Parents, AT&T clash over proposed park cell tower in La Jolla

By Ashley Mackin

A meeting was held at Torrey Pines Elementary School May 27 for parents and AT&T representatives to come together and discuss the proposed 30-foot AT&T cell tower at Cliffridge Park.

Planned for the outer edge of the park — which is adjacent to the La Jolla YMCA and Torrey Pines Elementary School, and home to La Jolla Youth Baseball and other youth sports — the tower would be situated 20 feet past the yellow foul pole line.

At the meeting, AT&T acquisition consultant Debra DePratti Gardner explained that the park site is centrally located to fill a gap in cell coverage and enhance AT&T’s coverage in buildings and cars. The other locations explored — Torrey Pines Christian Church and the YMCA — were determined to be too far away from Torrey Pines Road to provide effective cell coverage to that area.

Alex Krasov, Director of Communications for AT&T California, told La Jolla Light that to have smaller cell sites comparable to the one proposed for Cliffridge Park on or near a school is “very common” and that AT&T has dozens across California.

However, many parents stated they were not “anti-wireless or anti-technology,” but requested the forum because they were not alerted to other meetings where the project would be discussed.

They further expressed frustration over insufficient notification about the project. As required by law, AT&T sent a notification to any residence or business within 300 feet of the property line, which included a mailer sent to the school in November 2013, reportedly addressed to “occupant.”

“The notification was within the legal requirement, but what I thought they did was the absolute bare minimum,” said parent Catherine Carron. “(Parents at) a school with over 500 children should be considered key stakeholders, so I would have thought it appropriate for AT&T to make sure the key stakeholders knew about it.”

The cell tower project was put to a vote during the April La Jolla Community Planning Association and approved 7-6. Many Torrey Pines Elementary parents were unaware the proposal would be discussed at that meeting. “Had we known, we would have rallied a lot earlier and we would have been at the CPA meeting, which probably would have swayed the vote to have that much community feedback,” Carron said.

Calming Concerns

AT&T used the meeting to allay parent concerns about Electromagnetic Field (EMF) emissions from the tower.

Darang Tech of DTech Communications, presented a report on current EMF exposure levels around the school, and the conclusion stated, “On-site measurements for Torrey Pines Elementary School and surrounding facilities resulted in exposure levels well below the FCC’s most stringent General population Maximum Permissible Exposure Limits in accessible areas.”

Dr. Jerrod Bushberg was also on hand to discuss the third-party analysis of the proposed tower’s EMF emissions, as required by AT&T procedures. His findings indicate that should the tower be installed, EMF levels would still be below FCC requirements.

However, parents were unmoved by this data, as the FCC regulations on which they are based were signed into law in 1997. “They are saying ‘we’re good with these 20-year-old standards,’ ” Carron said.

She proceeded to cite an American Academy of Pediatrics opinion that based on more recent data, there is cause for concern, and the regulations need to be reviewed.

“On one side, you have government regulators with a two-decade-old government health standard from a time when smartphones didn’t exist and the telecommunications industry wanting these towers,” Carron said. “On the other side, you have organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

Another concern came from eliminating the choice of how much EMF their children are exposed to on a daily basis. EMF is found anywhere there is electricity, and both Depratti Gardner and Bushberg argued there is more EMF found in light bulbs or cell phones than what the tower would emit.

But parents countered they have the choice to change light bulbs or how often their children play with electronics, but not to have a cell tower near the school.

Parents have started a petition for those who oppose the tower’s suggested location, which can be found


San Diego Planning Commission will make the final decision on the tower, but a date for that decision has not been set. The item will be discussed (if it is agendized) at the La Jolla Shores Association meeting 6:30 p.m. June 11 8840 Biological Grade at SIO.