By Stan Lynch
In a not surprising move, the Burbank City Council voted unanimously to uphold an appeal of an earlier Planning Board decision to allowed T-Mobile to place a cell phone antenna on the roof of the Little White Chapel Christian Church, located at 1711 N. Avon St.
The antenna would have been housed in a steeple-like structure to be constructed on the roof of the church. The church, which was built in 1941 by ministers and lay people from the Disciples of Christ denomination, takes its name from the original church building, a small chapel on the corner of Jeffries Ave. and Avon St. The chapel has a steeple, with a bell that is not visible, inside it.
Although the alleged health risks from the antenna were cited by opponents of the tower, the council is prohibited by federal law from regulating cell phone towers based on environmental health concerns. In the end, the decision was apparently based on the project being aesthetically incompatible with the neighborhood. Specifically, they thought the steeple-like structure that would hide the actual antennas, was too tall for the area.
The City does have a 30-foot height limit on structures in single family residential neighborhoods. Traditionally, churches have had tall steeples. The steeple on the chapel, according to the City, is 39 feet tall.
The reality, some say, is that the council was overwhelmed by the vocal opposition to the tower. City Hall was over-flowing with people Tuesday night because of this issue. In a town where elections are sometimes decided by fewer than 100 votes, the threat of not voting for an incumbent in the next election can’t be ignored.
Some criticism was leveled at the meeting Tuesday night, particularly by Dr. David Gordon, about the ordinance the council passed last September, which permits cell phone towers in single family home neighborhoods with a conditional use permit. That ordinance makes it possible for each request for cell towers to be considered on a case by case basis. Gordon criticized three of his colleagues for voting for the measure. Yet, if anything, the council’s reversal of the Planning Board’s decision showed that the law works.
While those protesting against the tower cited, among other things, the close proximity of the proposed antenna tower to schools and homes. Cell phone antennas next to homes, some even closer than the one at Little White Chapel would have been, can be found all over town. They are on the roofs of commercial buildings in the strip zones along major streets in Burbank, such as Magnolia, Burbank, Glenoaks, and Victory Boulevards.
They are already on at least one church, and possibly others. There may even be one just two blocks away from Bret Harte Elementary School, as well as one three blocks from Luther Burbank Middle School. There is one just across the street from Emerson Elementary School. You can find one right next to the athletic field at Jordan Middle School, one 3 blocks from Muir Middle School. Across Olive Ave. from the Olive Recreation Center in George Izay Park is another cell antenna site. They are all over town.
One of the more prominent cell towers is located on industrial property just a few feet north of Chandler Blvd. and Lomita Street, not all that far away from homes. The tower is disguised as a really fake-looking palm tree. Two real palm trees were planted with it when it was installed some years ago. One palm died shortly thereafter, and the other is still there. Nobody is fooled into thinking the antenna is a real palm tree. Perhaps no one would have been fooled that a second steeple on the Little White Chapel was pointing to Heaven rather than hiding a cell antenna.
The Little White Chapel’s motive was to bring in revenue. Like other churches with dwindling memberships, they need new ways of paying operating expenses when the collection plate isn’t what it used to be. Actually, the schools and the City, who also seem to need money, might want to consider cell towers as a revenue source. Perhaps T-Mobile would be interested in sticking an antenna inside that statue of Dr. David Burbank over by Costco.
It wasn’t all that many years ago that every house in town had a big TV antenna on the roof. How times have changed. Right now there are thousands of telephone poles all over town. They are unsightly. Maybe the day will come when all the electrical lines will be underground and out of sight, and cell phones will have sent land line home phones the way of the roof-top TV antenna. Someday folks may decide cell phone towers aren’t so bad after all.