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Santa Monica City Council Denies Appeals of Cell Tower Installation

Up to 600 small-cell wireless facilities may be coming to streets throughout Santa Monica and there is little City officials can do to prevent their installation despite concern from many residents.

Small cell wireless facilities are a relatively new form of technology being deployed in densely populated urban environments throughout the country with the goal of increasing network reliability. The City of Santa Monica has approved 76 facilities to-date and the City Officials estimate there could be up to 600 in the future.

“As opposed to larger macro cell sites, small cell sites are more compact and they use less power than macro cell sites. Further, small cell sites can be installed on existing city infrastructure such as street lights, traffic signals and wooden utility pools,” said Thomas Check a Civil Engineering Assistant with the City of Santa Monica Public Works Department at the regular City Council meeting Tuesday.

At the Council meeting Tuesday, Council members heard three public appeals against the installation of two small cell sites on City streetlight poles by wireless carrier Sprint. One proposed location is on 23rd Street between Pearl and Pico and the other is on 18th Street right by Idaho Avenue.

During her appeal, Gracie Gomez, who lives by the 23rd Street site, warned of the health impacts from the radiation of cell facilities. According to the City, however, federal law prohibits the denial of personal wireless service facilities based on environmental and health impacts.

“Federal law sets specific limits on local authority regarded to wireless facilities,” Check said. “[We] may not regulate the placement of personal wireless service facilities based on the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that the wireless facility complies with the FCC’s regulations on radio frequency emissions.”

Dr. Manish Butte, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was another appellant at the Council meeting. Butte acknowledged that the City has their hands tied when it comes to denying the installation based on environmental impacts but still had other reservations about the project.

“Numerous studies have pointed out that cell towers reduce property values in nearby homes,” Butte said. “There are estimates of about a 20 percent property value loss if there is a cell tower nearby a home.”

In addition to concerns about how the installation would impact real estate values, Butte also had serious worries about how the project would put his family’s safety and privacy at risk.

“The antenna is at the height of the second story of our house. Sprint and its contractor can come and put a ladder truck anytime they want, 24/7 365 and maintain the site. The proposed site sits right outside the bedroom window of my preteen daughter,” Butte said.

According to City Attorney Lane Dilig speaking at the Council meeting, wireless carriers in Santa Monica do not have to notify residents in the area if they are going to maintain a site.

After passing the motion with a 6-0 vote, Council directed City Staff to explore ways the City can address the concerns of the appellants.

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