The commission made the decision at a meeting in December attended by parents of children at Larchmont Charter School, which is adjacent to St. Ambrose and whose building is owned by the church, and from nearby residents. St. Ambrose is at 1271 N. Fairfax Ave. near Fountain. More than 700 people signed an online petition against the antenna installation and many submitted letters or email messages expressing their opposition to city staff members and commission members.
The Verizon notice of appeal states that the Planning Commission “lacked substantial evidence” in its denial and that the denial is a violation of federal law. Federal law requires local government bodies to have substantial evidence to justify their denial of installation of a cellular antenna. The law also states that “No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the (Federal Communication) Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.”
At its Dec. 3 meeting, Planning Commission members said they didn’t believe Verizon made a good case for the need for the cell tower, although Verizon representatives displayed a map showing that cell phone reception in the area around the intersection of Fairfax and Fountain avenues was weak. A city staff report said that ” Verizon Wireless radio frequency (RF) engineers determined that the absence of a wireless facility in this vicinity results in a coverage deficiency with unreliable access to wireless services for emergency (911 ), personal, and business use in the area surrounding the intersection of Fountain Avenue and Fairfax Avenue. Maps have been provided by the RF engineers showing the current coverage situation as well as the future coverage with the proposed antennas in place … The maps show that there are peak hour coverage gaps through the central parts of West Hollywood at this time.”
Residents and parents who opposed the antenna installation cited a variety of reasons. Some argued that putting the antennas inside the St. Ambrose tower would harm the appearance of the church, although the Verizon representatives noted that the antennas would be inside the tower. Another objection was that the antennas might collapse and cause damage to nearby property. City staffers said the antenna installation would have to meet city requirements. Some also objected that installing the antennas would alter the historic nature of the church, which was built in the 1950s and has no historic designation.
But the core objection, which was noted in the online petition and many of the letters and email messages objecting to the installation, was fear that radio transmissions from the tower could damage the health of students at Larchmont and nearby residents. However numerous studies by groups such as the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society have found there is no evidence that radio transmission from cell towers can damage one’s health.
Verizon had to seek the Planning Commission’s approval for the installation because current city law requires that such towers be installed on rooftops and not in towers and that they be at least 80 feet above ground. The Verizon antennas would have been 62.5 feet above ground. The City Council can overturn Planning Commission decisions.
As part of its campaign for community support for the cell tower installation Verizon has sent text messages to its wireless customers. The message says:
“Free message from Verizon: Reply YES to this text to show your support for improved Verizon Wireless service in West Hollywood. Add a message to tell the City you support a new wireless telecommunications facility within the existing bell tower at St. Ambrose Church at 1271 N. Fairfax Avenue. Include your email address for updates.”