COVID-19 cover?

Photo by Scott Thomas Anderson

Critics cry foul as Sacramento passes embattled telecommunication plan with public’s voice lowered by lockdown

By Scott Thomas Anderson

Last year, Sacramento City Hall was filled with people protesting Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s initiative to give Verizon Wireless access to the city’s communication infrastructure so it could install a network of 5G cell towers. But on April 7, the council didn’t have to face a crowd as it approved those plans.

The reason the City Council held a virtual vote where no objections were read aloud—and the justification it followed for pressing forward with the disputed 5G “roadmap” when residents couldn’t attend the meeting—was the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, critics are accusing Sacramento leaders of using the outbreak as a path of least resistance when making unpopular decisions.

Noah Davidson, head of the Sacramento chapter of 5G Awareness Now, isn’t among those advancing conspiracy theories about 5G towers causing the coronavirus. Since it began engaging with City Hall about the towers and antennas a year ago, Davidson’s group has centered its concerns around scientific announcements and studies.

At a meeting in September, the group implored council members to study evidence that includes a letter to the European Commission signed by 180 scientists and doctors from around the world citing concerns over how 5G radiation affects human brains, fertility and cancer rates, as well as a 2018 peer-reviewed article in the medical journal The Lancet, which indicated “serious biological and health affects” from prolonged exposure to 5G-type waves. 

Since then, Scientific American has published an analysis by Joel M. Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, stressing that there’s “no reason to believe 5G is safe.”

But at the April 7 virtual City Council meeting, there was no mention of those expert findings. In fact, there was no mention of the term “5G” at all.

Throughout the discussion, every elected official and city staff member substituted the word 5G with the phrases “small cell tower” or “small cell antenna.” That even included when staff referenced a well-known 5G pilot program in the Pocket-Greenhaven area.

For members of the public watching remotely and unfamiliar with the controversy, they could have easily not known the vote involved 5G technology. Under ordinary circumstances, that clarification would have presumably been made by Davidson and others during public comment.     

But there was nothing ordinary about public comment at the April 7 meeting.

Full court pandemic press?

“I know this has been a very difficult and complicated issue,” Steinberg said before the vote. “We’ve heard from a lot of constituents on this one.”

For those concerned about 5G health questions, the mayor’s acknowledgment raised an obvious question: Why pass a new telecommunications ordinance now, when the public is literally locked out of City Hall?

Davidson and others also wonder about what attention bandwidth Sacramentans can reasonably be expected to have during this unprecedented time. At the meeting, several council members shared concerns about the effects of  widespread unemployment, unexpected homeschooling, depression and isolation on the community.

But Maria MacGunigal, the city’s chief information officer, told elected officials those were the same reasons why they needed to pass the 5G plan right away.

“This item is of immediate concern, and it is needed now, as it governs how service providers develop critical infrastructure that supports essential functions for our community with the stay-at-home orders,” MacGunigal said, “such as essential city services, distance learning for students who are unable to attend school and remote work from home for many who live in the city.”

MacGunigal’s implication that Sacramento’s lockdown will last so long that Verizon will have time to build additional cell towers didn’t convince 5G critic Eric Frame.

“I think that’s a great excuse for them not to listen to the public,” Frame told SN&R.

MacGunigal said that her team held several meetings with the public in hopes of crafting a compromise between 5G critics and telecommunications companies. “We’ve been trying to come up with a balanced perspective on this pretty contentious issue,” she told the council.

Sacramento Public Works Director Ryan Moore explained how those conversations factored into the new ordinance, which currently has provisions for how 5G towers should look and requirements for public notifications before they go up.

“We feel we’ve created a regulatory package which provides predictability and a level playing field for all applicants while also protecting the city’s interests,” Moore said.

Davidson paints a very different picture of the city’s outreach. He says officials only met with his group once and did not keep promises that his group could directly question the city’s paid consultant on 5G safety. Worse yet, Davidson says, the city showed his group an earlier draft of the ordinance in the fall that included mandatory setbacks to prevent 5G antennas from being placed directly adjacent to front yards—setbacks that were absent from rules eventually passed on April 7.

“The response to public concerns has been absolutely horrible,” Davidson said. “They were pretty set in stone from the start that they were going to go ahead with this and give the telecommunication companies a lot of leeway. Now there’s nothing to prevent that scenario where one of these antennas is installed in your front yard, pointed directly at your window.” 

Fourteen-second review

Public comment at the virtual City Council meetings has been limited to “e-comments” emailed to the city clerk. At the April 21 meeting, clerk Mindy Cuppy clarified that comments that come in after an agenda is posted are forwarded to council members the day of the meeting and posted on the city’s website. E-comments can also be submitted as the meeting is in progress.

