What Strobe Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?
by Matt Williams –
County Planning & Public Works Department Staff recently issued a report and recommendation for a negative declaration that supports the requested permit. The next step is a hearing by the Yolo County Planning Commission on December 10th. Any written comments on the Staff report and proposed negative declaration should be submitted to the Planning Commission by December 4th so the Commissioner can review them prior to the meeting.
WSAAC Chair, John Cooluris structured the evening’s discussions around five points:
- Zoning Issues
- Quality of Life Impacts
- Alternate Sites and Co-location
- Electromagnetic Radiation Health Concerns
- Impact on Wildlife
The main point raised during the Zoning Issues discussion was that a commercial usage of A-1 zoned agricultural land is inconsistent with the County’s Zoning regulations. Cooluris further discussed the County provision adopted in 2003 that has allowed construction of low-power two-way communication towers supporting cell phones on agricultural land. The Staff report concluded that the high-power, one-way communication signals from the proposed tower would also be covered by this 2003 provision. After active discussion, the consensus of WSAAC was to recommend to the Planning Commission and Staff that at the very least more research into the zoning issues was needed. The overwhelming consensus of the rest of the room was that the tower was a violation of the Zoning regulations, and the tower permit should be denied.
The discussion of Quality of Life issues contained an interesting twist. In addressing the impact on residents, the Staff report didn’t discuss the impact of the tower on the residents who live on Mace Boulevard south of the proposed tower. Ironically, they are the people who live closest to the tower. Several Brooks family (Betty Brooks and daughters Teresa Tanin and Dinah Brooks) residences are so close that if the 335 foot tower were to be laid down on the ground it would come close to touching both their houses and their adjacent private horse boarding facility run by Dinah Brooks. Teresa and Dinah were politely, but forcefully, upset about Staff’s failure to consider either the human or equine residents of her property. She brought along with her the following handout to make her point.
WSAAC member Terry Almeida and many in the audience discussed the significant impact the tower would have on the aesthetics of the South Davis area, including the scenic vista and the visual character of the Willowbank, Oak Shade, El Macero, Sierra Vista and South Mace neighborhoods. The audience was particularly vocal about County Staff’s opinion that the bright strobe light on the top of the tower would not significantly impact day or nighttime views of the area. Here too, Teresa Tanin and others drove home the point that the report didn’t even consider the residents of Mace Boulevard south of the proposed tower site.
A spider on the wall might have wondered whether anyone was going to bring up the term NIMBY during the Quality of Life discussion. The spider would have been very surprised when that exact term was the transition into the Alternate Sites and Co-location discussion. At a prior quarterly WSAAC meeting, the Committee members and other attendees asked the Results Radio representative, Ron Castro, why the tower couldn’t be located at another site where the impacts on the community would be much lower, and the Yolo Landfill was specifically recommended as a site that was removed from residences and would have the added positive of producing a monthly revenue stream for the County. Ron’s response was that there was only a very small triangle of land south of Davis, but north of the Solano County line that would comply with FCC regulations. That triangle is represented as the white area where the three colored areas meet in the following graphic, which was included unchanged by Staff as Attachment D of their report.
There was an eerie feeling associated with Ron’s explanation. Quite a few people in the room no doubt had flashbacks to the presentations when TANC officials explained why the transmission corridors were chosen, and asked, “How much homework has Results Radio put into deciding on this specific, very small triangle of land?”
In the period of time since that prior WSAAC meeting, the Southeast Davis Coalition, spearheaded by Teresa Tanin, engaged an FCC consultant and reviewed the FCC website documents relating to Results Radio’s application. The WSAAC heard that consultant’s expert opinion and the facts on the FCC website is that a Yolo County Landfill location more than likely can be achieved through the use of “antenna patterning” that would eliminate any objection to locating the tower in the green portion of the graphic above, which is the protected area of a radio station that has its tower in Auburn.
NIMBYism goes away when the reason for the NIMBY position is that there is a better alternative. What everyone heard Monday night is that with some effort such a better alternative can be achieved, and that a Landfill location is a win-win solution for Yolo County and its residents because 1) any residences are far removed from any health hazards, 2) all light and visual “pollution” will be far removed from sight lines, 3) the County will receive a monthly revenue stream from Results Radio, and 4) additional tax revenues from any additional broadcasters who locate on the tower at future dates.
Having exhausted that subject the discussion actively moved to consideration of the effects of Electromagnetic Radiation that will be generated by the tower and how it might affect health and safety of nearby human and equine residents. Lance Stanley, Paul Katsch and Teresa Tanin all referenced US and International scientific studies detailing the effects of radio transmissions on health. Lance and Teresa felt the following 2001 study was particularly germane since it was conducted by the California Department of Health.
