2012-03-22 / Business

T-Mobile gets go-ahead to build wireless antennas at Dos Vientos Playfield

Planning commission votes 2-1 in favor despite concerns of some neighbors
By Anna Bitong

ANTENNA—This map shows the location of the future T-Mobile installation at Dos Vientos Playfield. 
Courtesy City of Thousand Oaks ANTENNA—This map shows the location of the future T-Mobile installation at Dos Vientos Playfield. Courtesy City of Thousand Oaks Some residents are saying “ enough is enough” when it comes to cellphone antennas in Dos Vientos Ranch.

On March 12, the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission voted 2-1 to allow T-Mobile to install three antennas on a light pole as well as a base telecommunications station, which receives and distributes antenna signals, underground at the future Dos Vientos Playfield at 402 Calle del Prado in Newbury Park.

The antennas will stand about 6 feet tall at the 20-acre park, which will be home to three lighted softball fields, a playground and tot lot, a lighted tennis court, a basketball court and two lighted pickleball courts.

There are three wireless facilities at Dos Vientos Community Park at the northwest corner of Borchard Road and Rancho Dos Vientos, about a mile from Dos Vientos Playfield, said Wil Chua, associate planner for the city. Sprint, Verizon and AT&T have each installed antennas on light poles at the community park.

Kristen Watts, who purchased a house near the park a year ago, told the Acorn that the proximity of the antennas has made her consider moving out of the area.

“I’m speaking on behalf of my children,” said the Dos Vientos resident, who has two young kids.

“They don’t know the impact on children and yet they’re putting these things up everywhere. They’re popping up all over the place and people aren’t even aware.”

Watts was among several speakers who protested T-Mobile’s application at the March 12 meeting.

Commissioner Michael Farris cast the dissenting vote. The planning commission is down to three members after Joel Price resigned following his appointment to the City Council March 6 and Barry Fisher, citing a need to focus on his professional career, resigned last month.

Farris said his concerns stemmed from T-Mobile’s application, not from potential health risks. He said the company should have conducted a wider search for antenna placement sites and consulted with local residents during the process.

“There are certainly merits to the location . . . (but) I’m not in favor of approving the application at this time,” Farris said.

The Federal Communication Commission’s Telecommunications Act of 1996 prevents states and local governments from taking environmental effects into account when considering a permit for an antenna.

According to the Community Development Department’s recommendation to the commission, the project will not harm public health or safety because the antennas comply with the telecommunications act, which sets a limit for radiofrequency exposure. The antennas are 240 feet from the nearest residential property, the report added.

Trying to improve coverage

In 2008, the City Council denied T-Mobile’s request to build a steeple and install an antenna inside it at Christ the King Lutheran Church at 3947 W. Kimber Drive in Newbury Park because the proposed structure was not compatible with the church’s architecture and T-Mobile had not explored a sufficient number of alternative sites, according to the council.

The planning commission had previously approved that application, but neighbors appealed to the City Council and the decision was reversed, Chua said.

Dos Vientos Playfield was chosen as an alternative site “to remedy a significant gap in service in the residential (and) business areas near Via Mariano and Via Magnolia,” according to a city staff report.

Of all the possible sites evaluated, “it is the furthest location where we can go from residences,” said Walter Gaworecki of Synergy Development Services, who spoke on behalf of T-Mobile.

Aside from improved cellphone connection in an area with coverage problems, the antennas will help emergency responders locate 911 callers in the area, Gaworecki said.

But according to some area residents, the trade-offs for better cellphone reception may cause permanent damage to their health and finances.

Some argued the antennas obstruct scenic views, sending down the value of their homes.

Speaker Chuck Lee of Thousand Oaks said the antennas’ placement near Sycamore Canyon School, which backs up to the park, could pose a danger to children’s health.

“(The Telecommunications Act) is based on (old) technology,” he said. “We shouldn’t be confined by standards set by the federal government in 1996. We should be forward-looking.”

Lee also cited scientific studies that raise concerns about health hazards linked to radiofrequency and wireless technology.

Children may be more vulnerable to radio frequency fields because their nervous systems are still developing, penetration is greater relative to head size, and they will have a longer lifetime exposure than adults, according to a 2005 report in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Assistant City Attorney Patrick Hehir said the FCC acknowledges such studies but stands by its radiofrequency threshold.

The American Cancer Society says there is no conclusive evidence that signals received from cellphone antennas can cause cancer or any other health problems, Hehir said.

The energy level of the waves is low compared to gamma rays, X-rays, and ultraviolet light, all types of radiation known to increase cancer risk, according to an ACS report.

In addition, the level of exposure to radiofrequency waves on the ground is small compared to the level closer to the antenna, Hehir added. The T-Mobile antennas would be placed 53 feet above ground on a 60-foot pole.

However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified extremely low frequency (ELF) magnetic fields as a “possible human carcinogen” because of its potential link to childhood leukemia, according to Pediatrics.

Three years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District school board adopted the Wireless Telecommunication Installations resolution, which opposes cellphone towers near LAUSD schools.

A news release announcing the board’s view in 2009 said, “There is growing scientific evidence that the electromagnetic radiation they emit, even at low levels, is dangerous to human health.”

“There’s so much unknown ( about the antennas),” Watts said. “If this passes, what are our choices?”

In October last year, the board of directors of Conejo Recreation and Park District approved a $4-million bid to construct the Dos Vientos Playfield on a 26- acre parcel south of Via Rio and east of Calle de Prado.

The news came 21 years after a developer in 1990 agreed to build the park facility and three others as a condition of the approval of the master-planned community of Dos Vientos Ranch.

Under construction since December, the park is expected to be open to the public by the end of the year.

The planning commission’s approval can be appealed to the City Council within 10 days of its decision, Chua said.

The last day to appeal is today, March 22. As of March 21, no appeal had been filed, he said.

Story updated Thurs., March 22 at 10:29 a.m.

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