Citizens try to restrict communications towers

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GILROY
– Although a specific proposal for a 75-foot communications
tower in a northwest Gilroy neighborhood appears dead, a move to
restrict such towers on a citywide basis in the future is still
afoot.
GILROY – Although a specific proposal for a 75-foot communications tower in a northwest Gilroy neighborhood appears dead, a move to restrict such towers on a citywide basis in the future is still afoot.

After hearing from several angry residents concerned about health and aesthetic issues, the city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously last month to reject a transmission tower proposed near Welburn Avenue and Mantelli Drive meant to provide wireless Internet service in the Gilroy area.

The applicant for the project, San Francisco-based Zinc Technologies, did not appeal the decision. But Welburn Avenue resident Christopher Cote, who helped lead opposition against the Zinc tower, said nearly 500 people have signed a petition asking for a wider prohibition of transmitters and towers near homes, schools and water supplies.

“The threat of a microwave tower in our city is still a very clear and present danger,” Cote said in an email. “Any firm could still apply for such a tower emitting day and night constant radiation bombardment upon our families, schools and homes.” Companies could still reapply for a tower at the Zinc site as well, he said.

Zinc officials had argued the northwest quad tower’s signal strength would be lower than Federal Communications Commission limits – and thus below the degree that could potentially cause adverse health risks to people.

But Cote and other speakers at the hearing weren’t so trusting of the government’s standards, expressing concerns that there hasn’t been enough research on power levels to demonstrate long-term safety.

Cote has spoken about the petition at City Council meetings, and billboards advertising the effort may soon appear around town as well, he said.

However, Mayor Tom Springer said Wednesday the current petition is overly broad, vague and seems highly based on emotions for what is a very complex issue.

If taken literally, the current version of the petition could be interpreted to cover everything from public safety equipment down to amateur radios and even cellular phones themselves, Springer said.

The specific petition requests an ordinance stating: “No broadcast, microwave, or any other form of transmission tower, nor transmitter, emitting radio waves or any other form of radiation, may be allowed or permitted within 2,500 feet of any residence, school or city drinking water supply.”

“The issue of wanting no radiation is understandable, but presenting a petition that is well intended but vaguely worded and poorly constructed is confusing and a problem in itself,” Springer said. “You don’t know what they’re trying to achieve.”

Communication safety is regulated by the FCC, except for some site placement issues left to the city, Springer said. But people probably receive more radiation from leaky home ovens or their own cellular phones than from any existing broadcast tower around town, he said.

“We could never site an antenna in a manner where it would be harmful to anyone because it would be prohibited by federal rules in the first place,” he said.

Cote was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. But in written communications he has acknowledged there would need to be “rational allowances” made for police radios and other public safety tools and instruments, and said he was confident that the town could work through such “difficult questions.”

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