ENCINITAS — A battle is brewing in one of the city’s oldest planned communities, as residents face off against telecom giant Verizon in an effort to stop the installation of a cell tower.
Several residents in the Village Park Townhomes II area of the city are hoping to defeat a ballot measure supported by the homeowners’ association board that would grant Verizon a 20-year lease and allow a bell tower structure with a cell tower to be placed on one of the greenbelts in the residential area. Fees from the agreement would total $800,000 according to a letter sent to homeowners dated March 4.
A handful of residents showed up to an association meeting April 19 eager to hear from Terri Brock, coordinator for the site selection firm, only to find that it had been unceremoniously cancelled. The meeting was rescheduled to the following week without explanation to members. The board of directors did not return e-mails from this reporter.
Ron Flores, one of the organizers, said many of the residents just want answers about the impact of a cell tower in the community, which extends from Glen Arbor to Village Park Way and Mountain Vista South, encompassing approximately 188 townhomes.
“Should the voting members of our HOA decide to allow Verizon to use the property, we are prepared to expand our group to include a communitywide organization of Village Park residents that will focus on stopping the cell site and other such commercial interests from using our parks and green belt areas,” Flores wrote in an e-mail.
“We understand the city will not listen to any discussion that includes a health-related argument against a cell site,” he said. In fact, the wireless industry is protected by Article 704 of the Telecommunications Act signed by President Clinton in 1996, which prohibits arguments of potential health risks from communications towers to be made at public hearings, even if they are legitimate.
Consequently, the residents are buttressing their argument with evidence that property values will decrease as a result of the cell tower. “The design of our community was intended to provide homes surrounded by green areas for family recreation, not for commercial use,” he said. “Commercial structures do not reside in the park areas. Only family recreation facilities currently exist and we want to keep it that way.”
A homeowner who declined to give her name at the meeting said she and her husband would not have bought their townhome last year if a cell tower were in place. She said that health concerns were a top priority but that maintaining property values was also important. “Why not pick an industrial area (to put the tower)?” she asked. “They want to put it where people walk their dogs and kids play baseball.”
The tower would be approximately 26 feet tall and take a footprint of about 20 feet in diameter.
The placement of the cell tower in the middle of the community is disconcerting to some residents for several reasons. “It just happens to be right in the middle of our community and we’re not real happy about that,” said Mike Miller, another organizer and homeowner. He said that while the association board said installation of the cell tower posed no adverse health or safety impacts, studies have shown differently.
A study published in 2004 was highlighted in the group’s recent newsletter to residents. It focused on a group of six San Diego County firefighters who worked and slept in stations loaded with a cell tower. Results exposed neurological symptoms including slowed reaction time, lack of focus, impulse control, severe headaches and depression among others.
Flores said the unknown consequences of having a cell tower in the middle of a residential community are unacceptable. “We just don’t know what could happen,” he said. “Who’s going to protect us?” he asked.
The next association meeting is scheduled for April 26.