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Seniors Protest Proposed Cell Phone Tower

POSTED April 20, 2011 2:40 a.m.

Some area senior citizens are protesting plans to build a 70-foot cell phone tower in the northwest part of Oakdale at a meeting hastily called by seniors, the Community Development Department and AT &T Mobility Company.

AT & T proposes to install antennae concealed in a faux 1850s water tower on city owned land at North Yosemite Avenue and East A Street near the southern end of Cottle’s Trail and the Senior Center, where the April 12 meeting was held.

Seniors expressed concern about the tower’s possible effects on the surrounding residential community and complained they had not been informed in advance of the communication company’s plans.

Many attendees said the project “came out of the blue” and they were hoping for answers and facts. The meeting was attended by about 30 people including Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul.

Some seniors appeared worried not so much about the looks of the tower as the potential, long range, deleterious effects of its radio waves on neighbors’ health and a possible increase in incidents of cancer. One claimed there is evidence a cell phone left on a nightstand within five feet of a person sleeping can have a damaging effect.

AT & T is in the process of negotiating with the city to lease the land so the ultimate decision will be up to the Oakdale City Council, said Danelle Stylos of the Community Development Department. The narrow strip of land involved is already suitably zoned as light industrial so the department was not obligated to publish a legal notice, she said.

But the department is gathering neighborhood opinions and in view of people’s comments that day will likely schedule and publicize another meeting, Stylos said.

The seniors’ criticism was led by Debbie Heinz, manager of River Paradise Mobile Estates and Allison Clark, a resident of the mobile home park and captain of its Neighborhood Watch.

AT & T representative Philip Thomas argued AT & T has raised thousands of towers in northern California for the benefit of private cell phone users and emergency service departments such as police and fire and all must conform to the emission standards the Federal Communications Commission imposes to protect public health.

“It will not affect pacemakers, or should not, they are shielded,” Thomas said of the tower’s possible effect on medical equipment, saying he knows of at least one cell phone tower erected at a hospital.

Some critics said the proposed location was too close to a residential area and a spot across the river on Burchell Hill would be more suitable. Thomas said towers had an effective radius of only about a mile and AT & T had carefully chosen the Cottle Trail spot to give subscribers better coverage. If this tower was not erected there now, he predicted there would be renewed demand for it within a couple of years.

Critics noted “the city is desperate for money” and public officials have previously discussed raising funds by leasing land to radio network providers, adding local police, fire and public works departments could also make use of the tower for their communication systems.

“The city has no protocol for handling these towers,” said Heinz after the meeting, noting Stylos and Thomas could not pinpoint the location of other towers in the city.

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