T-Mobile has applied for a cell antenna permit with the City of Westlake Village that is intended to serve most of the Three Springs development. The antenna is slated to be installed near the building on the LVMWD property that manages the reservoir. The application comes before the city council at the March 24, 2010 city council meeting that starts at 6:30pm.

One of the biggest questions is: “Can the city deny the permit based on health concerns?” The short answer is no. The City is preempted by the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which prohibits the denial of wireless telecommunications facilities due to health concerns. Case in point, T-Mobile has filed a law suit against the City of Agoura Hills for blocking a cell antenna at Lindero Canyon Middle School.

See the body of the article for pictures of the “tree” antennas, and coverage maps.

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What does the antenna look like?

The antenna looks like a tree. A 45 foot tree would allow for up to 3 providers to have antennas on the single tree. Alternatively, a shorter tree may only provide service for T-Mobile and no others (such as Verizon, AT&T or Sprint). There are some limitations as to the combinations of the carriers on a single tree based on frequency, and type of equipment. The city can issue the permit with the condition that T-Mobile allow for other carriers on the tree so as to server more than just T-Mobile customers.

How will the coverage change?

This is proposed to be placed at the top of slope just west of the LVMWD facility at the west end of the reservoir (See,-118.837137&spn=0.007762,0.011845&t=h&z=17). Below are “propagation maps” that show the proposed cell coverage before and after (for T-Mobile customers at least). Service would likely improve even for those areas close to the new coverage, but not indicated as covered. (See before and after below).

Again, note, this coverage is only for T-Mobile unless other carriers partake. With this antenna in place, the barrier to entry for the other carriers is minimal. T-Mobile, however, would have the highest position on the tree, which would give them the best coverage off of the tree/antenna.

Will my property values go down?

This is a common argument used against cell antennas. We were not able to find any statistics supporting this claim. In fact, we were not able to find any numbers or research on it at all. But, we were able to find anecdotal discussions saying that people shied away from areas with poor cell service (which would lower prices). And, at the same time, we saw comments that property values would go down. But, no evidence, either in support or against … just stories, anecdotes and comments.

In talking with multiple realtors, if they know about a cell antenna, they generally disclose it. But, unless the antenna is a real eyesore, or specifically on the property in question, none have heard of the presence of a cell tower in a neighborhood affecting property pricing. One realtor commented even further that “most appraisers will not make it a factor in the valuation.”

What is the impact of RF?

Some people have health concerns about cell antennas. That’s an entire topic within itself. What’s clear is that there’s no definitive answers. This is in part because the technologies keep changing and that makes it difficult to do epidemiological studies. There are many many web sites and resources that tout studies linking to health issues, but upon investigation, we’ve not yet found any that had true, repeatable science and often no science at all.

While there are a variety of studies funded by the cell industry about cell phone use, we wanted to find different sources of information. We did find commentaries by two organizations that have it in their best interest to identify cancer causes: The American Cancer Society and The National Cancer Institute.

The American Cancer Society says: “Public exposure to radio waves from cellular phone antennas is slight for several reasons. The power levels are relatively low, the antennas are mounted at high above ground level, and the signals are transmitted intermittently, rather than constantly.” and “Several theoretical considerations suggest that cellular phone towers are unlikely to cause cancer.” They conclude with “Cellular phone towers, like cellular phones themselves, are a relatively new technology, and we do not yet have full information on health effects. In particular, not enough time has elapsed to permit epidemiologic studies. There are some theoretical reasons why cellular phone towers would not be expected to increase cancer risk, and animal studies of RF have not suggested a risk of cancer. People who are concerned can ask for measurements of RF near cellular phone towers to be sure exposures do not exceed recommended limits.”

The National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health say about cell phones in general: “Recently, there has been concern that the use of hand-held cellular telephones may be linked with an increased risk of cancer. In response to this concern, and the rapidly rising number of cellular telephone users worldwide, studies have been conducted to determine whether there is an association between cellular telephone use and an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Although the majority of these studies have not supported any such association, scientists caution that more research needs to be done before conclusions can be drawn about the risk of cancer from cellular telephones.”

Further, the FCC says “Some studies have also examined the possibility of a link between RF exposure and cancer. Results to date have been inconclusive. While some experimental data have suggested a possible link between exposure and tumor formation in animals exposed under certain specific conditions, the results have not been independently replicated. Many other studies have failed to find evidence for a link to cancer or any related condition. The Food and Drug Administration has further information on this topic with respect to RF exposure from mobile phones at the following Web site: .”

How does RF exposure work?

If you are truly interested, there’s an excellent science lesson by an expert that came before the LVUSD School Board that explained RF, and exposure. This is shown on the video at and starts approximately 1 hour 38 minutes into the video. (Unfortunately, Granicus does a poor job of supporting Mac and iPhone users, so that could be a bit of a challenge to view.)

In short, the effects of electromagnetic radiation (which is what RF is) drops off very quickly with distance. It’s logarithmic in nature meaning that if you draw it on a graph, it drops to very low levels very quickly. What does that mean? If your head was right next to the antenna, it could be a problem. At ground level, it’s already much lower EM exposure. At even the most nominal of distances (certainly at 25 feet or more), the level is less than the exposure you get from using a cell phone and holding it up to your head. Why? Even though the power is lower on the handheld cell, the distance is far more important.

Unlike original cellular technology, where a handheld phone would use 1W or a car phone would use 3W, today’s cell phones use power in the milliwatt (1/1000ths of a watt) range. As a point of comparison, a microwave oven is several hundred watts, or even 1500 watts or more.

If you are concerned about cell antennas for exposure, it’s important to note that you are getting greater exposure from RF from devices such as:

  • baby monitors
  • cordless phones
  • handheld cell phones
  • bluetooth headsets
  • wifi base stations (access points)
  • leaky microwave ovens
  • most any device that emits RF and you are physically close to

As a result, if you are looking to avoid cell antenna exposure, you should be avoiding all of the above as well (actually, they are a higher priority to avoid). This would also include any restaurant or facility offering free WiFi, as well as any organization that uses radios for communications (e.g., fire dept, police dept, etc…)