Santa Rosa, Calif., Wanted to Pause Wi-Fi Infrastructure Installation, but it Kept Coming Anyway

The city is finding out how difficult it can be to prevent a telecommunications roll-out.

by Kevin McCallum, The Press Democrat / May 30, 2018

(TNS) — Mary Dahl has lived in the same home in Rincon Valley in northern California for 48 years.

She doesn’t have a cellphone. She doesn’t have a computer. And she doesn’t care to own them, either. So when Verizon proposed installing a wireless antenna on a pole just outside her house, she didn’t take too kindly to it.

“It got my Irish dander up,” says Dahl, a retired child care provider who’s in her early 70s.

She sent a letter to the company’s installer, Nexius Solutions, which was returned to sender. The company told her to send it to the attention of the “Northern California Small Cell Team,” but it came back a second time, she said.

When she called the number listed, she just got the runaround, she said.

So when the Santa Rosa City Council announced in February that it was “pausing” the installation of a network of so-called “small cell” antennas in the city, she was hopeful.

Then a few weeks later, the resident of Monte Verde Drive was notified that the permit for the antenna had been granted by the city, and construction would soon begin.

She was the only one in her little neighborhood who got such a notice, she said. A few days later, the crews arrived and began installing the equipment.

“They said it was going to be high up on the pole,” Dahl said, pointing toward the assemblage of brown boxes and cables mounted on a metal bar 7 feet off the ground on the wooden utility pole outside her home. “I don’t consider that high. I go out my front door and it’s right in my face!”

Dahl is one of dozens of Santa Rosa residents who have come to realize in recent months that, when it comes to telecommunications installations, neither the city council nor the residents they represent have the power to pause much.

The “small cells” are just one piece of Verizon’s network expansion that have riled many residents. The company’s efforts to build full-size towers, including in a new 62-foot steeple atop Community Baptist Church on Sonoma Ave., have also triggered backlashes. Opponents voice concerns about aesthetics and exposure to low-frequency electromagnetic radiation given off by communications equipment.

Wireless providers say there are no credible studies indicating such radiation presents a threat to public health. The three American agencies charged with assessing cancer risks have said the typical exposure from cell towers is well below levels considered safe for humans.

“I’m not against the radiation, I just don’t want a 60-foot tower in my front yard,” said Matthew Mendonsa.

His neighbor directly across Sonoma Avenue from the church is so enraged he recently spray-painted a huge “Stop Verizon” sign, complete with crude red stop sign, on a piece of plywood in his front yard.

Heidi Flato, a Verizon spokeswoman, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The company has said the small-cell network will work with larger towers to dramatically improve high-speed wireless capacity and coverage in the city.

Facing a rash of criticism over the installation of the small-cell equipment all over the city, the city council in February ordered the project halted while it processed residents’ feedback and worked with Verizon to find solutions.

©2018 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.