Process does not separate significant projects from minor ones

The new cell tower going up a few weeks ago at Idyllwild Inn. Photo by Jack Clark

Verizon has constructed and installed a new cell tower in Idyllwild. It is on the Idyllwild Inn property and is not yet operational.

Learning of and seeing the completed project has worried and raised the ire of several local residents.

However, the Riverside County Planning Commission held two meetings on the request for a building permit. A Director’s Hearing was held Dec. 18, 2017. Invitations to attend and announcements of the meeting were sent to 36 property owners within 600 feet of the tower’s location. No one attended the meeting. 

On Feb. 21, 2018, the Planning Commission scheduled the permit approval. No one attended and only one objection was raised. Consequently, the commission approved the permit unanimously.

Riley Ellis, who said he has been an Idyllwild resident for 20 years, wrote, “… am very much against the proposed installation being considered for Plat Plan No. 25987.” That is the reference to the commission’s file name for the tower’s permit.

Ellis objected to the tower because he felt it would “negatively effect the bucolic nature of the area and the view from my porch in particular.” He suggested that Verizon find an alternative location for its “ugly cell phone tower,” which might also affect access to Strawberry Creek.

But many people who are listed within the 600-foot boundary and were sent notifications of the meeting do not remember receiving them. 

Myra Dutton, one of those concerned about the process, has suggested a change that might help local residents recognize an important zoning or building permit application affecting their neighborhood.

“The county cell tower permit process was very ineffectual for Idyllwild. Notifications were only sent once almost three years ago,” she wrote in an email. “The notice itself was unassuming, white with black print, and had multiple pages. Our notification was only a small paragraph on the third page.

“After a number of phone calls to the county supervisor’s office [Chuck Washington], I was told that they would change the permit process for Idyllwild and issue multiple notifications for any cell tower installation plans in the future,” she continued.

Then Dutton suggested, “Perhaps it is a good idea to reinstate the [Hill Municipal Advisory] Council here that was disbanded a few years ago due to lack of interest. MAC would be notified about any cell tower plans here and then would inform the rest of us so we could respond and at least have a say in the matter. Unincorporated areas, like Anza, Winchester-Homeland and Cabazon-Whitewater have one. It would help, especially these days with so many issues at hand.”

Recently, the newest member of the Idyllwild Historic Preservation District’s Local Review Board Terry Shipley asked his colleagues whether they had addressed the issue since the property is within the district boundaries.

None recalled a formal involvement. And Chair Warren Monroe acknowledged that although the tower was within the district, the LRB’s responsibilities are protecting existing historic resources. The tower itself is new and its placement does not affect the façade of any of the existing structures on the property.

On July 20, 2017, Yun Baird of the county’s Parks and Open-Space Department, responded to a Planning Commission request for comments about the tower. Her reply was, “No comments, looks fine. Thanks for the opportunity to review.”

Consistent with state law, the county planner also directly wrote six local tribes and informed them of the project. The Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians did request a cultural inventory and consultation. Ultimately, the tribe submitted a condition stating the procedures to be followed if any human remains were discovered during the grading.

At its Feb. 21, 2018, meeting the Planning Commission adopted the staff recommendation to accept the negative environmental declaration and to approve the permit.

Eventually, Verizon’s tower may support the new network protocol, 5G. However, Verizon has no operational 5G equipment in California. Its first use of this technology is in Chicago and Minneapolis.

While some people are concerned that the higher frequencies will be dangerous for humans, there is no substantial nor credible research documenting this fear. Currently, both the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration acknowledge more studies would be beneficial, but none are currently adequate to support the fears of its use.

“While there is no federally developed national standard for safe levels of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy, many federal agencies have addressed this important issue. In addition to the Federal Communications Commission, federal health and safety agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have been actively involved in monitoring and investigating issues related to RF exposure,” according to the FCC.

The FDA does monitor frequencies emitted from microwaves, found in many residential kitchens. The FCC also tests and monitors the absorption rate of radio waves emitted from wireless devices. There is a limit, which if it were exceeded, would cause the FCC to stop the use of that device.

Nevertheless, some public officials question the safety of this technology. On March 13, the Portland, Oregon, City Council unanimously adopted a resolution requesting the FCC, in cooperation with the FDA, update its research on the health and environmental impacts of 5G radio frequency wireless emissions.

While the opposition to the new tower on the Idyllwild Inn property has recently surfaced, no one has expressed any concern or suffered health issues from the radio tower at the Idyllwild Fire Station, which was installed years ago.

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