May 9, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Representatives of the Ventura County Planning Division were disappointed by the low attendance at a Tuesday night workshop, which was designed to get public input to develop design standards for wireless communication facilities in Ventura County.
“We were happy that we could spend so much time speaking with the folks who did attend,” said Rosemary Rowan, the county’s long-range planning manager. “However, we were disappointed with the low turnout.”
Until recently, there have been no county-wide standards for wireless communication facilities, or cell phone towers. As wireless companies seek to expand and improve their coverage areas, the number of permit applications for these facilities has increased significantly in the past few years; so, last November, the Ventura County’s Board of Supervisors voted to remedy that.
A series of Planning Department workshops were scheduled to get public involvement and feedback on what criteria ought to be included in the ordinance.
A group who did attend, left upon learning the county was seeking input only on aesthetic matters — such as preferred sites for facilities and antenna design — with no criteria for health and safety issues designated within the ordinance being drafted.
“I can’t participate in this. It doesn’t address the most important issue at all, which is the health and safety aspects of the facilities,” said Ojai resident Sasha Leiterman at the workshop.
“When a facility goes up, what we should have is a meter telling the public exactly how much EMF (electromagnetic frequency) radiation is at that facility,” contributed Ojai resident Shalom Joshua. “It should be intelligible to laymen why this is such a real concern to so many.”
“The people who spoke here tonight are concerned with the health issues of these (facilities). These issues are real,” summed up Upper Ojai resident Bruce Garber. “There have been more and more authoritative documents coming out showing this. The main thing is that we (the public) don’t know enough. But we do know, there is a World Health Organization study showing measurably and definitively that as EMF increases, there is also an increase in rates of cancer.”
“When it comes to EMF, we are prohibited from addressing those issues at all,” responded Rowan. “We do hear and understand your concerns.”
“You don’t have jurisdiction when it comes to frequency issues, I understand and appreciate that,” replied Municipal Advisory Committee chairman Todd Wilson.
Canoga Park resident Phil Shiver urged county officials to approve all permits and to not restrict air rights or land rights in any way.
“These people are trying to put us into Hitler’s rule,” said Shiver.
While the city of Ojai does have established standards for these facilities, county officials sought guidance from the public for the rest of the county on issues such as height restriction for antennae, whether one tall antenna or an array of smaller ones was preferable, whether facilities should be allowed on ridgelines or built below, whether the public preferred “stealth” or “non-stealth” facilities. For example, certain antennae can be concealed under a new roof addition or behind a wall, blending in with architecture. There are also those designed to look like various types of trees, or false water towers.
County employees gave remaining meeting attendees green and red stickers to place next to examples of designs and sites illustrated on posters around the room that they approved or disapproved, respectively. Shiver and Wilson participated, while Garber elected to limit his participation to writing comments in the spaces allotted to that end.
Currently, the Ojai Valley has approximately 20 approved permits for wireless facilities, the majority of which are strewn along Creek Road and clustered around Highway 150 through Upper Ojai. While the county keeps track of approved permits, Rowan cautioned that an approved permit does not always result in a completed facility; projects may fail due to lack of funding or the whim of a corporation.
A list of sites of the existing facilities in the unincorporated Ojai Valley is not available through the county.
The next public workshop for this ordinance is scheduled for May 14 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the multi-purpose room at the Ventura County Administration Building, 800 S. Victoria Ave. in Ventura.
Visit www.ventura.org/rma/planning for more information.