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[whitespace] Electric Tower Tower of Power: Will two more planned radio towers put Stroke Center patients and residents at risk?


Hard Cell

It's a scene right out of The Twilight Zone: Alerted by tower messages, EMS techs respond to a 911 call and save a stroke victim's life. Fast forward to the Stroke Center, where said victim is concerned that transmitters on the same tower that helped save his life may now be zapping his brain. That scenario was the concern of protesters who crowded into a Santa Cruz City Zoning Board hearing last Thursday wearing "Don't $ell Out" signs as they challenged an application to erect two more towers for emergency police, fire and EMS communications just behind the Cabrillo College Stroke Center in DeLaveaga Park.

Not to worry, said Hammett & Edison engineer Robert Weller at the hearing: the radiation exposure at the Stroke Center would not exceed 9.7 percent of the FCC's maximum allowable limits.

Nonetheless, public-service communication experts explained at the hearing that the city and county of Santa Cruz need to upgrade their communications systems to handle the mobile data systems coming online. To do this effectively, one of the highest elevations in the area is required. And the most practical one just happens to be where the Stroke Center is located, along with nearby Santa Cruz Emergency Communications Center, whose communications expert, Ben Hatheway, told Nüz the only location that is technically feasible is next to the existing towers, since there's an existing underground trench for wiring.

But Stroke Center director Caroline Bliss-Isberg says the center was not given notice of the plan or the hearing, "so 200 people, including disabled seniors and their families, were denied the right to public comment."

This was "an extraordinary oversight," former Mayor Celia Scott told Nüz. Scott also asked the board in a letter to explain why an approval for a second tower was needed at this time, since it won't be installed for a few years.

Bliss-Isberg says the current tower violates the conditions of the DeLaveaga will and is a "violation of the public trust," since she was told in 1993 it would only be for one microwave dish, while now the tower has sprouted "dozens of appendages, including some that belong to private corporations."

At the hearing, Art Najera of General Dynamics, who, curiously, represents the city and the Emergency Comm Center as well as Wescom Towers (which sells tower space), admitted under questioning by the Zoning Board that 80 percent of the antennas on the new towers would be for cell phone and other commercial uses--and said if these were eliminated, only one new tower would be required.

But he also said these companies would pay the $500,000 construction costs and provide 35 percent of the cell phone revenues and 25 percent of the non-cell phone revenues to the city and Emergency Comm Center--adding that towers would be "stealth" (designed to look like pine trees) to avoid standing out on the ridge line.

But Prospect Heights residents, who live just below the Stroke Center and who also said they were not given notice of the hearing, were concerned about environmental and health hazards. Not thrilled with the plan, the Zoning Board tabled discussion until February.

Sentinel Buy Out?

Rumors are flying hot and heavy that Knight Ridder, the second largest newspaper publisher in the United States, is negotiating to buy the Santa Cruz County Sentinel. Nüz called

Sentinel editor Tom Honig for confirmation, but Honig could only confirm that he'd heard the same rumor himself.

"There's been no definitive word, just rumors and no hard information," said Honig, adding that in the face of this uncertainty, "I'm learning to live one day at a time."

Not a bad policy given that Knight Ridder, which has its corporate headquarters in San Jose, already owns 32 dailies, seven of them in California--the San Jose Mercury News, the Monterey County Herald, the Tribune (San Luis Obispo) and four Contra Costa newspapers.

What KR may find appealing about buying the Sentinel--apart from giving KR an unchallenged distribution corridor through the Central Coast--is its lack of union. Nüzophiles may recall (Nüz, May 16) that workers at the Monterey County Herald have been without a contract for four years since KR took over in 1997 and that columns and paychecks have only gotten skinnier. Upon sale, the Herald fired its entire work force, many of whom had been with the newspaper for 20 years, before rehiring most of them back through a new application process. And the union had to take KR to court for failing to pay severance pay to the 34 terminated workers KR refused to rehire.

In search of "hard information" Nüz called Knight Ridder spokesperson Polk Laffoon, who said he "hadn't heard a thing about it," then proceeded to quiz Nüz about the Sentinel's circulation figures (28,000 on weekdays, last we heard.)

"Fits right in from a strategic POV," said Polk, who promised Nüz to "look into it."

Paradise Revisited

Christmas came early to Camp Paradise this year, as Santa Cruz Service Corps founder Dr. Paul Lee came through with funding for a few more days in the Seabreeze motel for the refugees from the Camp Paradise Dec. 1 flood.

The state parks are closed for the winter, and no offers of private land are forthcoming, so when the vouchers run out, the National Guard's Armory in upper DeLaveaga Park appears to be the one option campers have--but probably won't take. Homeless Services Center executive director Ken Cole says since Nov. 15 they've had an average of 50 people a night, which is somewhat below last year's figures, despite much worse weather.

Cole says that since Sept. 11, because the Armory is a federal facility, a security guard searches for drugs and alcohol, and people must also furnish a photo ID (which activists say poses a problem given that homeless people often lose or have stuff stolen, though Cole says any ID, even if it's expired, will do).

The Armory also won't admit unaccompanied minors, couples who want to sleep together, and people with pets or active respiratory diseases. In addition, people must sign up between 3 and 3:30pm each afternoon for a bed, which eliminates most of the 9 to 5 working homeless. Whatever the reason, Camp Paradisers probably won't head for the Armory anytime soon. Says Paul Brindel of the Community Action Board: "People at Camp Paradise have something better going--a tribe."

'Tis Which Season?

Browsing through the 20-pound package of catalogs that was delivered to our office this holiday season, Nüz felt as if we were fingering the pre-9/11 American zeitgeist. Or are there still people out there with the money and the heart to purchase box loads of useless stuff? Like the dragon champagne flutes--only $139 a pair--with which to ring in the New Year. Or a ball that flashes ($10.80) so Rover won't, heaven forbid, have to rely on his nose while playing fetch in the dark, or the Bart Simpson talking golf-club covers ($29.95)--all bound for a landfill sooner than later.

Maybe the "Go ahead, make my day, push the button!" electric-chair skeleton is a perennial hit in Texas, but Nüz suspects the Adventurer's wheeled leather luggage collection ($875 a set) probably won't be lurking under too many of the nation's Christmas trees, even though it does roll lengthwise to easily fit down airplane aisles.

It makes Nüz and many others more than a little queasy to learn that Afghan refugees have to hike over two mountain ranges, infants and grandmothers in tow, in the hopes of getting something, anything to eat, while we can order boxes of four ready-to-cook stuffed 12-ounce veal rib chops ($115.95) or a 10-pound box of brownies ($98) without getting off our butts.

Alternatively, we could decide to use our money to purchase some refugee relief. According to Reverend Sharon Delgado, coordinator of the Feed the People, Halt the Bombing, Honor Ramadan campaign, two decades of war and three years of drought have made 2 million Afghans dependent on relief agencies for food.

Contact Delgado at 423.1626, ext. 302.

Wag the Dog

Nüz was relieved to read that the woman who registered her poodle to vote is no longer facing felony charges. Wendy Albert claimed she was trying "simply to bring to light my perceptions of failings in our voter registration system." Given that Albert registered her dog with the Palm Beach County Dept. of Elections--focus of legal wrangles in the 2000 presidential election--Nüz can't help wondering if Albert's poodle is named Chad.

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From the December 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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