By ROBERT DIGITALE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s zoning board voted unanimously Thursday to allow an 83-foot-tall cell phone tower near Oakmont, which critics said would emit dangerous levels of radiation while supporters said it would finally provide decent cell service in the area.
The five members of the county Board of Zoning Adjustments said they sympathized with critics of Verizon Wireless’s proposed cell phone tower near the entrance to the Oakmont retirement community. They maintained, however, that federal law specifically excludes local governments from denying towers based on concerns about radiation emissions.
“The federal government has made it excruciatingly clear that we have no ability to regulate what you guys are asking us to regulate,” said board member Jason Liles.
At least one opponent said she would appeal the decision to the county Board of Supervisors.
“I will fight this tower to my last breath and to my last dime,” said Irene Castellani, a resident on Sonoma Highway near the site where the tower would be located.
Verizon wants to place the tower at 6375 Sonoma Highway in the back of Novavine’s grapevine, rootstock and olive tree nursery business. The site sits across the highway from Oakmont.
Planners said the tower would be disguised as a “faux tree,” set back 825 feet from the highway and located near oak trees that are up to 55 feet tall.
The nearest home is about 320 feet from the proposed tower site. The projected radiation emitted to that house would be one two-hundredth of what the Federal Communications Commission allows. An actual measurement would be taken and made public should the tower be built, said county planner Gary Helfrich.
Four nearby residents told the board they doubt the federal government has adequately studied the long-term dangers of such radiation, especially on children. Moreover, they maintained the tower would reduce their property values and make it virtually impossible to finance the further development of their properties.
“None of you would allow this in your backyard,” said neighbor Dean Bordigioni, who raised concerns about the effect of the tower on his infant daughter, Anni.
Three Oakmont residents, meanwhile, said they support the proposed tower because it would provide their neighborhoods with the ability to make reliable cell phone calls, especially in emergencies.
“The cell service is terrible,” said resident Chris Sork.
Oakmont resident Donald MacKenzie noted that the tower is expected to greatly improve service for a six-mile stretch from Melita Road to Glen Ellen.
“This is not just a small little deal,” he told the board members.