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Fallbrook residents demand voice in cell phone tower placement

A large crowd of Fallbrook residents voiced their concerns over proposed sites for wireless phone towers in the community.

A Verizon Wireless Community Master Plan was presented to the Fallbrook Community Planning Group (FCPG) on Sept. 19, with six sites proposed for cell towers and two being proposed for small cell towers.

According to the presentation made before the FCPG, the proposed sites will be located in or around Winterwarm, Sandia Creek, Reche, Fallbrook Golf Club, Hellers Bend, and Stewart Canyon. The small towers would be located in or around Gird and downtown Fallbrook.

Verizon representatives and county representative Jarrett Ramaiya, chief of Land Development, Planning & Development County of San Diego, took the microphone to present the Verizon plan. During his presentation, Ramaiya stated he felt the plan is the way to better manage future cell site placement.

Ramaiya explained that once these sites are approved each will be removed from the Zone A70 non-preferred to preferred.

Several Fallbrook residents in attendance spoke their concerns to the FCPG board and the representatives for the plan.

Jim Bowles, a 17-year Fallbrook resident, said the Verizon Master Plan is unacceptable on many levels, and accelerates the unreasonable way in which cell sites have been reviewed and approved for Fallbrook.

“Not all six locations identified by Verizon’s Master plan appear to be in the A70 rural residential agricultural zone that is ‘a non-preferred zone for wireless telecommunication facilities,’” said Bowles.

Bowles explained this disregards zoning ordinance Policy LU-15.1 entitled, Telecommunication Facilities Compatibility with Setting. This ordinance requires that telecommunication facilities be sited and designed to minimize visual impacts, adverse impacts to the natural environment, and are compatible with existing development and community character.

“Ramaiya had said that approval of a Major Use Permit would negate these zone and policy restrictions,” said Bowles. “A portion of the Fallbrook Community Vision Statement stands as a reminder of what our residents cherish. The small town atmosphere and rural, semi-rural environment are what residents most cherish and what they most wish to preserve for the future. Our important values shouldn’t be stepped upon.”

Bob Gonsett, Fallbrook resident for more than 20 years and president of Communications General Corporation and a consulting radio engineer, also spoke at the meeting.

His concern was more focused on the safety issues these high RF power, unmarked active cell antennas pose to firemen and workers from overexposure to high power RF radiation. He also educated the audience on the appearance of these mostly unmarked active cell antennas.

“They are not obvious, like a TV antenna, but can be flat, long and narrow plates that can be attached to the wall of a building, as is the case with the AT&T building adjacent to the Community Baptist Church,” said Gonsett. “They can be conformal like the cell antennas on the two end flagpoles outside the entrance to the Pala Mesa resort.”

“The concerns is how firefighters should behave at cell sites,” said Gonsett. “There are a number of folks who will work near the towers and they should be protected.”

Gonsett explained that various residents and public utilities workers would be constantly exposed to the RF radiation, and asked to see shadow maps from each cell provider to allow for comprehension of the additional coverage needed by cell phone companies.

Bowles stated that people are not the only ones impacted by radiation from the cell towers. He said it was important to protect neighborhoods zoned as agricultural (A70) from strong cell tower emissions because of bees that are located in the area.

“There is a good reason that agricultural zone are non-preferred for cell towers. We trust the bees to pollinate our fruit trees,” said Bowles. “Bees' sensitive navigation systems become confused in the presence of strong cell tower emissions. They are unable to find their way back to the hive and eventually die. We need our bees to pollinate our orchards and we should insist that the cell providers respect our agricultural zoning requirements. There are creative ways to do this and still enhance cell reception.”

Other community members voiced their concerns regarding the cell tower plan, with most emphasizing the need to respect the unique rural character of Fallbrook.

One resident, a real estate agent representing the Community Baptist Church, stated she supported cell towers and explained that we live in a world full of RF radiation. She further emphasized as a professional realtor her belief that cell towers in residential neighborhoods should be welcomed and in no way affect property values.

“The county seems to be behind [the Verizon master plan]," said FCPG chair Jim Russell. “They seem to be in favor of this, and pushing it. They came to get feedback from the community to see what their thoughts are.”

Russell clarified that these plans are not made simply for Fallbrook, but for the entire county. He said the next step would be for Verizon to apply for a major use permit. Before the next finalizing steps are taken, Russell suggested that the county and cell phone company have a town hall meeting with the community.

“Those interested in this can come behind it and work on the details,” said Russell, who said another problem seems to be that the county does not appear to be working with other cell phone service providers. He stated this would be a “fatal flaw” on the county’s behalf if it did not elect to work with other providers. “I’m not understanding why,” he said.

Russell continued, “I understand why Verizon would want to exclude other companies; they would have a proprietary right to Fallbrook. There are antitrust laws to prevent collusion with private companies, but I think this is something different. The Verizon folks don’t want Sprint, AT&T and other guys to get involved in the process, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get their way.”

“They are a public utility trying to provide a service, and there are the two sides of the coin with folks that want it and those that don’t want it,” said Russell. “Cell companies have an absolute obligation to provide coverage. That’s part of the deal when they got a contract by the FCC to provide a service and coverage.”

Both Gonsett and Bowles voiced a concern that the county and Verizon had not tried to gather input from the local community before putting together the plan, but would be interested in discussing options with the companies and county.

“We have to go about this in the right way,” said Gonsett.

“We concerned citizens are calling for a town hall meeting initiated by Supervisor Bill Horn, our elected overseer of community development. Our hope is that all interested parties will come together in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation to reach a workable consensus,” said Bowles. “Those invited must include all cell service providers, all concerned Fallbrookians and all community and county authorities in the approval loop. A win-win solution must prevail in the spirit of cooperation, mutual respect and friendliness for which this Friendly Village is known. I for one having seen, and have been a part of, seeing just such hot issues calm down as all the reasonable players come together in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation and together put our shoulders to the task, make necessary changes and together get the job done to the benefit of all.”


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