Living Under Cell Phone Towers. How Did This Happen?

FEB18cellIn an apartment located at Lafayette Place, on the southwest corner of Crenshaw and Venice Boulevards, next to KFC and Taco Bell, 1-bedroom apartments rent for $1850 a month. The units are newly renovated, with a pool and underground parking on site and… 20 wireless network antennas concealed in awkward boxes along the exterior walls and in false “penthouses” - the boxes sitting on top of the building.

When Haskell Iny, a multimillionaire from Las Vegas, purchased the property in 2015, he promptly evicted all the long-term residents, including the elderly and veterans, many of whom received section 8 housing benefits. After quick renovations, Mr. Iny raised the rent and negotiated additional leases on his building with Verizon and T-Mobile.  “Vertical” real estate as it’s known in the telecom industry. Cellular antennas.

The property is zoned as R3-1, which is a mixed residential status. In 2000, there was a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) granted to Pac-Bell to install a wireless facility on the building, with the stipulation that it be completed by 2003 or the permit would be “null and void.” Nothing happened and the permit expired.

Then in December 2015, Verizon presented an application to the Zoning Administration (ZA) for a new wireless facility, with 12 antennas that would extend from the roof of the apartment building. The plan was to piggyback onto the Pac-Bell CUP from 2000 because once a permit is granted to one telecom company, others can simply “co-locate” without the very arduous city approval process. They can add antennas to that site as a “co-location” - no matter the size or scope of the project - without having to notify or go through due process with adjacent homeowners or schools.

But the original permit was null and void, so Verizon either wasn't aware of or just ignored the lapsed permit from 2000. We are guessing option 2.

Neither Johnnie Cochran Middle School, which is within 500 feet of the location, nor the homeowners in the adjacent, historic Lafayette Square community received official notice about Verizon’s public hearing before the ZA. Prior to that hearing, the Lafayette Square Association board members got wind and submitted a letter to the ZA requesting more information, notice and consultation with Verizon regarding their plans. 

At the public hearing, the ZA hearing officer appeased the community and extended the consideration period for two more weeks and strongly suggested (didn’t require) Verizon to go back and consult with both the surrounding community and the HPOZ (Historic Preservation Overly Zone).  Two Reps from Councilman Wesson’s office spoke on record opposing the project because neither Verizon nor the property owner had contacted the local Neighborhood Council, the Council Office or the HPOZ. They asked why this wireless facility was on a residential building when they usually go on commercial buildings. (In Los Angeles and cities across the country, telecom companies put their facilities atop commercial buildings and discretely inside church bell towers all the time.)

Verizon declined to contact the community within the extra two weeks and the Zoning Administration went ahead and approved Verizon’s wireless facility plans in mid January 2016.  Is it worth mentioning at this point that "Verizon has made four contributions at the mayor's behest since 2014, including a $100,000 donation to the Mayor's Fund in October 2015. That came about a month after the City Council voted to approve a contract for voice and data services worth up to $15 million." - KPCC

That spring, a Lafayette Square resident filed an appeal before the South LA Planning Commission regarding the ZA’s decision to approve Verizon's project. At the appeal hearing in May 2016, surrounding homeowners came out in full force to support the appeal. After 2 hours in the packed room, the Planning Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the appellant and community, citing lack of due process and concern for unsightly aesthetics. Verizon would not be allowed to build their antennas.

Today, more than 20 antennas, operated by Verizon and T-Mobile, are on the building. How did this happen?  

Shockingly, the ZA was tasked with writing up the Planning Commission's decision - which had ruled against them - and simply inserted language that ruled in their favor. It claimed that the ruling, on the contrary, adopted the “findings” that said the original PacBell permit “remains valid at this time.”

This, despite the fact that Commissioner Erik Bates from the Planning Commission said the following during deliberations:

“...I have grave concern about the fact that there is an existing permit that has some question to it. It may not be a right the board here has a right to undo, it does have an impact on the existing permit request and notice regarding that and as I said notice is important to me as far as due process.”

What is in the public record for 1625 Crenshaw Blvd? An expired Building and Safety permit for Pac-Bell’s project (due to inactivity) and a site survey dated in 2001 with a handwritten note on it: “incomplete at the time of survey.”  So it appears as if the City Planners have violated Section 12.29 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code.

There are no photos or approved building and safety records verifying that the old Pac-Bell facility was ever completed and operational. If the Lafayette Square Apartment tenants and adjacent property owners can contest these adopted findings (again, inserted by the ZA), they could feasibly make it illegal for the antennas to stay and operate over their heads. 

Another question here is whether home's and not commercial properties, can be allowed to double as functioning wireless facilities. These antennas emit radio frequency (RF) and electromagnetic field frequency (EMF) day and night, unlike cell phones which can be turned off. There is also a very flammable, 50-gallon diesel tank at the rear of the property to power them.

Health concerns come to mind for many people when they hear the word cell tower. Many national and international organizations call for intensive scientific research to define the true health risks from non-ionizing, electromagnetic radiation generated by cell phones, wireless devices and cell towers. The World Health Organization currently labels this type of radiation as a class 2B carcinogen, the same designation for the chemical DDT. Results from Kaiser Permanente's 2017 study demonstrate pregnant women exposed to high levels of this radiation miscarried at nearly three times the rate as those exposed to low levels. A recent (mulit year) survey by the National Toxicology Program found that the cancer risk from non-ionizing radiation exposure in experimental animals matched the cancer cell types that had been reported in previous epidemiologic studies in human populations. 

Countries around the world prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to young developing brains so they ban wireless facilities next to certain locations like schools. In California, the LAUSD Board has adopted two resolutions restricting cell sites on LAUSD property and requires new schools to avoid siting near cell sites. Even LA County Firefighters fought to stop new cell towers on their firehouses, citing adverse health effects. The LA Board of County Supervisors ruled in their favor in 2015.

Why not apply that same consideration to the tenants living in Lafayette Place? The original permit expired, so the cellular antennas do not belong on this  residential building. 

And yet, there they sit. Cell antenna’s that share walls with and surround the tenants in the building, that are located in close proximity to local residents and a school.   Let it be known that the telecom industry has set up shop over unsuspecting residents, students and neighbors in Mid-City. 


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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