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[whitespace] Commissioners Meet To Revisit Process Allowing Cellular And PCS Antennas

New commissioners have questions about health

Saratoga--An hour and a half before their regular meeting Feb. 23, planning commissioners sat down, amid sandwiches and sodas, to talk about how the commission should deal with requests from cellular and PCS companies to install antennas in Saratoga.

Two newer members of the commission, Erna Jackman and Lisa Kurasch, had requested last fall that the city look again at its process for allowing telecommunications antennas to be installed.

Whenever a company's request comes before the commission, as required by a city ordinance, the commission can deny that request only on the bases of aesthetics or to preserve the historical character of an area.

According to the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, local jurisdictions can not deny antenna installations due to perceived health risks from radio frequency emissions, if the emissions fall below a certain level. The act also prohibits a city from banning antennas completely and from favoring one company over another.

There are currently 18 telecommunications antennas installed in Saratoga. All have emissions that are far below the safety standards. There are six antennas on the West Valley College Theater building, two sets on two different buildings in the village, two near Congress Springs Park, and six more at other city locations.

The Commission had also asked City Attorney Jonathan Wittwer to research the relevance and the applicability of the federal act, and whether there was any new federal legislation.

Planning Commissioner Lisa Kurasch said that she and some of her fellow commissioners were concerned and wanted more information on health effects. They also wanted a more codified process that would be a part of the conditional-use process already in place, she said.

"Procedurally, we had questions and concerns," Kurasch said. "I didn't have enough information about who was already there and how many applications they were going to ask for."

At the study session, Community Development Director James Walgren said his department recommends that the city continue with the case-by-case process in place now. This requires companies to obtain use permits from the Planning Commission to install antennas for any location in the city.

The process places the burden on the applicant to find appropriate locations for installation and it gives the commission the final approval of where the antennas are placed. Additionally, in Saratoga, the Planning Department prepares an environmental initial study for each antenna proposal that evaluate aesthetics and health issues.

At the study session, Commissioner Cynthia Barry suggested that a better process might be an Environmental Impact Report, an EIR, for every antenna proposal. But according to Walgren, an EIR would not provide any additional information than that provided by the department's environmental initial studies. The commission seemed to arrive at a consensus that requiring an EIR for each proposal would be fruitless and to stick with the process in place.

The commission decided that the city should require all future applicants to present their master plan for future sites in the city. This also would apply to a conditional-use permit for two years. They can do this without modifying Saratoga's current ordinance, according to Walgren.

Russell L. Bentson, a radio engineer from GTE Wireless, and Saratoga resident Bert Martel also attended the study session. Martel said later that he would like the city to do more studies on the cumulative effects of antennas.

He suggests that an environmental engineer take measurements at many different sites in the city on a regular basis as a way to track all emissions from each antenna and to measure the cumulative effects of emissions when they overlap. The city already evaluates the cumulative effects of antennas that are grouped together, such as those at West Valley College.

The commission began discussing cumulative effects, but ran out of time.. Commissioners postponed the study session until a later date to be set at their next regular meeting on March 8.
Kara Chalmers

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