Power Lines, Wiring Pose Health Risks
SACRAMENTO, California, July 16, 2001 (ENS) – Added risk of miscarriage, childhood leukemia, brain cancer and greater incidence of suicide are some of the health risks associated with exposure to electric and magnetic fields such as those that radiate from power lines, according to a California health department review.
Released Friday under pressure from a California First Amendment Coalition lawsuit, two reports summarize and analyze a decade of research done at a cost to ratepayers of more than $7 million.
Two reports by researchers from the California Department of Health Services say human population studies suggest there might be a problem from electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) from power lines, wiring in buildings, certain jobs, and appliances.
On behalf of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), three scientists who work for the California Department of Health Services were asked to review the existing scientific literature about possible health problems from these sources. The PUC request for review did not include radio frequency EMFs from cell phones and radio towers.
Power lines radiate electric and magnetic fields. Three assigned scientists, a physician/epidemiologist, a geneticist/epidemiologist, and a physicist with training in epidemiology assessed the literature with the assistance of 10 other DHS scientists. It is “more than 50 percent possible” the scientists reported, that EMFs at home or at work could cause a “very small increased lifetime risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
“It is more than 50 percent possible that EMFs at home or at work could cause a five to 10 percent added risk of miscarriage.”
“It is 10-50 percent possible that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for a small increased lifetime risk of male breast cancer, childhood brain cancer, suicide, Alzheimer’s disease, or sudden cardiac death,” the scientists wrote.
In every instance, they took care to note that “there is a chance that EMFs have no effect at all.”
“It is very unlikely – two to 10 percent possible – but not impossible, that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for even a small fraction of birth defects, low birth weight, neonatal deaths, or cancer generally,” the researchers said.
All of the three reviewers give a degree of confidence of at least 10 to 50 percent possible that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for a small 15 percent increased lifetime risk of adult leukemia or female breast cancer, and one gave a degree of confidence that was higher.
The reviewers compared the size of possible risks from EMFs to the size of possible risks from chemical and physical agents now being regulated.
They agreed that with the exception of miscarriage, the added risk, if any, of even a highly EMF exposed individual getting any of these rare diseases would be such that the vast majority of highly exposed individuals – 95 percent to 99.9 percent – would not get them.
“Calculations suggest that the fraction of all cases of these conditions for which EMF might be responsible would be very low,” they said.
Still, these results were not readily released to the public, according to the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) which mounted a lawsuit to make them public.
Dr. Raymond Neutra is director of the California Department of Health EMF Program. (Photo courtesy McGill University School of Medicine) In late June, the lawsuit was filed in Alameda Superior Court by the California First Amendment Coalition and Citizens Concerned about EMFs, two public benefit non-profit organizations. Defendants named in the suit are the California Department of Health Services (DHS), DHS Director Dr. Diana Bonta, the California Electric and Magnetic Fields Program, and EMF Program Director Dr. Raymond Neutra. The two reports, one a compilation of all available scientific evidence, the other examining public policy implications of the data, were originally ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission in 1993.
“We are delighted that the state decided to abide by the California Public Records Act rather than go through protracted litigation,” said CFAC executive director Kent Pollock. “The people of California won an important victory this morning.”
The reports were scheduled for release in early May, but at the last minute the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asked state department of health to delay releasing the reports until CPUC staff could review them.
Several California Public Records Act requests for the reports were denied. The letters of denial said release was inappropriate because any last minute CPUC changes would become detectable if the reports were released before the CPUC had a chance to review or alter them.
“These reports in their uncensored versions are important to the public because they reflect an unbiased risk assessment of the effects that EMF exposure from electric utility facilities has on human health,” said Peter Frech, executive director of Citizens Concerned About EMFs.
“If these reports were censored for political reasons or delayed until the state of California had bought the transmission grid from the utilities, then the whole purpose of the California EMF Research Program – to inform the public about such risks – would have been defeated.”
The increased risk of miscarriages did not show up in animal studies, the three DHS reviewers said, but “two new epidemiology studies in humans suggest that a substantial proportion of miscarriages might be caused by EMFs,” they said.
Miscarriages occur in about 10 to 15 percent of pregnancies in any case, the reviewers point out. “The theoretical added risk for an EMF exposed pregnant woman may be an additional five to 10 percent according to these two studies. If true, this would clearly be of concern to individuals and regulators.”
But the type of EMF exposures implicated by these two new epidemiological studies “short, very high exposures probably come from being within a few inches of appliances and indoor wiring, and only rarely from power lines,” the reviewers theorize.
“It may not be possible to avoid all such exposures in modern life,” they say.
Seventy-five percent of the women in the studies had at least one of these brief high exposures during a day. Even one exposure a day, if typically experienced during pregnancy seemed to increase the risk of miscarriage. Nonetheless, the majority of pregnant women with such exposures did not miscarry, the reviewers emphasized.
