Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday approved a downsized network of radio towers to allow first-responders from dozens of agencies to communicate quickly in an emergency, seeking to balance public safety with health and aesthetic concerns raised by firefighters and homeowners.
The county’s decision in March to delay construction to do more community outreach led to the suspension of $154 million in federal funding that had been earmarked for the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System, or LA-RICS.
The project originally anticipated building 177 towers costing roughly a half-million dollars apiece. Many were planned to be constructed near county fire stations.
When firefighters complained that radio emissions from the towers posed a health hazard, the Los Angeles City Council decided against building towers near police and fire stations and the county decided to take another look.
A Rolling Hills resident and former partner at management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. told the Board of Supervisors today she was worried by a Department of the Interior letter about the health effects of electromagnetic radiation on birds.
“We’re the canaries in the coal mine and the birds are being protected,” Cathy Nichols said.
Supervisor Don Knabe has said scientific evidence shows that the LA-RICS radio transmission towers do not pose a health hazard. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health does not consider electric and magnetic fields to be a proven health hazard.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said today she could identify with concerned residents.
“Speaking as a homeowner, I would have been extremely upset to see one of these go up on my local fire station that’s only a block away … I understand it,” Kuehl said.
About 60 sites, none of which are near county fire stations, have been identified under the revised plan. Twenty-nine are county-controlled properties that already have transmitters on site, including 20 Sheriff’s Department facilities, four county hospitals or rehabilitation facilities and the county Fire Department’s command and control site. Another 16 are sites owned by various cities. Fifteen state-owned sites are expected to be used to locate temporary “cell on wheels” equipment.
Public hearings will be held in each of the five supervisorial districts to educate residents and gather feedback. Until those hearings occur, construction on towers set for four sheriff’s station locations and the Bell Gardens Police Department will be on hold, based on a recommendation by Supervisor Michael Antonovich and approved by the board.
The smaller set of towers would create a viable broadband communications network, an LA-RICS management spokesman told the board.
Another staffer familiar with the project said it was likely that existing towers at fire stations would be removed, though that decision was not voted on today.
The board also voted to prohibit co-location of commercial communications services near LA-RICS sites where county firefighters sleep and within 250 feet of an existing residence.
A new plan has already been submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for review.
A county delegation will travel to Washington, D.C., next Monday to try and bolster support for the system, as well as meeting with legislators on other key policy issues.
— City News Service