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Friday, May 28, 2010

A failure of process

Another neighborhood over our way is about to get a bunch of cell antennas on a power pole near homes, and the neighbors are not happy about it. This time the installation is going to go up on a Pacific Power pole on NE Stanton Street west of 24th Avenue. As with the tower about to go up near the Wilshire Market on Fremont Street, it's a gift from the cell phone pushers at Clearwire. The families just across the street from the pole are up in arms, as are many of their neighbors. The lawn signs are up, the flyers are being left on the porches, and the anger is palpable.

The neighbors are making all the arguments: The antennas will reduce their property values, expose them to radiation the health effects of which are not fully understood, make a lot of noise, and be ugly as sin at 90 feet in height. The city is forbidden by federal law from taking the health questions into account in regulating the siting of these transmitters, but it is allowed to consider the other issues. And the city has pretty much decided that the downsides for the neighbors are just tough luck.

Complicating matters just a bit for the homeowners in the Stanton case is that there's a classic old telephone switching station at that location, and it's still owned by Qwest. Inside that building is all manner of scary-looking telephone equipment -- passersby can hear the cooling systems hum away, 24/7 -- and at one time there clearly were cell phone antennas on top of the building. Nowadays there's some suspicious stuff up on the roof that probably is a bunch of transmitters, but it's not obvious what it is. There are usually few, if any, human beings in that facility. If you moved in next to a place that spooky, some folks are not going to be too sympathetic to your complaints about some additional antennas up above.

Unfortunately for the neighbors, the cell phone industry has convinced the city to allow these installations just about anywhere there's an existing utility pole. Today it's 23rd and Stanton and 37th and Fremont, but there will be dozens, maybe even hundreds, more startled and upset Portland neighborhoods over the next few years as the cell phone boys take the city up on its open pole policy.

That so many people are stomping around upset (or soon will be doing so) indicates to us that there's been a failure in how the city's policy was made and implemented. The city held lots of meetings about this -- I believe Commissioner Fritz was at the helm -- and we blogged about them in a minor way a year ago. Did the average person hear about these meetings? Probably not. And of those who did hear, how many of them thought it was worth their time to go? Probably only a few. In the abstract, the issue is not important enough to give up one's scarce free time over. But put a tower 50 feet from your kid's bedroom, and it's a different story.

Maybe the neighborhood associations could have done more to get the word out, and get interest up. But does the average person listen to that crowd, or want to go to a bunch of meetings with them to keep up on things? Again, probably not.

Given the degree of difficulty in getting a meaningful public process going, the city should have proceeded as cautiously as possible. Maybe the cell companies should have been given a three-year or five-year experimental period in which they could install a limited number of antennas for a limited duration to gauge public reaction and increase public awareness of what was coming. The city didn't do that. Now residents all over town are going to stuck with deals of who knows how long -- 10 years, 20 years, maybe more?

In this case, the pole is a Pacific Power pole, in the public right of way, and the adjacent property is owned by Qwest. Are either of those two entities collecting a rent or other fee from Clearwire for the privilege? Is the city? Could any of them had said no? If so, the angry neighbors ought to be picketing and otherwise making life miserable for them, and for whoever else may be benefiting economically from the installation. Protests probably won't change the result in this particular case, but they might send a signal to other landlords in the future that the money they get from the Clearwire types won't come without costs.

In any event, it would be great if the city leaders would put down their own smart phones, stop Tweeting for a few months, and go out and really listen to what's important to the families who make up the backbone of the community. For all the grandstanding Portland does about its public involvement processes, that didn't happen on this issue. The residents who should have known this might be coming, never found out until it was too late. And as readers will doubtlessly attest, this is not the only place in which the city has fallen down on the public involvement job.

Comments (18)

[I]t would be great if the city leaders would put down their own smart phones, stop Tweeting for a few months ...

The problem is no one wants to put down their smart phones. That is why we need so many towers. I'm willing to bet that the people complaining about the towers are also some of the millions everyday who curse sh-tty coverage on their mobile network.

[PS: I understand the NIMBY aspects though. I'd fight tooth and nail to keep a tower out of my neighborhood.]

Cellphones + Bicycles = Commuting Heaven!

FYI, Clearwire sites like this one are for mobile broadband internet, not cell phones. Try to keep a cell phone away from you head as much as you can and don't let young kinds use them, but really... we're putting 90' tall towers in our neighborhoods so people can watch YouTube videos on the go? Doesn't sound like the Portland I read about in the NY Times every day.

Considering what my water and sewer rates are going to be in a few years I might need the extra income of having one of those in my backyard.

The city is forbidden by federal law from taking the health questions into account in regulating the siting of these transmitters, but it is allowed to consider the other issues.

