Planned cell tower at La Jolla’s Cliffridge Park draws parents’ ire

By Ashley Mackin

Parents of students at Torrey Pines Elementary School turned out en masse to the May 14 La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA) meeting to state their opposition to an AT&T cell tower proposed for Cliffridge Park.

Because the school administration scheduled an additional meeting to discuss the tower, no further action was taken on the issue.

AT&T Acquisition Consultant Debra DePratti Gardner was at the meeting to explain that the communications company proposes to build a 30-foot faux eucalyptus tree (to disguise the tower) at the far end of the park’s baseball field beyond the yellow foul line pole. The “tree” will have 12 antennas and a 240-square-foot equipment enclosure on the ice-plant area below the field.

“Fifteen years ago, people used their cell phones just for phone calls. Now people use their phones to watch television, so cell phone companies are scrambling trying to get additional bandwidth to (meet) their user’s needs,” she said. “Presently AT&T has a gigantic hole (in coverage) all along Torrey Pines Road and east of Cliffridge Park,” necessitating the additional cell tower, said DeParatti Gardner noting that each antenna would operate at approximately 30 watts and house a separate technology, such as voice data and LTE wireless capability.

Still, parents in attendance expressed concerns for the health and safety of children who attend Torrey Pines Elementary School (adjacent to the park) and would be exposed to Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) radiation from the tower.

LJSA chair Tim Lucas reminded parents that due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, any action taken by an advisory board on cell towers cannot involve EMF and health issues.

Nevertheless, parents cited studies that show negative health impacts on those exposed to EMF. One parent, Catherine Carron, called upon integrative medicine specialist Dan Harper, M.D., to speak about health issues that might stem from EMF exposure and how children are more susceptible to them.

DePratti Gardner argued that the studies presented were not “apples to apples” comparisons with what she was presenting. “With the towers discussed in these studies, we have no idea how many antennas are on them or the frequencies. ... If you want to give me a study based on a 30-foot tower with 12 antennas, operating at 30 watts per antenna, then it would be apples to apples.”

She further offered to document the amount of ambient EMF present in the air — which is found wherever there is electricity, such as hair dryers, microwaves or wireless technology — including what is already at the school, and at play areas such as the La Jolla Rec Center.

But Carron noted her concern would be for the cumulative EMF exposure, should the tower’s fields be added to what is already there.

When asked whether all other possible locations for the tower were explored, DePratti Gardner said there is a certain topography required and geographic area to cover, which limits AT&T’s options. She also noted that in the past, towers were placed on the tops of mountains, but radiated EMF out into the air at much more powerful levels.

Other parent concerns not pertaining to EMF included the fee-based youth sports played at the field and the hazardous materials self-contained within the towers.

More information and an opportunity for public comment will be available at the next meeting to discuss the cell tower, 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 27 at Torrey Pines Elementary School, 8350 Cliffridge Ave.