Community Vision for Takoma ZTA19-07 Testimony

YOUR CHOICE IS CLEAR:

Champion Public Interests – Or Let the Telecom Industry Rule Our Streets

Nov. 19, 2019 Statement on behalf of Community Vision for Takoma*

by Colleen Cordes

Our Health and Safety Is Not Negotiable — Letting cell towers be installed as close as 30 feet from homes is to gamble with our health and the health of our children and grandchildren. Everyone on the Council is smart enough to know that we live in a world where good people work for big corporations – but where the first priority of the corporations they work for is profits, not people. So we’re not surprised that the good people of the telecom industry have spent decades trying to prevent and suppress important emerging science about the potentially serious health risks of radio-frequency radiation on our health and wellbeing. We are not surprised that they are trying to seduce the County into surrendering our public rights of way without a peep, with promises of amazing high-tech wonders to come. What we are surprised by, Councilmembers Hans Riemer, Gabe Albornoz, and Craig Rice, is that so far you seem to be so naïvely falling for this hype.

Everyone knows the FCC is a Captured Agency – But What About the Montgomery County Council? – The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University actually published a long exposé in 2015: Captured Agency: How the Federal Communications Commission is Dominated by the Industries It Presumably Regulates. To each member of our own County Council, know that we are paying attention and we will remember when the next election rolls around: Did you vote to let the Council be captured by the telecom industry as well? This is not a threat – it’s a statement of reality.

What is the Crowd Here Tonight So Concerned About?

  • Serious Potential Public-Health Risk: Consider, for example, the science-based commentary published by Scientific American last month–We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe . Written by Joel M. Moscowitz, Ph.D., who directs the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California at Berkeley, it links to a recent call from hundreds of scientists and doctors for a 5G moratorium.
  • Corporate Welfare, Compliments of Taxpayers:  Corporations prefer to place cell towers in public rights-of-way since they can use our land at cost rather than negotiate a rate with a private property owner: It’s a much more profitable business model.
  • A Host of Other Social and Ecological Concerns About 5G Yet to be Subject to Public Debate:  The sponsors of ZTA 19-07 repeat industry’s hype about the positive potential of 5G. What about its negative potential? In addition to health concerns, critical predictions include:
    • A new world of 24/7 corporate and government surveillance and control.
    • Further diversion from face-to-face relationships with people and nature.
    • Severe pruning and reduced planting sites for shade trees, at an ecological moment in time when trees are more important than ever.
    • Increases in unemployment thanks to a huge push for autonomous trucks and cars and services of all kinds.
    • Ever more biased algorithms in AI-enabled tracking devices in all aspects of our daily lives contributing to new racial inequities.
    • And a big increase in energy use to power the multitude of new connected devices.

Remember the wonders of lead, asbestos, tobacco, CFCs, and fossil fuels? Let’s critically evaluate this new technology before we dive in — not be sorry later. Let’s get savvy. Drop the gee-whiz naivete about the next technological revolution. It’s clearly premature to line our residential streets with cell towers to speed the deployment of 5G. We need wisdom-based, not profit-based technology policies, generated only after robust public participation in decisions about the design and use of powerful technologies. The public should have access, for our deliberations, to a strong base of thoughtful, carefully researched analyses that scrutinize the full range of potential social and ecological impacts — both good and bad. ZTA 19-07 fails to meet any of these tests of wisdom.

And Councilmember Riemer, please stop distributing that canned statement from the American Cancer Society – last subject to a medical review, by the way, five years ago. We know it’s one of industry’s favorite ” don’t worry” go-to articles. Have you investigated whether the Society has connections to corporations that are invested in the speedy rollout of 5G? Did you not know that the ACS, related to other issues, has been criticized for conflicts of interest (See: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/is-the-american-cancer-society-putting-money-ahead-of-mission/) and questionable partnerships with corporations (See: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/health/american-cancer-society-brawley-resigns.html)?

Councilmember Riemer, you’ve also directed us to pro-5G stories in The New York Times. Here’s news straight from the NYT about its new partnership with Verizon involving NYT getting early access to 5G networking and equipment – talk about an incredible PR opportunity for the telecom industry! (See: https://open.nytimes.com/exploring-the-future-of-5g-and-journalism-a53f4c4b8644 ) And here’s more news about increasing links between Verizon and NYT — this one from the Wall Street Journal, which describes “a deepening advertising partnership between the two companies.” (See: https://www.wsj.com/articles/verizon-sponsors-new-york-times-subscriptions-for-high-schools-11569492001 ) Other news media have their own financial conflicts. Have you noticed the full-page ads for 5G from Verizon and T-Mobile in The Washington Post lately? We’ve noticed – we hope you will put the dollar signs here together as well.

Racial Equity and Social Justice: An especially urgent issue – the danger that the siting of cell towers in our neighborhoods will target our most affordable neighborhoods first and unfairly often. This is a pressing issue of racial equity.  Consider the County’s record to date in allowing large installations of cell antennas at affordable housing sites that are home primarily to families of color. ZTA 19-07 would do absolutely nothing to change that, or to prevent communities of color from once again being asked to shoulder far more than their share of the risks to health and safety.

Community Vision for Takoma urges the County to commission an immediate full scale, on-site audit of what actual health exposures are right now at apartments at 7600 Maple Avenue. Those 189-units provide an affordable home to many individuals and families of color. They have a right to safe shelter and to be fully informed. If our County commitment to racial equity and affordable housing means anything, we urge you to make sure a comprehensive, on-site review of what’s happening there gets started this week. That would include a detailed study of actual current conditions, including what warning signs are posted and in what languages, if protective physical barriers are in place, who has access to the two roof levels and the penthouse, and a comprehensive study of radio frequency emissions on top of, inside, around the perimeter and the grounds.

We brought this urgent issue to the Tower Committee this month – after an application to replace some of the 33 antennas there predicted that areas of the roof would register 25 times the limits for the general public’s exposure to RF radiation allowed by the FCC’s way too lenient rules. The Chair of the Committee threatened to throw us out of the meeting. But we’re not leaving the room. All applications for wireless transmission facilities should be subject to a review for their impact on racial equity and social justice.

It’s your choice, and your constituents are paying attention: Will you champion public interests or let the telecom industry rule Montgomery County’s streets? Please, prioritize the social and ecological health of our County: Community Vision for Takoma opposes ZTA 19-07, and we refuse to consent to be part of this experiment.

 


* Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) is a volunteer group working for an inclusive, just, and compassionate community and an effective, responsive local government.  We strive to apply Takoma Park’s progressive legacy to the social and ecological challenges of the 21st century. This version has been slightly revised from our submitted written testimony.

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