Listening to the public is perhaps the most important responsibility of local policy makers. When this fails to occur, badly written, unpopular laws are passed, and local knowledge is squandered.
While telecommunications industry executives from AT&T, Verizon, PSREC, Digital Path and others have spent dozens of hours at Planning Commission meetings, influencing commissioners and shaping the draft Telecommunications Ordinance to suit their own motives, members of the public have had to struggle simply for their right to be heard on critical issues related to health and safety.
The Brown Act requires local governments to “provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the body concerning any item described in a notice of meeting.” They “may not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs or services of the body, or the acts or omissions of the body.”
The following is transcribed from official video of one of the early workshops Plumas County Planning Commission held on the telecom ordinance October 5th, 2017:
Planning Director Randy Wilson (RW): OK It’s just about noon
Josh Hart (JH): So there are members of the public who have been waiting patiently for 2 hours to speak…
Plumas District 1 Supervisor Michael Sanchez (MS): Mr. Chairperson, I would like that we move along to agenda item….seven.
JH: Excuse me, there are members of the public here who would like to make a comment on the telecommunications ordinance, and they have a right to do so.
MS: The members of the public has had a lot of opportunities to speak… so we’re trying to get an ordinance done, you’re going to have a chance to speak…you’ve spoken…
JH: It’s not me who wants to speak, it’s my friend here…
MS: …No, you have spoken sir. What I’m saying is that you’ve been given, this board has been very lenient on I think, rebuttals at an inopportune time. The time for rebuttal is after this draft gets done, and it goes to the public hearing process.
JH: This is a workshop where the public is entitled to come in and feedback… Not just industry.
RW: …Mr. Chair, staff has limitations. We have a meeting at 1 pm
Commissioner Robert Abbott (RA): Can we have a motion to adjourn?
JH: Excuse me, there is a member of the public here who’d like to speak, and I’d like to please make some time for that. She came all this way from her home in Cromberg. She wants to speak about the telecommunications ordinance. Please give her some time to do this.
MS: I would suggest you could have given her a time to speak by keeping your mouth closed.
RA: We did give you a time to speak.
JH (to MS): You need to respect me.
MS: I do respect you.
JH: By telling me I need to keep my mouth closed…? This is Alethea — she’d like to say a few words..
MS: I spoke to this young lady when she came in, and I told Alethea that she would have an opportunity to speak…
JH: Great, then stop trying to stop her from speaking.
MS: Sir, you are very rude.
Commissioner Larry Williams: I’m leaving.
Alethea Garcia-Romero (AG) (meekly): May I speak? Is that possible?
RA: You had an opportunity to speak..
AG (starting to speak anyway): I’ve never been to one of these things before so I wasn’t sure when I was allowed to speak or not, and I was just hoping I could tell you about my experience being affected by cell towers and cell phones etc. I’m not here to take up a bunch of your time and I don’t want to argue with any of you — that’s not my intent. What I’m saying is that I have physical pain from this and I have burning in my head and I have vision problems and I have been looking for a home for 10 years… [Plumas County] is the only place I have found where I can just—be.
There are plenty of people in this area who tell me that they [have] burning in their head, or…knotting in their legs or have heart palpitations at night at 2 am… I am hearing this more and more… I ask you to think about little kids in school, and mothers and children. It just seems like insanity to me… ”
Although Ms. Garcia Romero was eventually able to speak, it’s not right that the public should have to fight so hard to make a brief comment protected by law. When members of the public take time out of their lives to comment to local boards and commissions, they are entitled to the respect of officials who—after all—work for us.
The implications of ignoring evidence and public feedback are serious. Many scientists and doctors are increasingly alarmed by the worsening global epidemic of human disease and DNA damage caused by wireless microwave radiation. The U.S. National Toxicology Program, in a recent $30 million federal study, found “clear evidence” of heart and brain cancer from the radiation emitted by cell phones, towers, and wi-fi routers. This study underlines the need to shift to wired internet that emits zero microwave radiation, especially around children.
Another key issue for our rural communities is affordability. When low income Plumas residents are being gouged, paying $125 or more per month for marginal “tree-internet” service, County leaders need to do more than sit back and allow the industry to write our laws for us.
Plumas County Supervisors will soon review the Planning Commission’s pro-industry draft telecom ordinance that came out of this flawed process. Plumas Residents for Safer (Wired) Telecommunications, formed to represent the public’s interest, urges Supervisors to review what other areas have done to protect their neighborhoods and adopt an ordinance with reasonable requirements that the telecom industry must follow in Plumas County, such as:
Public notification and hearings for all new Wireless Transmission Facilities (WTF’s). The current draft requires no public notification.
1500 foot setbacks from residential neighborhoods (for both large and small WTFs). The current draft allows cell towers on any utility pole, even in residential neighborhoods.
Limit cell tower height to 100 feet.
Regulate all WTFs including those under 35 feet, in the Timberland Production Zone (TPZ), and those set up for “news events,” all left unregulated in the draft.
Require an engineer’s safety report that any WTF will not blow down in high winds and cause wildfires, as occurred in Malibu in 2007 causing $14 million in damage.
Require that landowners consent to any installation of equipment on their property. The current draft would not require owner consent for WTFs on private land.
Prioritize safer, wired internet at an affordable rate for all of Plumas County “5G”, a higher frequency microwave wireless system based on thousands of “small, streetpole mounted cell towers, is already appearing in Sacramento and elsewhere, despite serious health and environmental risks. Mill Valley, Petaluma, Sebastopol and other local governments are prohibiting “small cells” from neighborhoods to protect residents. In contrast, Plumas Planning Commissioners essentially shrugged, allowing 35-foot towers anywhere in the County without a Special Use Permit—including 10 feet from your home
It was notable that neither Supervisor Sanchez, whose job it is to oversee the telecom ordinance process, nor his friends in the industry, bothered to attend the only public hearing on the ordinance last month. A “public” planning process largely closed off to the public has resulted in a draft ordinance that would legislate the public out of the telecommunications planning process, if approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Cell tower building applications would be reviewed behind closed doors by a “zoning administrator.” Wildfire-sparking cell sites and noisy equipment could be installed on your private land without so much as a hearing, lowering your property values by 20 percent or more. Ugly industrial equipment would tower over our mountaintops, putting raptors, aviation and scenic vistas at risk. Do you support this?
Contact the Board at (530) 283-6170 or 520 Main St. Rm. 309. Quincy 95971. Tell them to listen to public comment (unanimously opposed to the draft ordinance at the October 18th public hearing), hold the telecommunications industry accountable, and give us a new ordinance that does what is says: “protect the safety, health and welfare of the public.”
Josh Hart has a Masters Degree in Planning, lives in Portola and is Coordinator of Plumas Residents for Safer (Wired) Telecommunications and director of StopSmartMeters.org. You can contact him at [email protected]. Video of the 10/5/17 Planning Commission meeting can be viewed online (if you have a fast enough connection!) at StopSmartMeters.org/plumas .