They are ubiquitous on the Westside, along public right-of-ways, on top of churches and near commercial avenues. The sight of a cellular tower by itself is not that unusual, but as a Westchester couple has recently learned, in some cases the concept can be too close for comfort.
Jeffery and Candace Yip have lived in Westchester for over 30 years on El Manor Avenue. Their quiet, tree-lined residential street several blocks from Sepulveda Boulevard is not the type of neighborhood where there is typically a lot of fanfare.
But last month, nearly 40 of the Yips’ friends and neighbors came to their defense as the couple seeks to turn back an attempt by wireless provider T-Mobile to install a cell tower within five feet of the west side of their home.
The tower would be taller than the utility pole outside their home, said Candace Yip.
“It would be very unsightly in our neighborhood,” she said.
“We aren’t aware of any stand-alone cell towers in residential neighborhoods,” added her husband Jeffery, a trusts and estates attorney. “They usually put them in places like commercial areas and churches that have steeples.”
The Yips and three of their neighbors said they were taken aback when they received certified letters in June from BMS Communications, a group representing T-Mobile, informing them of the wireless provider’s plans for the residential neighborhood.
“T-Mobile is planning to install two above-ground facilities, a power meter pedestal and a 43-foot-tall wood utility pole along the roadside within the public right-of-way near your property,” wrote Trent Ramirez, BMS’s zoning coordinator.
T-Mobile has applied to the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering for a variance to request permission to build the utility pole and pedestal.
“Their application did not include certain documents that we needed, so as far as this office is concerned, T-Mobile’s application is incomplete. They do not have an application on file with us,” Jeff LeDou, a management analyst II with the city’s engineering department, told The Argonaut.
The Yips say that they have serious safety concerns about a proposed cell tower in such close proximity to their residence. The Federal Communications Commission, which governs telephone communications, has ruled that municipalities and individuals cannot oppose the installation of cell antennas based on health risks.
T-Mobile also plans to build a vault under the tower several feet underground.
“We don’t know what kind of machinery will be there, and we have a retaining wall that could fall down in the event of an earthquake,” Jeffery Yip said.
There are at least five cell antennas near the couple’s home, including one close to nearby Orville Wright Middle School, the Howard Hughes Center, Covenant Presbyterian Church on 80th Street and Loyola Marymount University. A diagram provided by Ramirez from the wireless company claims that there are “dead zones” or areas without good cell phone reception in the adjacent neighborhood — hence the need to build a tower near the Yips’ residence.
Wireless providers have been steadily seeking to break new ground in residential communities in recent years, LeDou said, due to the fact that many residential dwellings are ordering fewer and fewer landlines. There has been, however, a distinct increase in cell phone usage.
“It’s driven by customer demand,” he said.
According to the Web site www.AntennaSearch.com/, there are 316 non-registered cell towers within four miles of the Yips’ home, and 34 registered towers. Their home is listed as a future site that has been granted, which came as yet another surprise to them.
“I was shocked when I heard that,” Candace Yip said. “This seems like a done deal, and (T-Mobile) has not even been granted a variance yet.”
LeDou reiterated that his department has yet to grant T-Mobile a variance of a permit for the tower.
“And we are the agency in charge of issuing city permits,” LeDou added.
Jeffery Yip said he and his wife were planning to begin a series of home improvements on their home when they were notified by T-Mobile that the company would be seeking a permit to install the cell tower.
“We were planning to remodel our kitchen and do some painting this summer. But do we do all of these improvements if we’re going to have a cell phone tower in front of us?” he asked. “Now we’re reconsidering not renovating our kitchen.”
Christina Machado Essex, who was one of the Yips’ supporters at last month’s rally, thinks having so many cell towers and antennas on houses of worship within a community is troubling.
“I understand that they’re at a lot churches, but I don’t think that’s right,” Machado Essex, who lives in Playa del Rey, said. “Do their parishioners all know what they are doing? Are they that desperate for money?”
Diane Landis, a former neighbor of the Yips, also joined Machado Essex and others at the rally.
“These towers don’t belong here,” she said. “The only way that there’s going to be action is if neighbors ban together and oppose this.”
Landis, who is a member of United Neighbors of Westchester, a public interest group that fought unsuccessfully to halt a Culver City development on the Westchester border, sees some of the same fighting spirit that she saw when neighbors rallied to try to stop the Entrada Towers, which is slated to be built at the site of the Radisson Hotel on Centinela Avenue.
“This has gone even quicker and faster and people are really on board,” said Landis, who lives on the Westchester bluffs.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl calls the federal law that disallows using health risk claims to appeal the installation of cell towers “outrageous.”
The councilman, who represents Westchester, said there was only so much that can be done at the local level to prevent the proliferation of cell towers in local residential communities.
“But we’re watching them like a hawk,” Rosendahl said. “I’m 100 percent with the community on this, and wherever we can stop them, we will.”
There have been instances where residents have been successful in halting the installation of wireless companies’ towers. In nearby Baldwin Hills, the Planning Commission reversed an earlier decision in February 2009 to allow an installation application by T-Mobile for a pharmacy. Neighbors there also cited many of the same complaints that the Yips and their friends have mentioned: esthetics, loss of property value and possible health risks.
T-Mobile spokesman Joseph Thompson appeared mystified why Baldwin Hills homeowners were against the tower in their neighborhood.
“I don’t know why we’re being demonized when everybody out here has a cell phone,” Thompson told television station KNBC 4 after the application was denied.
The Argonaut unsuccessfully attempted to reach Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester) for comment for this story.
A petition to halt the approval of the variance has been circulated in Westchester and the Yips say they have acquired over 500 signatures. They are also looking forward to a hearing before the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa’s land use and planning committee Tuesday, Aug. 17, where the wireless company is scheduled to make a presentation.
The Westchester couple is gratified that their immediate neighbors, as well as homeowners like Landis and Machado who live farther away, are fully supporting them in their efforts to keep the cell tower away from their home.
“We appreciate everything that everyone has done for us, including signing our petition, coming to our home for the rally and writing letters to our elected officials,” said Candace Yip. “We’re doing this for ourselves as well as for other families. Once they come into our neighborhood, there will be no stopping them.”
Machado said she hopes the number of friends and neighbors backing the Yips make T-Mobile aware that they will not go away quietly.
“This shows that we are not going to play dead,” she said. “We’re going to fight. In Westchester and Playa del Rey, we stick together.”
Thompson did not return numerous phone calls for comment.