By Shawn Raymundo
City council will consider whether to authorize AT&T’s request to install small cell towers on a pair of light poles located near residential neighborhoods during its upcoming meeting on Oct. 1.
The proposal from the telecommunications company to place such wireless facilities in public rights of way near homes has stirred concerns among a group of local residents who believe the towers will have 5G capabilities—technology, they feel, poses a health risk to those living in close proximity.
In an email to San Clemente Times, Ryan Oliver, the media relations director for AT&T’s west region, said the company’s proposed cell towers will feature 4G technology, not 5G.
“The proposed sites are 4G LTE and will help improve our wireless coverage and capacity in San Clemente,” Oliver said in the email. “We continue to work with the city to find sites that will help us better serve our customers.”
Asked whether AT&T planned on upgrading those proposed cell sites to 5G in the future, Oliver said the company doesn’t comment on future plans.
The city notes that the wireless facilities, or small cells, “typically consist of one antenna and minimal associated equipment, as opposed to ‘macro sites’ consisting of a cluster of cell antennas.”
During an Aug. 21 meeting, the Planning Commission denied the conditional use permits that would have allowed the company to mount the cell towers on four light fixtures located at 2400 Camino Faro, 2411 Via Turqueza, 3018 Camino Vera Cruz and 1101 Calle del Cerro.
Commissioners had expressed their apprehensions with approving the proposals, commenting that “a better site for these installations would be locations that meet adequate levels of service as far as possible from residential and school properties.”
AT&T has since appealed two of the denials—the permits for the Camino Vera Cruz and Calle del Cerro locations—which were initially planned to go before the council for consideration and public hearing at the Sept. 18 meeting.
Cecilia Gallardo-Daly, the city’s community development director, said AT&T asked to postpone the public hearing to early October so the appeal could be considered by the full voting body, as only three councilmembers were scheduled to attend the late September meeting.
In addition to the two sites AT&T is appealing, the company has submitted applications for seven others, which are currently undergoing review by the city, according to Gallardo-Day. The applications, she added, haven’t been deemed complete and, therefore, aren’t ready to be taken to a public hearing.
Katie Crockett, the city’s associate planner, told the Planning Commission that while AT&T’s proposed cell towers will feature 4G technology at this time, it can be upgraded to 5G, “either administratively if only minor changes are proposed, as defined by the FCC, or through public hearing in the event designs have significant changes proposed.”
A number of residents, some of whom attended the Planning Commission meeting, have opposed AT&T’s proposals. Some told the commission that the cell towers would be dangerous to school children because of “harmful radiation exposure” and would also be an eyesore causing property values to go down.
The site of the proposed tower on Via Turqueza, which was denied and not being appealed, is right outside Marblehead Elementary School and the YMCA.
Kristy Neuhausen, a resident of the Montego neighborhood near the Calle del Cerro proposed site, is one of the lead organizers of the group against the installation of the towers.
The group, which comprises roughly 25 individuals, has stated that the small towers are 5G-operable and is advocating the city council to pass an ordinance requiring that such structures be placed a minimum of 1,500 feet from homes, schools and any occupied building.
“They want to put them all over the nation,” Neuhausen told SC Times regarding 5G towers, adding: “We’re just trying to request the cities put ordinances in to stop (AT&T) from putting (cell towers) right near our homes.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission, the radiofrequency exposure limit in place covers frequencies up to 100 GHz and applies to all technologies—including 5G—that emit radio waves such as cell phones, routers, Bluetooth devices and laptops.
Crockett told SC Times that if AT&T’s permits do get approved, the company will first have to conduct field tests to determine the radiofrequency of its towers—a condition of approval from the city.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow The Dispatch @CapoDispatch.