WeHo Planning Commission Rejects Verizon Wireless Request to Install Cell Antenna

The West Hollywood Planning Commission tonight denied a Verizon Wireless application to install cellular antennas in the tower of St. Ambrose Church.

St. Ambrose Church, 1271 N. Fairfax Ave.
St. Ambrose Church, 1271 N. Fairfax Ave.

The denial came after more than an hour of comments from parents of children at Larchmont Charter School, which is adjacent to and whose building is owned by St. Ambrose, and from nearby residents. St. Ambrose is at 1271 N. Fairfax Ave. near Fountain. More than 700 people have signed an online petition against the antenna installation and many submitted letters or email messages expressing their opposition to city staff members and commission members.

In essence, Planning Commission members said they didn’t believe Verizon made a good case for the need for the cell tower, although Verizon representatives displayed a map showing that cell phone reception in the area around the intersection of Fairfax and Fountain avenues was weak. A city staff report said that ” Verizon Wireless radio frequency (RF) engineers determined that the absence of a wireless facility in this vicinity results in a coverage deficiency with unreliable access to wireless services for emergency (911 ), personal, and business use in the area surrounding the intersection of Fountain Avenue and Fairfax Avenue. Maps have been provided by the RF engineers showing the current coverage situation as well as the future coverage with the proposed antennas in place … The maps show that there are peak hour coverage gaps through the central parts of West Hollywood at this time.”

Several commissioners also questioned whether Verizon had adequately explored other locations. The Verizon representatives named several other possible sites which had been explored but weren’t consider appropriate because their location meant signals would interfere with those from other Verizon towers.

Residents and parents who opposed the antenna installation cited a variety of reasons. Some argued that putting the antennas inside the St. Ambrose tower would harm the appearance of the church, although the Verizon representatives noted that the antennas would be inside the tower. Another objection was that the antennas might collapse and cause damage to nearby property. City staffers said the antenna installation would have to meet city requirements. Some also objected that installing the antennas would alter the historic nature of the church, which was built in the 1950s and has no historic designation.

But the core objection, which was noted in the online petition and many of the letters and email messages objecting to the installation, was fear that radio transmissions from the tower could damage the health of students at Larchmont and nearby residents. However numerous studies by groups such as the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society have found there is no evidence that radio transmission from cell towers can damage one’s health.

Commission Chairman John Altschul challenged Verizon, noting that its proposal was hurting its reputation with local customers. Altschul also challenged St. Ambrose, which would have received a rent payment of roughly $25,000 a year from Verizon Wirelss. Altschul told David Sutton, a St. Ambrose representative, that the church should consider dropping its support for the tower because it might lose the Larchmont school as a tenant. Sutton responded by saying that the opponents to the antenna installation were expressing fear and anger. He said the church, whose pastor sleeps below the tower where the antennas would be installed, had carefully investigated the possibility of health risks and had found none.

Verizon had to seek the Planning Commission’s approval for the installation because current city law requires that such towers be installed on rooftops and not in towers and that they be at least 80 feet above ground. The Verizon antennas would have been 62.5 feet above ground.

The Federal Telecommunications Act strictly limits the ability of cities to restrict installation of cell phone towers and antennas. “Based on the information provided by the applicant, this is a situation where the carrier cannot locate anywhere else to fill the service gap in its target area and if the City denies the carrier the ability to construct the facility on this site, the applicant can argue that the denial prohibits it from providing wireless service in contravention of federal law,” said a report from the city’s Department of Community Development. “Under these circumstances, federal law would preempt the City from applying the eighty-foot requirement and the City must allow the applicant to erect the facility at the subject location…”

It is unclear whether Verizon Wireless will appeal the Planning Commission’s decision.

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Kimura
Kimura
4 years ago

The Planning commission made a decision based on what was presented to them. I was present at the hearing and I don’t recall anyone other than the church representative being in favor of this tower. The commission did not deny Verizon’s request based on potential effects of radio frequency emissions. Commission denied the request because Verizon went in expecting a bunch of angry neighbors and parents screaming about the potentials of RF exposure and instead they got a well organized opposition that contended the following: Verizon had not sufficiently demonstrated an actual current need for extended coverage in the area… Read more »

Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
4 years ago

The Planning Commission had two area’s to discuss; seismic stability and aesthetics’ after the cell-towers were installed. During the applicant’s presentation, the Chair continuously interrupted and feed into the crowds fear, anger and uninformed effects and safety of this installation at the location designated. A unanimous vote was arrived erroneously, in my opinion, to deny staffs recommendation behind smoke and mirror of aesthetics. The American Cancer Society position on cell-towers’ is: “Public exposure to radio waves from cell phone tower antennas is slight for several reasons. The power levels are relatively low, the antennas are mounted high above ground level,… Read more »

Tom Smith
Tom Smith
4 years ago

Oh no, the cell tower radiation will turn my kids into the X-Men!!!

PeteP
PeteP
4 years ago

While I recognize that the Planning Commission needs to be responsive to people in the community, they also need to be the adults in the room and do the right thing. The crazies have been going on for years about cell towers, power lines, etc. and study after study proves them wrong. This proposal sounds to me like they bent over backwards to deal with the aesthetic issues. There was no real reason to deny this other than to appeal to the crowd in the room. If you can’t stand up and do the obviously right thing in the face… Read more »

Rick Watts
Rick Watts
4 years ago

So the NIMBYs and tin-foil-hat crowd managed to drown out good science and engineering and common sense for the common good again. By nature I’m skeptical of big business, but I hope Verizon sues over this one. And–no–I’m not a Verizon customer. But as an AT&T customer I had enough experience with dropped calls in the area a few years back to sympathize with those who are, and to acknowledge the need to fill in these pockets of bad signal–for area residents, for passers-through, and for public services including emergency first responders like police, fire and medical. And Jon’s point… Read more »

jon
jon
4 years ago

this is nothing more than a reverse NIMBY (not in my back yard). My mother had one installed on her property and all the neighbors sued because they wanted it on their property or at least some of the money. She gets over $50,000. a year for her tower in Temecula which looks like a palm tree. The Pastor at St. Ambrose who sleeps below where the tower was going said it was fine. Imagine all the people they could feed with that $25,000. The people who signed the petition would love nothing more than to have a tower on… Read more »

Michael Azarian
4 years ago

The commission must not realize that Verizon service sucks on Sweetzer south of Fountain.