The policy report recognizes four value perspectives. One says, in effect, do not incur costs unless risks are virtually certain.
A second stresses freedom for property rights from governmental interference.
A third proposes regulation in the name of social justice if a small percentage of the population is especially vulnerable.
A fourth, used by economists, attempts to quantify the risk of harm and the cost of avoiding it in order to design a yardstick of reasonable cost-benefit tradeoffs.
In this report, the policy analysts relied mainly on the cost-benefit approach as one that all parties could understand and critique objectively. They concluded, among other things, that:
• Relatively modest cost measures to add protection against EMFs from transmission lines might cost $136 million to avoid 27 deaths statewide over the projected 35 year life of the lines.
• The expensive option, undergrounding of the lines, might avoid 495 deaths over the 35 years but might cost $248 billion. To an economist, how much was worth spending would depend on how many lives were seen as otherwise threatened over the 35 years.
• For distribution lines, those bringing power to homes and workplaces, the modest cost estimates are $234.5 million to save 47 lives over the period, or $5.03 billion to save 1,005 lives over the period.
• Different grounding procedures within homes might cost $200 per home and save 22 lives over the period.
“The PUC has administrative procedures for reconciling conflicting interests and perspectives with regard to the power grid. This is particularly important in the face of the need in California for more capacity in generation and transmission of electricity. State and local agencies develop policy for schools. Since electricity is so ubiquitous many agencies have potential interest in this issue,” the researchers pointed out.
“People will often tolerate risks and not be anxious if there is cost to them to remove the exposure or benefit from tolerating it,” the researchers concluded. “Therefore it will be important to provide information to the public and to develop stakeholder agreement on how to proceed with regard to EMF exposures.”
Don Guefroy, a member of one of the local homeowners associations (Greater Willowbank Improvement Association) pointed out that scientific studies have come to rather conflicting conclusions on this issue, and advised the WSAAC that based on what he had heard in the meeting to that point, health risk was a relatively weaker argument than zoning or alternative sites. The final resolution by the WSAAC reflects that caution.
Should any Vanguard reader want to learn more about this subject you can 1) go to http://epa.gov/radtown/power-lines.html or 2) key the following expressions into Google “California Department of Health” “Power Lines” “Health Risks.”
The discussion moved on to Loss of Wild Birds. The 335 foot tower is 3 feet across and would be connected to 15 guy wires with a maximum radius of 249′ around the tower, which raised concerns about the loss of migrating and nocturnal birds due to collisions, notwithstanding the proposed mitigation measures. No one on the WSAAC has expertise on wildlife matters, and given the lack of clarity in the Staff report on how significant a problem this may be given the close proximity of the causeway and the Yolo Wildlife Area it was agreed that John Cooluris would send an e-mail to the Yolo Basin Foundation so they can review the available information prior to their Board meeting on December 1, and if appropriate forward comments to the Planning Commission prior to December 4.
One additional potential positive benefit of the Landfill alternative site would be realized if a tower there actively encouraged co-location/re-location of some of the current broadcast towers in the area like the one on Pole Line. If that happened then the number of towers and guy wires that can potentially kill wild fowl would be reduced.
After all the discussion was concluded the WSAAC unanimously agreed to forward to the Planning Commission and the County Planning & Public Works Department Staff the following resolution.
November 23, 2009
In connection with the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration Zone File No. 2009-001 (the “Report”) for Results Radio, Inc. (“Applicant”), the Willowbank CSA Advisory Committee (the “Committee”) hereby authorizes the preparation and submission of comments to the Yolo County Planning Commission that are consistent with the following findings of the Committee:
– Zoning Issues. The Committee’s doubt the Planning Commission can properly issue a conditional use permit for the proposed tower on agricultural property zoned A-1 under the existing zoning code.
– Visual Impacts. The Committee’s belief that the proposed tower would have a significant impact on the aesthetics of our area because the scenic vista and the visual character of our neighborhood would be substantially degraded and the operation of the strobe light on the top of the tower would adversely impact the day or nighttime view of the area.
– Alternate Sites and Co-location at Existing Towers. The Committee’s concern that the Report does not reflect sufficient independent due diligence and analysis to conclude that opportunities to co-locate the proposed facility on an existing facility have either been exhausted or are not available in the area.
– Loss of Migrating and Nocturnal Birds. The Committee’s concern that the Report does not reflect sufficient independent due diligence and analysis to conclude that the tower and its 15 guy wires, with recommended mitigation measures completed, will not result in the excessive loss of migrating and nocturnal birds.
– Electromagnetic Radiation. The Committee’s concern that the Report may not reflect sufficient independent due diligence and analysis to conclude that the electromagnetic radiation generated by the operation of the tower will not be hazardous to the health and safety of nearby residents and animals.