September 2019

Orange asks for more data on safety of next- generation cell phone system emissions

The Orange City Council deferred a vote to allow more cell phone equipment to be installed on city property when Councilwoman Kim Nichols pulled two items from the consent calendar during the Aug. 13 meeting.

Items that appear on the consent calendar are normally routine “housekeeping” matters, approved by a single vote without discussion. Nichols pulled the two cell system items, asking that the vote be delayed until city staff could provide more information on their potential impacts to public safety.  

“What do we know about the safety of cell towers?” Nichols asked. “Do we know what we can and cannot do? It’s important to provide technological support, but also a good idea to see what other cities are doing. We know that 5G, 6G, 7G is on the horizon, but none of us know what that looks like. Should we be putting in ordinances to define limits? Should we have something in place so we have parameters for the future?”

From pole to pole
AT&T currently has an agreement with the city to house 30 small cell units on streetlight poles. The agenda item Nichols pulled would have allowed AT&T to install an unlimited number of small cell equipment boxes on poles throughout the city. 

Verizon currently has a small cell system mounted on a light pole on Jamboree Road near the Tustin border. That agreement expires in 2023, and Verizon is asking for a 20-year extension.

Both AT&T and Verizon pay annual attachment fees to the city.

Councilman Mike Alvarez noted that these cell systems emit the same electronic frequencies as power lines, only power lines are much higher off the ground. Alvarez asked if the city had done any studies on those emissions. The answer was “no,” but the FCC, he was told, requires documentation with every application, and the city relies on that.  

Alvarez turned to an AT&T representative to find out if emissions from a cell system on a light pole would reach him if he was standing at its base. “Yes, of course,” was the answer. The intent is to provide radio frequency transmission to reach users on the street.

Need to know
A half-dozen residents joined the conversation during the public comment period. All agreed that the city should delay approvals until it did more research and had an ordinance in place to prepare for future demands. One speaker asked that the city do independent research, instead of relying on industry studies. Another noted that current standards are based on 1996 technology, long before cell phones became omnipresent.

A medical doctor described the negative physical effects that could result from radio frequency exposure, and reported that several European countries and some cities in America have rejected 5G towers all together.

“The wireless industry is using Orange as a laboratory,” a resident insisted. “There is a lack of scientific research; the systems are untested.”

“We need to hear from staff, we need an ordinance,” Kim Nichols summarized. “We need to create a vision for what our technological future looks like.”

The council voted unanimously to defer the issue until city staff could conduct a thorough study.