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Tower of Power: This is the cell phone tower designed as a tree. We want to know when this model will be available at Frenchy's.


Bad Reception

An Italian cypress that grew 30 feet overnight on Mission Street is getting a bad reception from some typically tree-loving residents in Santa Cruz, not because of the cypress' Miracle-Gro powers, but because the tree is really a Sprint cell phone tower in disguise.

Santa Cruz resident Stephanie Michel believes the fast-sprouting metal tree is a health hazard that "fries your brains and ought to be removed."

"The radiation exposure travels beyond a 1,000-foot radius and is cumulative and causes a wide spectrum of health problems from headaches to leukemia. Children are five times more vulnerable than adults," claims a flier Michel is distributing.

While federal law prohibits local government from regulating cell towers because of health concerns, city planners insist that at peak capacity the new tower will emit less than 1 percent of the maximum wattage allowed by federal law.

Says principal city planner Alex Khoury, "The tower is a done deal. And given that the appeal period ended Dec. 18, 2001, the case can't be reopened unless some of the 21 conditions on the permit aren't complied with."

But while a 1999 report from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences concludes that there is no significant indication that chronic exposure to the electromagnetic fields around cellular sites has any potential to be hazardous to human health, activists like Michel and Aptos-based Marilyn Garrett (who co-founded the Santa Cruz Antenna Moratorium) dismiss such denials as "industry talk."

Garrett cites other reports, including the Freiburger Appeal, which contend that the current mobile communications technology (introduced in 1992) and cordless telephones are among fundamental triggers of leukemia, brain tumors and migraines.

"Historically, local governments could say no to inappropriate and detrimental projects, but there's nothing right now to regulate where cell towers are placed," says Garrett, adding that "the proliferation of these towers shows the towering power of the telecommunications industry, which is usurping the democratic rights of local planning departments."

Meanwhile, a Swedish report, published in August 2002, concludes that long-term users of first-generation cell phones face an up to 80 percent greater risk of developing brain tumors than nonusers, while the World Health Organization said more research is needed.

All of which leaves Nüz thinking that if a proliferation of cell towers equals an explosion in cell phone users, then more research subjects shouldn't be hard to come by ... though, as a FDA 2000 report points out, "the FDA does not have enough money to monitor the health impacts of cell phones and other radiation emitting devices."

Meanwhile, Levi Strauss denies that it is cashing in on consumer fear with its new line of Dockers Jeans in Europe that come complete with mobile phone pockets fitted with "radiation-reducing" linings--presumably to protect, er, future generations.

"We're not implying in any way that cell phones are dangerous," Levi's European communications manager Cedric Jungpeter said. "No study has proved cell phones are harmful. Our intention is not to cash in on consumer fears, but provide the consumers with what they want. The debate is open. Although no study has proved cell phones are harmful, no study has proved the contrary either," he added.

While there are no plans to launch the line in the U.S., things could be worse in the Cruz, at least visually. City planner Khoury says the cell tower permit originally approved a 24-footparking lot light fixture-type antenna--a plan that then got, um, upgraded to a 33-foot Italian cypress.

"We can only review plans for aesthetic purposes," says Khoury, while Garrett urges people to attend an upcoming cell tower ordinance meeting at 7:30pm, March 4, at 701 Ocean St.

" I hope an ordinance would also require cell phone companies to prove that they don't already have coverage in an area," she says.

Peace, Freedom--And a Good Book

"We're walking up the coast to share information about how it's important to stand up for our civil rights and how the U.S. Patriot Act is shredding those rights," said Durwin White Lightning of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, as he passed through town last week with the Peace and Freedom Walk , which began in Southern California and is now headed to Washington state.

"I'm working to repeal the PATRIOT Act, because as a veteran I swore to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights," said White Lightning, who served in the U.S. Army 1975-80. "I hope more cities will join those that have already denounced the Patriot Act."

While Santa Cruz has already denounced the act, locals are still struggling to deal with its effects. Neal Coonerty of Bookshop Santa Cruz says that the post-9/11 law allows guvmint agents to seek court orders to seize records of booksellers and libraries.

"The FBI could subpoena us to turn over our records. Under the PATRIOT Act, we'd have to obey and couldn't even talk to anyone about it, not even to an attorney or the customers in question," says Coonerty, noting that Frequent Buyers Club acts solely as a financial tally and does not record what customers buy.

Since businesses can do whatever they want with purchase records as long as that material isn't being sought under a court order, Coonerty is currently exploring purging purchase records for customers.

"But until Congress modifies the PATRIOT Act, your best bet," he says, "could be to pay with cash."

Down for the Count

Jack Barcelona, president of the Santa Clara-based Air Flight Service, which took aerial shots of the Feb. 16 peace rally for the SF Chronicle, told Nüz that originally the Chron wanted a same-day 7pm count.

"But when we told them the crowd wasn't even in the 100,000s, they told us to take our time doing our estimations," says Barcelona, noting that his firm got mentioned by Rush Limbaugh when "Photos Show 65,000 at Peak of SF Rally" made Chron headlines five days later.

Barcelona says he's also had some angry calls from folks disputing the numbers and wanting to know how rapidly AFS took the photos.

"The five photos were taken at eight-second intervals," he says, adding that "65,000 is still a heck of a lot of people."

And now A.N.S.W.E.R., which organized the Feb. 16 event, has requested a price from AFS to shoot the March 15 rally, a process Barcelona says costs "in the $3-$4K range.

"At half a million dollars, including sales tax, the camera costs more than the airplane" quips Barcelona.

"But head counts are still less about high tech and more about common sense," he adds, all of which makes organizers of the Feb. 26 Virtual March on Washington all the more eager for people to visit www.moveon.org to find out "how to direct a steady stream of phone calls to every Senate office in the country, while at the same time delivering a constant stream of emails and faxes." And with war set for a moonless March night, find out about a National Moratorium by emailing [email protected].

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the February 26-March 5, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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