Updated October 12 with a victory for the neighbors, on the next page. A mini-rebellion is brewing in one Los Angeles neighborhood against plans to construct an AT&T cell-phone tower on top of a condominium, even though the site, which borders Beverly Hills, was not approved by zoning officials.
Those living within walking distance of the proposed site, which is located at 125 North Doheny, in Los Angeles, have been knocking on doors, gathering petitions and confronting city officials about the wireless tower, which they say unnecessarily exposes them, their neighbors and their loved ones to harmful cell phone radiation.
"My grandma lives close by and there are children" in the neighborhood, said Rick Heller, has been leading the opposition. Here's why:
"I'm concerned for them."
Heller, a 36-year-old former director of development for Interscope Pictures who is currently a self-employed independent television and film producer, said he's no activist but was compelled to act after he saw notices about the proposed tower go up about a month ago.
Since then, Heller has been recruiting neighbors and friends to campaign against the plan.
Among them is 62-year-old Rosalie Rubaum, who manages an apartment complex close to the condominium. After speaking to Heller, she collected 50 signatures from building residents who were against the cell phone tower.
"Why are they building this in a residential area?" she asked. "I'm really concerned about the health risks."
Heller, who lives a few buildings away from the proposed site, thought it was irresponsible for the phone company to be building near such a densely populated neighborhood that is filled with pregnant moms, children and senior citizens.
"It really freaked me out," he said, adding that the site is a stone's throw away from two grocery stores and a hospital. "I don't want to get cancer."
Heller and Rubaum have been reaching out to city officials but felt they have been rebuffed from local leaders.
As one example, Rubaum said that she got into a heated exchange with Chris Koontz, planning deputy with Paul Koretz's office. According to Rubaum, Koontz told her she should "throw her cell phone away" if she was really concerned about the health risks.
Koretz's office denied that Koontz, who is currently on vacation, made such a statement.
Heller said that Los Angeles Planning Commission officials have not been that helpful either.
An audio of the planning commission's Sept. 28 meeting to discuss an appeal granting the phone company rights to build the cell phone tower, reveals that Rubaum's 50 signatures opposing the tower were mysteriously left out of the discussion.
Yet at same time, planning commission officials mentioned that AT&T collected signatures from residents who approved the plan.
"This was a done deal," said Rubaum. "They were giving the public lip service."
Aside from feeling ignored by the city leaders, Heller and Rubaum were confounded by the fact that city officials having been barring any mention of the health risks from cell phone towers during planning commission meetings.
That's because the Federal Communications Commission, which has jurisdiction over the matter, pre-determined that most cell phone towers are safe.
"The commission rolled over," balked Heller. "It was just ridiculous."
Residents will have to wait until Oct. 12 for the planning commission to vote on the appeal. But already, planning commissioner Susan Whisnant thinks the appeal will be a slam dunk for AT&T.
"There is a general consensus to grant the appeal," she said, explaining that the phone company has fulfilled its requirements for an appeal, that included coming up with plans for a more aesthetically pleasing site and demonstrating need for added cell phone coverage.
However, not every is convinced the appeal should go forward.
In a letter to planning commissioners, 5th District councilman Paul Koretz announced his opposition to the proposed plan.
"In light of the residential location, height, unsightly nature and outpouring of community concern," he wrote, "we are writing in opposition to the wireless facility located at 125 North Doheny. This location was correctly denied by the Zoning Administrator and we ask that you affirm that decision."
Meanwhile Heller, who has since gotten an additional 80 signatures from residents opposing the tower's construction, plans to continue his campaign.
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"The best case scenario is to move (the cell phone tower) to where people don't eat or sleep," he said. No one knows for sure what may come of the next meeting when planning officials will vote on the appeal.
But as revealed by the recent neighborhood victory in Northridge, where active and aware residents stopped a cell phone tower that was also considered a "done deal" from being erected in a quiet residential area, sometimes the little guys do win after all.
According to Heller, sent via his Blackberry on Tuesday evening to the Weekly, "Friends, Neighbors and Colleagues, ... The Planning Commission did a 180, and denied the appeal. We won!!!! Now I can focus on work and family again....Glad its over!!!"