City officials said this week that the clerk’s office is considering a phone-in method for comments in the future. 

“Community input and feedback are a fundamental part of City Council meetings,” city spokesman Tim Swanson said in a statement. “Since the onset of the pandemic, the City has maintained the ability of the public to comment on Council items and other matters via its e-comment system. Moving forward, the City is working to launch a live phone-in service for comments, which we believe will better facilitate participation as well as public discourse.”

But that didn’t help opponents of the public-private partnership with Verizon on April 7. Davidson argues that, with the pandemic in full tilt, most residents didn’t even realize that 5G vote was scheduled. Nine people did file e-comments on the ordinance in time for the meeting. After the presentation from city staff, the clerk put those comments, on a single page, on council members’ computer screens.

“Maybe we ought to take a minute to look at them,” Steinberg suggested, learning forward. Roughly 14 seconds later he asked, “Alright, are there any questions from the council?”

There were not, and Councilman Rick Jennings immediately made a motion for a vote, which was seconded by Councilman Jeff Harris.

The 5G plan passed unanimously.

Concerns that public officials in California are leveraging the COVID-19 crisis to bypass critics aren’t limited to Sacramento. As recently reported by SN&R, Delta residents, environmental groups and indigenous tribes are the ringing the same alarm bell about the state Department of Water Resources trying to get approval for its proposed Delta tunnel during the pandemic.

Davidson said that fringe and baseless conspiracy theories about 5G should have made Steinberg and council members veer even more towards transparency. Davidson’s group is asking that the city’s April 7 vote be vacated. 

“It has been a contentious issue for a year,” he said. “And for them to make the final vote in the shadows is certainly sketchy.”  

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1 Comment on "COVID-19 cover?"

  1. Thank you for covering this story. It is critical that Sacramento residents understand the complex 5G roll out happening in our neighborhoods.

    The City Council’s decision to make Sacramento one of the first 5G cities in the world has been shrouded in secrecy and controversy from the start. In June 2017, the City of Sacramento signed an agreement with Verizon to install small cell antennas on public infrastructure. The City agreed to waive fees for the antennas and provide Verizon an expedited permitting process, effectively forfeiting all legal authority over the placement of the antennas. In exchange, Verizon would provide $100 million dollars of infrastructure investment, i.e. the cell antennas they wanted to install anyways, as well as 15 “smart kiosks” and free wifi in 27 parks. This agreement was NOT taken through the usual public approval process and was heavily criticized as being bad for the City by local media outlets. Also, we still have not received our wifi in the parks or our smart kiosks…

    As addressed in the Voices of River City article, one of the most alarming elements of this agreement is the capability of the Verizon and the City to collect data from Sacramento residents using the cell antenna network. This data collection is referred to several times in the Master License agreement signed by Verizon and the City of Sacramento. What data will be collected? How will that data be stored and utilized? Those details are NOT in the agreement but is information we as the public should have a right to know. I have made several requests to the city for this information but the City has NOT been willing to provide the information, similar to other public records requests I have made on this issue. I am now in a position where I would have to take the City of Sacramento to court to get a judge to order the City to release the information. I would win, one hundred percent, but I do not have the time or money for such an endeavor. The City of San Diego recently came under fire for a similar data collection scandal. It would be nice for the public to know exactly what is going on here in Sacramento…

    As concerning as the above issues are, the worst part about Sacramento’s 5G plans is that they are installing these small cell antennas in residential areas, specifically on light poles immediately adjacent to homes. Here are a couple pictures. Hundreds of these antennas are currently being installed in Sacramento neighborhoods. Each one will expose nearby residents to very high levels of pulsed, data modulated, microwave radiation. Although the antennas have a lower power output than previous generation antennas, because they are being installed so close to our homes exposure from these new small cell is actually MUCH HIGHER than exposure from previous generation antennas, and much higher than exposure from most wireless devices. This is PROVEN by a “safety” study performed by the City of Sacramento and presented at the September 3rd City Council meeting.

    It is clear that Sacramento residents will be exposed to unprecedented levels of chronic microwave radiation exposure inside their homes, so the question becomes will that increased exposure be safe? The answer is very complicated and hotly debated in the scientific community. There is plenty of peer reviewed scientific evidence suggesting that the man-made electromagnetic frequencies (specifically RF and microwave radiation) already in existence are causing harm to human health and the environment, and now we are going to be adding an additional layer of exposure, the “biggest” layer yet. Here are a few links from extremely credible sources acknowledging various levels of risk associated with using wireless technology:

    Short but thorough article from The Lancet, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, detailing the dangers of wireless radiation exposure and the inadequacies of current safety standards.

