Once characterized by light industrial uses and relegated to “Marina-adjacent” status, the Los Angeles neighborhood of Del Rey is rapidly filling in with new housing and office space.
This evolution has brought with it a deluge of new cell phone towers, infuriating many residents who believe they have little choice about where telecom companies install them. And to a large extent, they’re right.
“The reality is that as our state and federal laws are written, they are allowed to build these [towers],” said Matt Wershing, a member of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council and the chairman of its land use and planning committee.
Looking out from her bedroom window one day last month, Rennee Salvestrini noticed a cylindrical structure attached to a pole in front of her townhome on Alla Road, right outside her bedroom balcony.
“I didn’t know what it was or who installed it,” Salvestrini recalled of what she later found out was a small cell phone tower installed by AT&T, which is expanding its network in Del Rey.
Residents have also noticed new cell towers along Gilmore Street and McConnell Avenue.
“The small cell sites in Del Rey will provide enhanced voice and data services by helping bolster network capacity to allow faster downloads and improved call quality,” said AT&T spokesman Ryan Minniear in a statement. “AT&T went through an extensive review process with the city of Los Angeles and filed all the necessary application permits for a small cell site.”
Wireless providers are breaking new ground in residential areas because fewer residences are maintaining landlines, said former Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering analyst Jeffery LeDou.
“It’s driven by customer demand,” LeDou said.
Del Rey resident Janet O’liveira, who is battling autoimmune diseases, is worried about the possible effects of a cell tower just a few feet away from her home on McConnell — a concern she shares with neighbors.
“It’s literally across the street from our house outside our window. I do everything in my power to protect my children, and I’m very aware of EMFs [radiation from electrical power usage including from cellular transmissions) because this is something that you can’t turn off. It’s going to be on all the time,” she said.
The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits local governments from regulating the location or placement of cell towers due to concern about potential health effects due to radiation from cell towers.
Del Rey residents have collected more than 200 signatures on a petition urging Rep. Karen Bass (D- Los Angeles) and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin to push for AT&T to relocate its towers in commercial areas instead of near homes.
“We the residents are being put in harm’s way. Because there are no regulations on small cell towers, we do not have information on radiation reports and actual research conducted to support the placement of these devices several feet from homes,” said Kat Jacob, one of the petition organizers.
Asked if AT&T would consider relocating the existing towers, Minniear did not answer the question directly.
“In general, AT&T prioritizes sites which are the least intrusive while meeting the demands of our customers in addressing significant coverage gaps,” he said.
Last month Bonin reactivated a City Council motion by predecessor Bill Rosendahl asking the city attorney to investigate what legal options the city has to regulate where cell towers can be located.
The motion is based on a 2009 federal appeals court ruling that upheld the right of Ranch Palos Verdes to reject two proposed towers on aesthetic grounds.
Scientific studies exploring possible links between mobile phone radiofrequency signal exposure and cancer diagnoses have largely produced inconclusive results. The American Cancer society maintains that there is very little evidence to support such a connection, and that that exposure from living near a cell tower is typically lower than from using a cell phone. A 2016 study by the Toxicology Program, however, detected rare cancers in rats exposed to electromagnetic radiation.
Salvestrini, a breast cancer survivor, says she does not want to leave her home of 10 years because of the tower.
“I thought I’d be able to spend the rest of my life in peace,” she said. “I might have to rethink my whole future, but fight I will.”
This article originally ran on argonautnews.com.