The Coast News Group
Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast News

Encinitas City Council approves cell transmitter, hears quarterly budget update

ENCINITAS — Residents expressed concern before the Council’s 4-1 vote to amend a contract and approve an additional cell transmitter, adding to a network of 21 already in place on city-owned streetlights. 

Even though telecom company Crown Castle was only asking to install one more on the 1300 block of Blue Heron Avenue, five residents spoke out against what they perceive to be intrusive and unsafe technology.

The transmitters, known as DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems), were stationed on streetlights throughout Encinitas beginning in 2006.

Instead of large cell phone towers, telecom companies have increasingly opted to install the smaller transmitters, which are about four feet tall and two feet wide, on streetlights throughout the nation to bolster signal coverage and capacity, something that’s key in the smart phone era, a Crown Castle representative said. Elaborating, he said that the transmitter would improve cell phone reception for local residents, benefiting those who need to place a call in case of emergency.

But resident Peggy Shima, who lives across from the where transmitter will go, said it poses health risks due to unhealthy levels of radiation, and she believes the transmitter could bring down her property value.

“We’re all concerned about the safety of these devices and we object to the number of wireless communication towers in our neighborhood,” Shima said, referring to another nearby transmitter near her home.

Sheila Cameron said Crown Castle should have to justify why another transmitter is necessary.

The lone vote against the resolution, Councilwoman Teresa Barth said the transmitters are an improvement over big cell phone towers. However, she said there wasn’t enough information about why the location was chosen to host the transmitter.

“The need hasn’t been demonstrated to me,” Barth said.

Jonathon Kramer, a lawyer specializing in telecom issues who the city keeps on retainer, noted that telephone companies often have authority over the public right of way. As such, denying the transmitter could leave the city with “substantial legal exposure.”

Councilman James Bond openly worried about the legal implications of declining the transmitter. He said voting against the transmitter would violate the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, the primary regulatory framework for network technologies.

“I know we can’t hang our hat on the health situation at all,” Bond said. “I’m in deference to the communications act.”

In other Council news, city staff delivered a quarterly update to the current fiscal year’s operating budget, which began in July. Revenues were $256,000 more than projected thanks primarily to property tax payment trending upward. Respectively, expenditures were $50,000 higher than anticipated because of unforeseen election costs. Total revenues were $52.7 million, and expenditures were $52.2 million.