Found this out several years ago when a cell tower came into our area. How convenient for those who benefit that we the people cannot bring up any health issues regarding the siting.

We pleaded with the city not to allow this and asked them to say NO and that they could do so based on a city code. (The code height allowed in the area was 45 ft. This tower was allowed to come in at 75 ft. Have since then been informed that a higher height is safer, however, does not change the fact that the city had the code to say NO) The city would not listen to the Neighborhood Association or adhere to their code.

We are being bombarded with one problem after another with the city policies. People just get worn down with meeting after meeting with no real results or sincere interest in the public good. (May write more later about Associations)

Allowing these transmitters on just about any existing utility pole is - well - my emotions are between angry that those in decision making positions go against the public and grief stricken that there is no place in this city one can live in peace knowing the city can put these over us against our wishes. There is no escape and until facts are known with integrity concerning health aspects, and allowed in the discussion, it would only be wise to be prudent.

there is no place in this city one can live in peace

That is for certain. A once great city that a crew of incompetents couldn't leave alone.

Would we feel better if they were painted green (non enamel, recycled paint). Maybe slap a windmill or solar cell bank on them?

I am more irritated with the changeover to digital airwaves for T.V. from Analog than I am about these cell phone towers. I bought the power booster antenna and digital TV but the reception comes and goes, and I have to still move the antenna around unless I go the roof antenna route. Maybe the cell phone signals interefere with the digitial TV frequencies.

Modern conveniences are so frustrating. Can't live without them. Can't live with them.

No, that's not the problem. The problem we have with digital broadcast is the same with the cell phone communication...clear line of sight connection, with no or at least, manageable ghosting. Ghosting and line of sight was always present in analog especially in hilly areas, but the consequences were not nearly so severe, such as the loss of timing between audio and video when the system recovers, due, most likely, to the lack of time stamping in the information chain. Cell phone technology mitigates this to some extent by the multiple source tower system.

Here where I live, I can only get Channel 8 in the winter. I get channel 10 and 6 really well, the rest is marginal.

Just moving around the room will cause these dropouts. A bad wind storm , turn off the TV.

Your only real recourse is cable, as the folks in the West Hills discovered in the 70's.

A once great city that a crew of incompetents couldn't leave alone.

Yes Jack,
A beautiful City of Roses, in full bloom ready to be picked by those who could care less about our livability. Some made millions on that bloom and what do we have for it?

Were some silent who liked the idea that now their house was worth $100,000 more? What is it worth now and by the time they are done with us in this "debt economy"? In the meantime, we have rolled over silently giving up our livability?

I refused to do so without speaking out. I am grateful to know others here doing the same.

Thank you for the forum.

since there will be SOOOO MANY people on their bikes in the coming years, why not attach baby cell towers to the bikes! There would be coverage everywhere - you'd never be more than 100 feet from a bicycletower. Then, maybe BES could recover some of the 20 million dollars for bike streets from the rental of the mini-towers.

Don't forget Big Brother's need to manage your Smart Meter and adjust your thermostat and don't forget to smile a wave at the next Living Color intersection camera.

get off my lawn!

"But put a tower 50 feet from your kid's bedroom, and it's a different story."

Or classroom....

Check your local schools for towers. Our district signed a 'great' contract for $2K per month. We now have 3G on one of our light polls by the football field. Also, the roof has more towers.

It's for the children...

There's a cell phone tower immediately behind Sandy High too. Like 20' behind it.

Fremont Methodist signed a deal with AT&T to put one up on 26th and Fremont last summer—one block away from Alameda elementary school.

Next time you pick up your kids take a look and remember to thank Fremont Methodist Church for selling out their neighbors and our kids.

One of the negative aspects of these towers is the way the payment to some for placement puts a wedge between neighbors in a community. Schools and churches strapped for cash make the situation worse.

You know, the Telcom Act of 96 that made these guys totally unaccountable to mere mortals is when I first became convinced that we needed public financing for Congress. Say what you like about Portland's insipid voter-owned-elections version, but damn, we sure could use it at the federal level.

Clinton screwed so many people so hard, and half of them don't even know it.

The absence of any mention of the Irvington Neighborhood Assn from this thread regarding this neighborhood issue suggests that the futility of the neighborhood association structure -- vestige of the Goldschmidt regime -- has been recognized, if not taken for granted, by the city's residents.

"get the hell outta here" mentions the deal cut by the Methodist Church at 26th & Fremont. Doesn't the Alameda Neighborhood Assn -- essentially a private club -- still meet there monthly? And doesn't it still serve as an instrument for the imposition of the intentions of the city's bureaus upon the city's residents? Has it ever been a vehicle for the protection of peaceful enjoyment by the neighborhood's residents?

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