Cell tower debate

A cell tower like this one in the parking lot of the Big Bear Lake Performing Arts Center, is proposed for the Erwin Lake area near Hatchery Road.

Cellphones have become commonplace around the world, including Big Bear Valley. Many people are replacing their landlines with cellphones or smartphones.

According to statisa.com, a statistics portal website, the number of smartphone users in the US will rise to more than 182 million in 2015. Where there are smartphones, there are cellphone towers or antennas to make use possible.

In Big Bear Valley, there are at least 15 various types of towers, some radio signal and TV towers used by law enforcement and emergency personnel, along with cellphone towers. 

Many of the cell towers have more than one antenna allowing different carriers to use the same tower. T-Mobile and Sprint operate several of the towers in the Valley. There are towers at the Big Bear Lake City Hall and near Bear Mountain Resort at the Big Bear Lake Fire Station on Moonridge Road.

Verizon has proposed a new tower in the East Valley, to be located on land owned by the Big Bear City Community Services District in the Erwin Lake area. The matter is before the San Bernardino County Land Use Services department for consideration. Spectrum Services Inc. applied for a conditional use permit to build and operate a 75-foot-tall unmanned monopine inside a 192-square-foot shelter. The tower would be located on a 900-square-foot leased portion of a 20-acre site owned by the CSD

Dave Prusch, supervising planner for county land use services, said the matter would most likely be sent to the county Planning Commission for review and consideration due to opposition to the tower. 

Eight residents of the area where the tower is proposed at Glencove and Hatchery drives, spoke at the March 2 CSD meeting. The item was not on the agenda, so board members could not legally respond or discuss the matter. General Manager Scott Heule suggested adding the matter to the April 6 CSD board meeting. Attempts to confirm whether that matter will be on the agenda were not successful by press time.

Those in opposition say the tower will cause significant exposure to radio frequency and electromagnetic frequency, which pose health risks, they say.

Cory and Audrey Scranton, in a letter to The Grizzly published in early March, urged the CSD board to reconsider its lease with Verizon. The Scrantons sent information to the Grizzly that outlined research relating to the health effects of radio frequency, electromagnetic frequency radiation and microwave radiation in relation to cell towers. The document states that some of the dangers include cancer, memory disruptions, insomnia, genetic mutations, brain disorders and more.

Letters from Lisa Goldman and Neil Coleman, and William and DiAnna Hawkins, along with a letter in this week’s issue from David and Amber Courtney, cite the same health concerns in relation to having a cellphone tower constructed in the Erwin Lake neighborhood they call home.

The American Cancer Society doesn’t agree with those fighting the proposed cell tower in terms of health related concerns. “The energy from a cellular phone tower antenna, like that of other telecommunication antennas is directed toward the horizon, with some downward scatter,” the American Cancer Society website states. It goes on to state that the level of exposure to radio waves at ground level is very low compared to the level close to the antenna. 

The Food and Drug Administration shares regulatory responsibilities for cellphones with the Federal Communications Commission. According to the FCC, the RF exposures are typically much lower from base stations or tower antennas than from the actual cellphone. Base stations and cellphones must comply with FCC requirements for RF exposure guidelines.

The maximum power radiated in any direction usually does not exceed 50 watts, according to the FCC. Safety limits adopted by the FCC were based on recommendations of experts, the FCC states.

According to the American Cancer Society, few human studies have focused on cellphone towers and cancer risks. A British research study comparing more than 1,000 families with young children with cancer and those without showed no link between a mother’s exposure to cell towers during pregnancy and risk of early childhood cancer, according to information on www.cancer.org.

Prusch said the growing opposition to the tower in Erwin Lake has been shared with the applicant, Spectrum Services, Inc. Prusch said that land use services and the county Planning Commission cannot deny the CUP based on the environmental health concerns being submitted. There are standard categories used for environmental issues under the California Environmental Quality Act. Electromagnetic fields are not within those categories, Prusch said. Land use services looks at projects for approval or denial from a land use point, he said.

Contact reporter Judi Bowers via email at

jbowers.grizzly@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @EditorBowers.

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