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Illustration by Christine Benjamin

Sprint Media: A cell phone antenna by Sprint has been proposed for the Carousel Motel on Riverside Drive.

Nüz

Hard Cell

The Seaside Company has stumbled upon the perfect way to supplement its income--a cell phone antenna. Brought to you by Sprint, the antenna would grace the top of the Carousel Motel on Riverside Drive. Merry Crowen, the motel's overseer, won't say how much Sprint is willing to pay for the ocean view. At a Santa Cruz City Zoning Board meeting on Feb. 22, members of the public voiced concern about "nonionizing radio frequency (RF) radiation," which is what cellular antennae emit. RF radiation isn't as strong as an X-ray, but at high levels it acts like a microwave, causing tissues to heat up. Hard, cold proof that low levels of RF radiation negatively effect health is scarce, but studies (conducted mostly outside of the United States) link RF radiation to ailments as various as sleep disorders, fatigue, memory loss, learning problems, childhood leukemia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

According to Franklin Orozco of Sprint, the RF levels from the proposed antenna will be less then 1 percent of what the FCC allows. The 1996 Telecommunications Act states that as long as RF levels are within FCC regulations, there is nothing local governments can do to regulate them based on health concerns. Even so, boardmember Diane Louie reminded the board that the first sentence of the zoning ordinance lists public health (and morals, strangely enough) as being in the Zoning Board's jurisdiction to protect. "It seems clear that the effects of RF energy concern everyone, not just people in that local area," Louie said.

In the last eight years, the number of cell phone users has jumped from 9 million to 90 million. Three weeks ago, the Berkeley City Council enacted a six-month moratorium on cell phone antennae after Nextel tried to put an antenna on top of a movie theater, resulting in public uproar. Like Berkeley, Santa Cruz doesn't have a specific ordinance that deals with cell phone antennae, though the county is working on one. The Santa Cruz Planning Department doesn't know exactly how many antennae are already located in the city, but Mike Ferry, the staff person on the Carousel Motel case, guesses that there are about seven unpermitted ones and six with permits, adding that "there are going to be six or seven more in the near future." Sprint alone has three applications underway.

Boardmember Robert Bickal, who says he intends never to own a cell phone, opposed the antenna on aesthetic grounds. The motel is already graced by five flagpoles, all of which exceed height limitations. The proposed antenna, designed to look exactly like a flagpole, would be nestled amid the ones already there. Bickal was concerned with the implications of concealing the device in an American flag. "It's a bit tacky," he said. "I'm not a super patriot, but it doesn't seem appropriate."

The board requested additional studies, continuing the matter until the March 8 meeting when public comment will be welcome.

Hold the Corn

Maybe consumers don't have to pay more for organic foods at Trader Joe's, but they could end up with a "bonus" they hadn't quite bargained for: genetically engineered food.

According to Heather Whitehead of Greenpeace, recent laboratory tests revealed that the California-based national supermarket chain uses GE ingredients in its store-brand products--and continues to do so, despite receiving up to a hundred letters a day from concerned customers. GE corn was found in a Trader Joe's Corn Bread mix bought in the San Francisco Bay area in February. The corn was not genetically engineered StarLink (see related story) and had been approved by the FDA for human consumption.

Pat St. John, Trader Joe's Vice President of Marketing says the problem is that GE is everywhere: "Sixty-five percent of soy- and corn-based products in any health food store are made with GE ingredients. If we removed them all, we'd have pretty empty shelves," says St. John, who faxed Nüz the following statement: "We are in support of honest label declarations, but they must be accurate. Today a lack of government standards or standardized testing related to genetically modified foods prevents us from being able to guaranteee what our label would state."

Meanwhile, Aldi, Trader Joe's European-based parent company, has already eliminated GE ingredients from its store brands, and neither Greenpeace nor organic certifiers consider genetic engineering as an acceptable organic growing practice.

New Leaf Community Markets' marketing director Sarah Miles says that as the government hasn't demanded a "GE" label, "the only way to be reasonably sure you're not getting GE food is to look for products that have been organically certified." Miles does not think Trader Joe's has been unfairly targeted.

"If New Leaf tested positive for GE or received consumer complaints, we would pull that product immediately," she says. A believer in the power of market dollars, Miles encourages consumers not to give up their anti-GE fight. "By writing letters, changing shopping habits and boycotting products, consumers can help make big changes," she says.

Unnatural Disaster

Watching the "energy crisis" unfold has Nüz feeling like a mouse in a snake cage. Hypnotized by the daily slitherings of supposedly cash-strapped utility companies, Nüz was at first hopeful that a better brighter alternative energy future was imminent. Now we are beginning to realize the awful truth: We are the snake's dinner.

The Community Action Board of Santa Cruz, recognizing that the energy crisis is hitting low-income, senior, sick or disabled persons, families with small children and those on fixed incomes the hardest, is calling the situation "a disaster, albeit man-made."

Dennis Osmer, program director for CAB's Energy Services program, says CAB been getting 60 to 80 calls a day from people unable to pay their bills. "People are facing a 60 percent increase over what they were paying this time last year," Osmer says..

CAB's Board of Directors has responded by calling for a shut-off moratorium by PG&E during the current crisis. And CAB can assist eligible residents with utility bills twice yearly and help fill out CARE applications, which provide discounts on residential PG&E bills. (Call CAB Emergency Services toll freeat 888.728.3637.)

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From the February 28-March 7, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.




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