Commentary: Why Are We Spending 500 Pages and 2 Hours on a Wireless Ordinance That We Have Almost No Control Over?


For the last several months, people attending the local city council and other meetings have been treated to what has ordinarily been a time-consuming but otherwise innocuous side show.  The basic idea is that the 5G technology – and by the way, according to my phone, we already have 5G in the city – represents a “toxic and hazardous” threat to this community.

There are legitimate concerns in this world over the environment.  The impending climate crisis is probably the most imminent and biggest of these threats.  But the degree of hysteria we have seen locally over a Wireless Zoning Ordinance is not high up on the list.

But that hasn’t stopped the letters and public comments from coming in.

In one: “Davis residents’ privacy and safety are being attacked by the envisioned densified 4G and 5G Close Proximity Microwave Radiation Antennas (CPMRAs) proposed for Davis’ residential and school zones.

“Despite what you might have been told by various city attorneys, including Inder Kahlsa from Richards Watson Gershon, the Davis City Council Members’ hands are not tied. The City of Davis retains its dual-regulatory authority, under the notion of Cooperative Federalism that is laid out in the 1996-TCA.”

They add: “The City of Davis has a duty to regulate the operations of Wireless Telecommunications equipment to protect Davis residents’ inalienable rights to privacy and safety. This will require more robust zoning regulations, setbacks (both horizontal and vertical setbacks) from not only fire facilities (as required by CA AB.57), but also police facilities, elder care facilities, schools, parks and residences.”

Everyone of course has the right to raise concerns in the public realm.  But that is part of the problem here.  In December, I was attending the Planning Commission meeting on another matter of interest but first we had to get through the Wireless Communications Ordinance.  The public commenters came one after another making demands, raising issues, and consuming time that frankly would have been better spent on other matters.

So now we have the Wireless Communication Ordinance that is scheduled to take at least two hours.  The staff packet is 557 pages long.

Why?  The length of the packet is due to correspondence.  The length of the meeting will be due to public comment.

There is an irony here.  The FCC Report and Order substantially limits the ability of the city to regulate small wireless facilities.  Basically it allows the city to establish “aesthetic and locational requirements,” and these regulations are required to be “reasonable, objective, non-discriminatory, and published in advance.”

So now we are going to spend two hours of public meeting time on something that the council has very limited control over.

But this is a bigger threat than that.  For example, on December 24, the city received a “cease and desist letter” demanding that the City stop enforcing its city-wide policy governing small wireless facilities.

The letter is based on a recent court case, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians v. FCC.  That particular case struck down an order issued by the FCC “that excused small cells from certain types of review, including federal environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act.”

The letter claims that this decision now “prohibits the City from approving permit applications for small cell development, until the FCC issues a revised order containing new rules for NEPA review.”

However, as City Attorney Inder Khalsa tells the city in a SIX PAGE MEMO in responses to the “Cease and Desist Letter,” she writes:

“Contrary to the cease and desist demands made in the Letter, the decision in United Keetoowah does not affect the City’s obligation to comply with the Third Order and issue licenses to allow small cell facilities subject to the aesthetic and safety regulations in the existing and proposed policy. The City’s action to approve a wireless telecommunications ordinance or small cell policy, as well as its approval of individual facilities, are not subject to NEPA, nor could the City require NEPA compliance in the absence of federal agency involvement. The City can require CEQA compliance under state law, however, it cannot regulate the environmental impacts of RF emissions, which is the primary concern raised by the public.”

So basically the contracted city attorney was forced to spend several hours undoubtedly researching and writing this response.  This kind of frivolous activity no doubt cost the city thousands of dollars in addition to the many added hours of work and public meetings all to support an agenda whose very premise is questionable at best.

In May in the New York Times, William Broad explained all of the problems here: “RT America, a network known for sowing disinformation, has a new alarm: the coming ‘5G Apocalypse.’”  The article: Your 5G Phone Won’t Hurt You. But Russia Wants You to Think Otherwise.

The problem, he notes, is that 5G represents “the vanguard of a wireless era rich in interconnected cars, factories and cities. Whichever nation dominates the new technology will gain a competitive edge for much of this century, according to many analysts.”

The problem is that the Russian Network RT America “aired the segment, titled ‘A Dangerous Experiment on Humanity,’” in covering what its guest experts call 5G’s dire health threats.”

The report is now linking 5G signals “to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease.”

The problem is that they “lack scientific support.”  But of course you can’t convince people convinced of a world of fake conspiracies (as opposed to real ones like the Russians wanting to influence American public opinion) of science and reason.

“It’s economic warfare,” Ryan Fox, chief operating officer of New Knowledge, a technology firm that tracks disinformation, said in an interview. “Russia doesn’t have a good 5G play, so it tries to undermine and discredit ours.”

The article notes: “Moscow’s goal, experts say, is to destabilize the West by undermining trust in democratic leaders, institutions and political life. To that end, the RT network amplifies voices of dissent, to sow discord and widen social divides. It gives the marginal a megaphone and traffics in false equivalence.”

And now: “The network is now applying its playbook against 5G by selectively reporting the most sensational claims, and by giving a few marginal opponents of wireless technology a conspicuous new forum.”

Basically all cellphones rely on the use of radio waves, but RT America is associating the radio waves in cellphones with those at the far end of the spectrum like X-rays and ultraviolet rays which can – in very high doses – cause cancer, among other problems.

However, “the radio waves used in cellphone communication lie at the opposite end of the spectrum, between radio broadcasting frequencies and the rainbow colors of visible light.”

And it is true that “[t]he frequencies employed in 5G are higher than those of past cellphones, allowing more information to be relayed more rapidly.”

