On March 30, the Santa Fe City Council is scheduled to debate and vote on whether or not to issue a six-month moratorium on the installation of any new towers or antennas related to cellular and wireless connectivity. It’s a tricky issue.
There’s nothing tricky about it. City Councilors Patti Bushee and Chris Calvert—both representing the Casa Solana neighborhood—are arguing that a moratorium is necessary in order to give the city time to formulate a plan for managing telecommunications in Santa Fe.
Here are a few important questions:
How would this theoretical plan differ from the last five (or so) master plans regarding telecommunications the city has paid to conduct and then summarily ignored?
How would this theoretical plan differ from the expert input the city has received from the committee it appointed last year to generate a telecommunications strategy, before that committee’s activities were put on indefinite hold and its intelligent advice shoved into a dark hole below the council chambers?
The bottom line is that the city does need a thoughtful, well-considered master plan for effective implementation of both fiber and wireless broadband, as well as cellular connectivity. But nothing is going to go haywire nor get out of control in the next six months without a moratorium. The real motive here is to stall indefinitely. And people who oppose the development of wireless and cellular infrastructure because of scientifically unjustified health concerns claim to have received coaching from City Councilor Chris Calvert to help argue in favor of the moratorium stall tactic.
“I met with Chris Calvert and these guidelines are from him,” a post reads on
, the website operated by the Santa Fe Alliance for Public Health and Safety, a group formed to oppose Wi-Fi, cellular towers and smart meters in Santa Fe.
“This is NOT the time to try and convince the Council to consider matters of health or anything beyond their scope,” the post continues. “Do NOT speak of your health issues, your spiritual beliefs, or anything other than the facts below.”
The “facts below” consist of four arguments people in favor of the moratorium plan to use at the City Council meeting. Calvert acknowledges having spoken to a representative from the Alliance for Public Health and Safety, but says his input was limited to advising on the type of testimony that would be permissible at the meeting.
“It was my intent to have the mayor or whoever runs the meeting state that we would not accept testimony as to health effects because it’s outside of our purview,” Calvert says.
The first argument planned in support of the moratorium states that the city needs a moratorium in order to research the “best protective ordinance possible.” But what the city needs is to commit to creating and, equally important, implementing a good plan, regardless of whether or not there’s a moratorium.
The second argument is that cell towers lower property values. This is true in some cases. A 2004 study in Florida suggests that houses within 656 feet of a tower can be subject to up to a 2 percent devaluation. Clearly, this should be taken into account in planning and permitting. In a previous column, I suggested that artists be utilized to make towers objects of beauty and interest rather than eyesores, and I have it on good authority that at least one local arts group has been approached by a mobile carrier to investigate this possibility.
The third argument is “the fact that our only industry in Santa Fe is Tourism and that the loss of our historic and traditional aesthetics results in loss of revenue from tourists, film companies, and all other local businesses.”
It’s curious that the film industry, which would greatly benefit from improved broadband and cellular infrastructure, is named as a victim in an argument that alleges tourism is the only industry. I can think of a lot of other industries, and a little factor called state government, that might take exception to this narrow and false viewpoint. I also don’t think any tourist who has ever used a mobile phone as a map, a virtual tour guide, or to find restaurants and shops would consider good connectivity a problem.
Finally, the whyfry.org post claims “the City Council is elected to protect the aesthetics of the oldest town in the United States and these aesthetics are why you reside here or have a business here.”
Of course, the City Council is not elected to protect aesthetics, and Santa Fe is a far sight from the oldest town in the US.
All of these arguments are disingenuous because they have been conceived (albeit, poorly) as a veil for the real concerns and goals of the anti-connectivity crowd. I don’t anticipate these arguments will carry much weight, but there are points the council needs to hear. We do need a good a plan—and it does need to consider aesthetics and property values. We need a commitment to implement that plan. And we need the council to understand the economic and community benefits to adopting an open network, rather than pursuing the short-term gains of franchise deals with private corporations.
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