5G Tower on Lifeguard Station voted no by OB Planners

Chris Vanos (left), head steward of the San Diego Lifeguards Union, stands with fellow lifeguards before the Ocean Beach Planning Board, Dec. 4, asking them to oppose the 5G tower being planned atop the lifeguard station.
(Savanah Duffy)

Lifeguards and other concerned community members gathered at the Dec. 4 Ocean Beach Planning Board meeting at the Rec Center to voice concerns and get some answers from T-Mobile representatives regarding efforts to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to install a wireless facility for 5G (fifth generation mobile network) atop the OB Lifeguard Station.

Following intense back-and-forth discussion, planning board member Numan Stotz made a motion to deny the permit approval, and the motion passed 10-1. The permit request must now come before the City’s Hearing Officer for a public hearing. The date has yet to be set. If the permit is approved in early 2020, the 5G tower could be up and running atop the lifeguard station within the year, according to the T-Mobile reps.

The community’s thoughts were voiced clear enough — No radiation near our lifeguards, thank you very much! — but responses from industry reps were less explicit.

For those unsure about how 5G is different from 4G, 5G wireless radio waves move at a much higher frequency than 4G — 28 ghz (gigahertz) compared to 700 mhz to 2500 mhz (megahertz) for 4G, according to an informative article from Raconteur at It explains that the higher frequency allows smart devices to have much higher data rates and experience less lag (20 percent faster) when requesting data from a network.

The industry reps in attendance — later confirmed to be J5 tech contractors with T-Mobile, not actual T-Mobile employees — stood listening as citizen after citizen related health concerns with 5G antennae densification, citing everything from trouble sleeping and compromised immune systems to brain damage in children and cancer.

Chris Vanos, head steward of the San Diego Lifeguards Union, called a crew of lifeguards to stand with him as he read this statement: “(We) came here tonight to oppose the cell phone tower on Ocean Beach’s Lifeguard Station. I’m asking the OB Planning Board to oppose it tonight for public safety, and also for the safety of our lifeguards … That tower is built for public safety and water observation, and it should be used for just that.”

Public comments circled back to concern for lifeguard safety, again and again, as locals pushed to keep perceived radiation flows from 5G towers away from OB’s first responders. As one resident said: “Once you know (the health risks), the burden of responsibility is on you (to stand up and protest tower installations).”

Another resident said there is no scientific evidence proving 5G is safe: “This was revealed earlier this year at a hearing when Connecticut Sen. (Richard) Blumenthal asked wireless industry reps point blank if there’s been any research on the health effects of 5G and their answer was ‘We are not aware of any such studies.’ ”

Resident Jack Cardoza referenced medical author Susan Foster’s findings in 2004 of the cognitive damage done to firefighters who had a wireless cell tower on their station. (Her findings can be read in her letter to Sierra Club California at “If your body is constantly absorbing that (radiation), your immune system will be compromised, your functionality will be compromised… it’s a really serious issue,” Cardoza said. “So take it to heart OB planners, move as slowly as you possibly can, get a lot of information.”

But solid information was hard to come by at the meeting, as planning board members posed question after question to T-Mobile reps.

Secretary Tracy Dezenzo: “What’s the difference between 4G and 5G, in terms of how people are feeling about the physical ramifications of 5G that they weren’t concerned with in 4G?”

Rep: “It’s demand. People use their phones for everything, so it’s just a different host to transmit more information.”

Dezenzo: “So it’s basically the same thing as 4G, it’s just a bigger conduit?”

Rep: “Yes.”

A community member interjected: “It’s a different frequency!”

The rep confirmed that was accurate.

Dezenzo: “See, that’s what I’m getting at! Everyone is OK with 4G, but now there’s 5G and nobody knows anything about it or trusts it, so they’re going to react in a negative way to it. You’re saying it’s the same technology, just a bigger pipeline?”

Rep: “To summarize it, yes.”

Instant backlash from the audience: “No, that’s wrong!” said one woman as she stood up.

“You’re not telling the truth, man,” another yelled out.

“5G is shorter wavelengths,” the woman continued. “So with a shorter wavelength, which is higher frequency, mobile operators have to blanket towns with (the towers).”

Anthony Ciulla: “If this is approved, when will the tower become active and in service?”

Rep: “I guess it depends. Typically, we try and turn the site on within a year of the permit being approved.”

George McCalla: “Is there a shielding that could be put between the antenna and the top of the building so lifeguards could be protected?”

Rep: “When we get studies, and if they show there are harmful effects, that might be a solution. I’m not sure, I’ve never seen a site that does that. But we could look at that for sure.”

Vice-chair Kevin Hastings pointed out that because the antennas emit their signals outward, the apartment buildings across from the lifeguard station are probably going to get more radiation than the lifeguards directly below the cell tower.

Virginia Wilson: If one company puts an antenna on public property, isn’t every other mobile company going to want to put their own antenna there? Is there any provision for sharing an antenna with other companies?”

Rep: “Not for sharing actual antennas. The City prefers companies co-locate, which means they share a rooftop or a structure.”

Wilson: “But each would have its own individual transmitter?”

Rep: “That’s right.”

Wilson: “Looking at the map, it appears this antenna would improve coverage in the area of one or two blocks of the lifeguard tower at most. I can’t see that it would be worth it versus the health risks of the people in the area, especially the lifeguards in the building.”

Rep: “Well it would improve the coverage as well as capacity. It would help the other sites.”

Elizabeth Felando: “I don’t think you guys will have this answer, but if firefighters are exempt (from the 1996 Telecommunications Act that prevents local governments from denying permits based on health and environmental concerns), and lifeguards are part of the firefighters, then why aren’t they exempt, too, if they’re under that same jurisdiction in San Diego County?”

Rep: No response

Chair Andrea Schlageter: “What are contract terms you enter into with people when you’re renting space?”

Rep: “Typically — not always — they look for about a 30-year lease.”

Schlageter: “How much can the renter expect to make from that?”

Rep: “Anywhere from $500 a month to $10,000. It’s very subjective.”

Lifeguard Vanos and Dezenzo: Why was the lifeguard tower chosen, knowing it is scheduled to be rebuilt in three years?

Reps: Because of its height and proximity to commercial areas, and distance from residential areas.

Amid all the unknowns, the Planning Board came away with a few solid pieces of information:

• The height of the antenna will be 30 feet and will not rise higher than the lifeguard station.

• Monitors can be installed to measure the amount of energy being emitted by the tower.

• The effect of the cell tower’s frequencies on lifeguard equipment was tested and found not to cause interference. Permit approval for the tower will be contingent upon no interference with lifeguard equipment.

— The Ocean Beach Planning Board does not meet in January. The next meeting will be 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5 at the OB Rec Center, 4726 Santa Monica Ave.


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