    In 2011, the World Health Organization classified RF radiation (which includes microwave radiation) as a possible carcinogen.

    Article in The Hill by Dr. Ronald Melnick, former director at the national institutes of health, highlighting some of the research since 2011 that strengthens the hypothesis that cell phone radiation causes cancer.

    Recent review published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), considered one of the foremost international authorities on wireless technology, which concluded that wireless radiation from common devices CAUSES a variety of negative health effects and that consumers should be warned.

    2002 letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which states “the generalization by many that the [FCC] guidelines protect human beings from harm by any or all mechanisms is not justified.”

    Although there are a lot of 5G “conspiracy theories” gathering momentum around the internet right now, concerns over wireless safety are not rooted in conspiracy, they are rooted in solid science. One major source of 5G conspiracies is the role of the FCC in regulating wireless safety standards. In the United States, the FCC is the primary authority on wireless safety standards. Unfortunately the FCC is largely controlled by the wireless industry they are tasked with policing, creating one of the most obvious and egregious conflicts of interest in our current political structure. The wireless industry, the wireless lobbies, and the FCC consist of the same people moving from branch to branch, all working in unison to forward the growth of the wireless industry. This can be seen from recent actions by the FCC, many specifically aimed at lifting regulations on the wireless industry to facilitate 5G deployment. Many of these recent FCC actions are being challenged in court right now.

    You can read more about how the FCC has been hijacked by the wireless industry in the book Captured Agency published by Harvard University School of Ethics.

    It is clear that the FCC is overlooking the legal rights of local municipalities as well as environmental and health impacts all in an effort to facilitate the deployment of 5G technology and maximize corporate profits. It is a classic example of the fox watching the hen house.

    A similar relationship between industry and regulatory authorities can be seen in other countries as well. Switzerland was another early adopter of 5G technology and has since faced serious public backlash over that decision. The first documented reports of 5G related injuries came out of Switzerland.

    The article raises the issue, similar to the problem here in US, of an all-powerful regulatory authority that is literally owned by the wireless industry. In February 2020, Switzerland decided to pause their 5G roll-out until more safety research had been conducted.

    Brussels is another European municipality that has halted their 5G rollout specifically due to microwave radiation concerns.

    In America, the wireless industry marches on with their 5G roll-out, largely unopposed. This is an issue that is going to impact you in the very near future, if it hasn’t already. In December of 2018, a cell antenna was installed outside my family’s home. My two young nieces have experienced health problems ever since, specifically immune system suppression resulting in more frequent and more severe viral and bacterial infections.

    We have since had these symptoms documented by two practicing pediatricians and attributed to the antenna outside our home according to their medical opinions. It has been absolutely heartbreaking to watch my nieces be harmed by this antenna and be completely powerless to have the antenna turned off or removed despite over a year of effort lobbying ALL levels of government, the FCC, and Verizon, the owner of the antenna.

    We have spent thousands of dollars and countless hours shielding the home to reduce exposure from the antenna. It has been moderately effective at reducing exposure and mitigating the chronic and more severe symptoms, but we still worry about long term consequences and my nieces still get sick more often than prior to the antenna installation. And what about less fortunate families who cannot afford shielding??? Verizon and AT&T are going to microwave us inside our homes and our government is telling us we have no say in the matter. How can anyone consider this acceptable?

    I am encouraging you to do two things in an attempt to protect your home and campaign for a 5G roll-out that puts safety over corporate profits:

    1) Share this post wherever you can to help people understand why 5G is such an important and controversial issue.

    2) Reach out to your elected representatives at the City, State and Federal levels and tell them that installing these antennas right outside people’s homes without adequate safety testing is UNACCEPTABLE! We are not guinea pigs and we will not stand for profits over people.

    To find your representatives you can use this link here:

    If you do not know what to say, a generic sample letter can be found here:

    If you are in Sacramento, contact information for our City Council can be found here:

    In Sacramento, I am also asking people to reach out to Sacramento City Council and demand that they overturn their April 7th decision to move forward with 4G/5G small cell installations in Sacramento WITHOUT the residential protections my 5G safety group was asking for. They made this extremely controversial decision that has been argued for over a year during the pandemic lockdown without input from the public, in a meeting that most people did not even know was happening! Even I, who has been fighting this issue daily for over a year, had no idea that the City was making their final decision on the issue. This is yet another injustice at the hands of our City Council!

    Please take action now. This is an issue that will literally be in your neighborhood very, very soon. If people do not make their voice heard governments will continue to deploy this dangerous technology right outside our homes. Our health, our property, and our rights our under attack. What will you do to change that?

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