Cell-phone tower

Council nixes Elks Lodge site

One of the ironies surrounding the Chico City Council’s decision Tuesday (Sept. 4) to put the kibosh on a cell-phone tower proposed for the Elks Lodge had to do with one of its principal reasons for doing so—that it was within 500 feet of neighboring residences.

The irony, as councilmembers learned, is that many if not most of the cell-phone antennas already up in Chico are well within 500 feet of houses, some of them as close as 100 feet. That’s because the ordinance requiring 500 feet applies only to new towers, not to existing facilities such as the town’s water towers, all of which carry antennas.

Neighbors of the Elks Lodge, however, have consistently turned out to express their concerns about living close to a tower, which they say gives off “microwave-style” radiation. The safety of cell-phone radiation is a subject of debate everywhere, but though the council could not consider that in its decision, it voted 4-1 to support the neighbors by denying the tower proposal. (Councilmen Steve Bertagna and Tom Nickell, both Elks Club members, disqualified themselves from the matter.)

Five-hundred feet is “the guideline I’ve been given,” said Councilwoman Mary Flynn. “I haven’t been here to consider any of these other sites, and I’m going to take responsibility for this one and vote no.”

This tower proposal has bounced back and forth between the council and the Planning Commission for nearly two years. Part of the problem was that two proposals for new towers in northeast Chico were working their way through the approval process at the same time. The first to get the OK was to be sited at the Hooker Oak Recreation Area, so the issue became whether another, at the Elks Lodge, was necessary. In the end the council decided it wasn’t, even though the Hooker Oak site is currently tied up in litigation.

The lone dissenter was Councilman Larry Wahl, who strenuously grilled Associate Planner Greg Redeker about the proposal and its history. In response, Redeker acknowledged that the 500-foot requirement was a “reasonable compromise” not based on science, that the city knew there were no suitable sites in northeast Chico that weren’t within 500 feet, and that currently there are 24 cell antenna sites in Chico, many of them in residential neighborhoods and installed without permits being required.

That wasn’t enough to sway the rest of Wahl’s colleagues, however, largely because they thought the Hooker Oak site would suffice for now—when its court challenge is resolved.