The Napa City Council on Tuesday will decide whether to accept a deal with Verizon Wireless to add a cluster of wireless transmitters to city streets in a compromise Napa officials say is their best shot at regulating the implementation within the limits of federal law.
An agreement with Verizon would allow the carrier to install “small cells,” each a fraction the size and output of a conventional wireless tower, on utility poles, traffic signals or new masts at 28 locations around Napa. Since October, the company and city have worked toward a package with fewer small cells than the 53 originally sought by Verizon, in response to opposition by residents who allege the transmitters’ radio emissions will raise the risk of cancer and other illnesses.
Last month, the two sides drew nearer to a revised contract that would drop more than 20 of the sites from consideration, including two near school campuses – New Technology High on Yajome Street, and Old Sonoma Road near the Harvest and River schools.
The agreement council members will review this week further reduces the number of small-cell locations from 30 to 28, removing sites in the 3800 block of Oxford Street and the 1100 block of Fifth Street. Napa also would extend the review period for issuing small-cell permits at each location, and can demand a review of each site by an independent engineer – at Verizon’s expense – to verify legal radio emission levels around each transmitter.
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Verizon in December 2017 gained a city master permit to install the small cells, but that agreement also requires a separate installation permit for each site.
Despite repeated calls by some Napans to resist any new cell installations, city officials have said a 1996 Federal Communications Commission law prevents local governments from outlawing any equipment that meets federal limits on radio frequency emissions – and that defying that law could lead to an expensive courtroom defeat. “To say ‘they can’t sue all of us’ is dangerous and an abuse of our fiscal responsibility,” Councilmember Mary Luros said during a meeting Oct. 15.
Research published on the possible health effects of radio emissions has reached conflicting conclusions. While a 2011 research paper from the World Health Organization listed a “possible” carcinogenic effect from electromagnetic fields, the American Cancer Society has disputed that conclusion.
While working to reshape Verizon’s small-cell plan in Napa, the city has supported an effort by various local governments to reverse federal curbs on local regulation of such equipment. Napa council members earlier endorsed House Resolution 530, which also would undo time limits on city review of telecom equipment permits.