However, scientists tell us that, contrary to the claim that the “higher the frequency, the more dangerous it is to living organisms,” the opposite is actually true.  They say: “The higher the radio frequency, the less it penetrates human skin, lowering exposure of the body’s internal organs, including the brain.”

“5G emissions, if anything, should be safer than previous generations,” said Dr. Marvin C. Ziskin, a medical doctor and emeritus professor of radiology and medical physics at the Temple University School of Medicine.

That is not going to stop these people from saying their peace at public comment, from wasting our time, and wasting the city’s money on what should be a 30-minute routine item.  We have a lot of issues in this community from a large deficit and unfunded roadways to the impacts of climate change to the shortage of affordable housing.

Unfortunately we have to use our precious time discussing a threat that simply does not exist on an issue that the city has no power to do anything about anyway.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 thoughts on “Commentary: Why Are We Spending 500 Pages and 2 Hours on a Wireless Ordinance That We Have Almost No Control Over?”

  1. Alan Miller

    I will be standing at the door to Chambers this evening handing out tinfoil hats.  Donations accepted.

    I remember in the 60’s people (very liberal people, now that I think about it) believing that electric transmission wires were bringing great health risks.  Maybe they were right – might explain all the cancer, mental illness, addiction and dementia.  But even if they were, wutcha gunna do about it?  Really, tinfoil people, the only solution is live off the grid – and if you truly believe, that can be done.

      1. Alan Miller

        Unfortunately a small number of people at the local level can be very disruptive.

        yeah, like those darn NIMBYs 😐 But seriously – thank God for this cr*ppy form of government, thank God for the disruptive and the annoying, for bad as it is — this means everyone gets to have their say, and citizens can still call out government bullsh*t.  This gives a voice to the annoying, the disruptive, the insane — but without judgement, also for everyone else.

  2. Don Shor

    IARC (“possible carcinogen”, 2011) + ‘precautionary principle’ + distrust of regulatory agencies/government + bot-fueled anxiety and social media misinformation = local opposition.

  3. Dave Hart

    Sure, I’ll bite since I’m never running for office. There is a lot to unpack in this issue.  Based on your article, David, and Alan’s comment, there is an assumption that there are no valid arguments on the side of caution.  I am not a physicist and, frankly, the electromagnetic radiation spectrum all seems like magic to me.  I’m a devoted fan of terrestrial FM radio transmission, including television broadcasting, as opposed to streaming.  That makes me a dinosaur as a listener and consumer of content.  However, because I am not schooled or very knowledgeable about this kind of technology doesn’t mean I should remain silent anymore than those who are equally ignorant should be cheerleaders for “faster” communications protocols.

    David, you show your gullible side here when you say you believe you have 5G access already.  Please research 5G and understand more about the money and power behind it.  Much has been written.  and of course most of what is written is about increased security problems, etc.  Much is riding on its implementation and hence high stakes, so don’t expect a calm, considered evaluation.

    I’m reminded of the helicopter crash a few days ago that dominated the news.  I have a personal story about helicoptering into a remote area of the Sierra in mid-winter on a work detail and encountering fog on the way out late in the day.  The pilot said it looked bad and that we would have to set down and bivouac for the night.  So not only were we not going to get home to our nice warm beds, we were facing sleeping in a snowy landscape at 9,000 feet with no communications or food or water beyond what was in our backpacks.  We reluctantly agreed.  The narrative of pushing the pilot to fly through the fog to get below it certainly went through our heads though neither of us voiced it and, without waiting very long, the pilot reminded us that he valued his own life as much if not more than either of us passengers.  We set down and that was that.  My point is that the desire for faster communications, like faster travel to avoid delays, is human and understandable, but it comes with a cost.  That is what some of our naysayers maintain and it is possible they may know something we don’t know.

    5G towers will emit significantly more energy which is why they can move more data faster.  They will also be deployed on a much denser network.  If we could view the electromagnetic waves from all the devices we live around right now in the same way we see the electromagnetic waves of visible light from light bulbs, we’d all be a lot less sanguine about what all this means.  If nothing else, we would demand a much better explanation of what it means and we would demand a lot more scientific research to definitively nail down the impacts on those complex chemical water bags also referred to as our bodies.

    Hey, maybe there’s no real impact.  I have an open mind, but I also have questions.  I think we should all have questions and I don’t see why the ordinances the city adopts should not allow for the possibility that we may not truly understand or appreciate all the impacts of continually adding to the electromagnetic spectrum load in terms of frequency, power level and range of the spectrum being transmitted.

    One very important factor, in my mind, that may not be part of the discussion is that there is an unarguably safer alternative and that is fiber optic cable.  But there’s no “Optic” icon on our phones, so we don’t think it’s an option.  We are “sheeple” if we think mega-telecom is providing improvements that have no hidden social, medical or even financial costs.  And if we behave as “sheeple”, we get what we deserve.


    1. Alan Miller

      I actually agree this might all be killing us.  I don’t think the radiation part is (the social media part certainly is), but I never close my mind to the possibility, because societies have been wrong by assuming truth in current scientific knowledge so many times.  The real issue is — no one is going to stop this hurling asteroid of progress at the local level.  The demand is too great, i.e. society as a whole doesn’t care, and attacking our City council on this issue isn’t going to do squat.

      1. Dave Hart

        An argument for getting rid of local government?  Consider an issue like global atmospheric carbon and one notices that most of the change is emanating from local governments and that top down decision making is ineffective.  I concede you have a point about what can be achieved beginning at the local level.  Off hand, I can think of no broad based change of policies that began at a local government level.  However, there a many examples of social change that affects government policies that begin at a local level through social organizations and work their way up to the national and international level.  I never think it’s productive to “attack” an elected body especially at the local level.  All politics is local as Tip O’Neal famously said.

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