Schools leaders push for removal of cell towers

Schools leaders push for removal of cell towers

Michele Ellson
Maya Lin School

School board members are pushing for the removal of cell phone towers perched atop three Alameda schools.

Board member Mike McMahon said the district will scrutinize a trio of contracts permitting cell phone service providers to maintain antennae on top of Maya Lin School, Will C. Wood Middle School and Alameda High School to see if the district can legally exit them, and he and other board members said they’ll begin discussing their efforts to address the cell tower issue in public since they haven’t been able to resolve them in private.

“We’ve attempted to resolve this behind closed doors, and we haven’t been able to resolve it in a manner that’s satisfactory to both sides,” McMahon said during the school board’s discussion of its cell tower contracts on Tuesday night. Board members said lawyers for the district and AT&T have been in talks to resolve the dispute, but that those are at a stalemate.

Parents from Maya Lin have been asking the district for months to remove cell antennae owned by AT&T that have been perched on the school’s roof for nearly a decade over fears the radiation they emit could harm their children. AT&T’s reps have said there’s no evidence showing the towers will cause harm to the school’s students and teachers and that they’re needed to maintain “good, reliable” cell phone coverage in a three-quarter mile area that surrounds the school.

“We cannot eliminate this site without significantly impacting our customers in the area. It’s the best solution for meeting our customers’ needs in the area,” Daren Chan, AT&T’s area manager for external affairs, told the school board Tuesday.

But school board members said they want the company to do more to address the concerns families have raised about the cell towers and to answer questions they have raised about the validity of AT&T’s contracts with the district, its siting needs and practices and its efforts to find alternate sites for the towers at Maya Lin.

“We understand you want to provide cell service. But we want to listen to our families and their concerns and we cannot negate those concerns, and we will not negate those concerns,” board president Margie Sherratt said.

The board’s comments came after a short statement from Chan offering AT&T’s position that the antennae are needed and that the company’s contract with the school district for the towers on Maya Lin is valid. The contract, signed in 2004, permitted the company to maintain the antennae on the school’s roof for five years with four automatic five-year extensions; parents have challenged it, saying the contract term is longer than state law permits.

Chan, who said the Maya Lin array is needed to facilitate emergency calls and high-speed video downloads, said the company has another antenna installation less than a half mile away. But he couldn’t say whether that would be provide sufficient coverage of the Maya Lin array was removed – one of several questions from frustrated board members that went unanswered Tuesday night.

The district has a second contract with AT&T dating back to 2002 that allowed the company to place a similar array of antennae on top of Wood school, but that contract includes a clause allowing the district to seek removal of the antennae with a year’s notice – a right McMahon suggested the district will exercise.

Nextel/Sprint, which had a contract with the district for a cell tower at Wood, cancelled its contract in December and is removing its equipment. The district has a fourth cell contract, with T-Mobile, allowing antennae atop Alameda High.

The four contracts provide the district a combined $150,000 a year, spokeswoman Susan Davis tweeted during Tuesday’s meeting. In addition to that amount, the district renegotiated its Maya Lin deal with AT&T in 2012 to include a one-time, $45,000 payment to cover the cost of playground equipment.

Comments

Submitted by Mike McMahon on Wed, Aug 13, 2014

The existing license/contract for Wood Middle School site has a provision that AUSD to give ATT one year notice to remove the tower. The Board directed to begin drafting documentation to notify ATT of AUSD's desire to remove the Wood cell tower. The other two licenses/contracts were drafted at a later date and do not contain the one year notice provision.

Submitted by Richard Hausman (not verified) on Wed, Aug 13, 2014

After almost 3 decades of study, the American Cancer Society reports that most scientists agree that cell phone antennas or towers are unlikely to cause cancer, and there is no evidence in published scientific reports that cell phone towers cause any other health problems. See http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/cellul....

So, rather than jumping to unsubstantiated fears and denigrating cellphone coverage, why take the towers down?

Submitted by Kate Quick (not verified) on Wed, Aug 13, 2014

What amazes me is that those of us who live next door to the schools who have the alleged effect of the radiation 24/7 are not consulted at all about how we feel - by the concerned parents or anyone else. Those of us who have questioned the evidence (other countries have banned them near schools) have received personal excoriation. I am not saying they do or do not provide ill health effects; I just want to know what the scientific evidence is so I can consult it.