lease with the district. Sprint Nextel is no longer part of the agreement with Verizon and the district.
Other attendees at the meeting included Police Chief Tim Harrigan, Fireman Mark Phillips, Finance Director Lisa Bailey, Supt. Loren Kleinrock, Kaili Chang, Steve Smith and City Manager John Schaefer.
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