Monday, March 31, 2014

Schools weigh whether cell towers worth the extra cash

Schools weigh whether cell towers worth the extra cash

Placentia-Yorba Linda is just one of many school districts that are promoting their grounds, often surrounded by homes, as the ideal sites for wireless towers.

The cellphone tower at Esperanza High School in Anaheim is on a light pole between the school's football and baseball fields. The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District is allowing phone companies to put up cell towers on school grounds to make extra money.
Michelle and Steve Adams decided to send their daughter to a school other than Esperanza High when they saw the cellphone tower looming over the football field.
Now, the couple are trying to stop the school district, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified, from building yet another mobile phone tower. The planned 35-foot tower, designed to look like a eucalyptus tree, would be constructed on the grounds of a nearby middle school.
“It’s all about money,” Michelle Adams said of the district’s cell tower plans. “They’re using their property as a commercial rental property.”
Placentia-Yorba Linda is just one of many cash-strapped California school districts that are promoting their grounds, often surrounded by homes dependent on cellphones, as the ideal sites for new wireless towers. The state’s public schools have grown increasingly creative in filling budget gaps as tax monies have fallen short of that needed to pay for books, salaries and employee benefits.
But the deals are raising concerns among parents and other residents about the long-term effects of the towers’ radio-frequency waves on children’s health.
The Federal Communications Commission says there is no scientific evidence to conclude that the cell towers cause cancer or other ill effects. But other organizations, including the nation’s leading group of pediatricians, have called for more studies, pointing out that children are especially vulnerable to harmful environmental exposures.
Rick Guaderrama, Placentia-Yorba Linda’s director of facilities and maintenance, said that AT&T had asked the district in July if it could place a cell tower at Bernardo Yorba Middle School. He said that even if Yorba Linda’s Planning Commission approves the plan at its meeting on Wednesday night, school officials can still back out of the deal because an agreement has not been signed.
“The district is continuing to evaluate the ATT proposal,” Guaderrama wrote in an email.
Both Guaderrama and Eva Behrend, an AT&T spokeswoman, said that the federal government has developed strict standards for the towers that keep the public safe.
“AT&T has been a part of the Yorba Linda community for decades,” Behrend said, “and we are constantly working to provide our customers with the best possible wireless service.”
She said the company has been working closely with the school district and city officials to design a cell tower site that would “help us close the significant gap in coverage in Yorba Linda and upgrade wireless service for our customers.”
State education officials said they do not track the number of public schools allowing phone companies to build towers on their grounds. But AT&T said it has built similar cell sites at dozens of schools across the state.
Guaderrama added that the district is often approached by wireless companies interested in constructing the towers.
The deals have become so lucrative that companies have formed to help schools negotiate the deals.
In March of last year, Placentia-Yorba Linda hired Wireless Development Partners, a company in Aliso Viejo, to negotiate “multi-carrier cell towers throughout the district,” according to the agreement.
In a letter sent that month, Danny Davenport, the company’s president, proposed that school officials allow him to evaluate the district’s grounds for suitable sites for new towers and then promote the properties to wireless carriers. “The goal would be to maximize the revenue,” Davenport wrote.
Davenport said he would charge the school district $200 an hour and would also collect a fee from the phone companies.

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