An appeal from Sierra Waldorf School parents to reverse the approval of an AT&T wireless telecommunications tower that would be located less than a mile from the campus was denied in a unanimous vote by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors Tuesday afternoon.
Raul Vaughn, the father of a 5-year-old student at Sierra Waldorf School, argued that the plan did not comply with Tuolumne County Ordinance Code because all alternative co-location sites had been identified by AT&T, and that the company did not have legal access to the area because a road not maintained by the county was zoned for residential use.
Speaking of his daughter, he said, “I don’t want her growing up in the shadow of a giant cell tower. And I am not alone.”
Almost a dozen people expressed opposition, with many parents and residents arguing that the proximity of the tower to the school posed unknown health impacts to children who would be exposed to radiation.
Arthur Schmidt, owner of Grocery Outlet in Sonora and a resident near the property, said, “they are going to lose business. Just the general public, whether they are right or wrong, are going to say ‘I’m not going to put my kids there.’ ”
An Edison electrical engineer hired by AT&T said frequency levels created by the tower would be about 1.4 percent, or 70 times below, the FCC limit for energy emissions by the time they reached the school.
After about two hours of argument, and as each of the supervisors made their final position statements appearing to support the construction of the tower, proponents of the appeal slowly began to file out of the board’s chambers.
More than 50 people, including parents of Sierra Waldorf students, Jamestown residents, and telecommunication company representatives, filled the room at the beginning of the meeting.
By the time the unanimous vote was made, nearly half of them had walked out.
Karl Rodefer, District 5 supervisor whose district includes the residential property along Dante Drive in Jamestown where the cell tower will be located, emphasized that, in the reality of modern life, electromagnetic frequencies were present from cell phones, radio towers and other devices.
“Everybody in here wants the very best for their community, and so do I,” he said. “I truly believe that anyone who takes their kids out of Waldorf School over this tower is making a big mistake.”
District 4 Supervisor John Gray also said he supported the project.
“This is the danger,” he said, holding up his cell phone.
With the denial of the appeal, the tower is approved for construction on the property owned by Bruce and Elizabeth Beaudreau, approximately 3,670 feet from the school.
The tower will be about 110 feet tall and designed to appear like a pine tree, so as to camouflage into the naturally occurring vegetation.
Bruce Beaudreau said he did not solicit AT&T about the project.
“I concluded it would have a substantial benefit to people on that side of Table Mountain,” he said. “I feel comfortable with it.”
Support for the wireless tower focused on the beneficial impacts that more expansive broadband service could have for local businesses and law enforcement.
“We don’t build these cell phone towers for fun, we build them to serve a purpose and fill in the gaps,” said Stephanie Dowdle, arguing on behalf of AT&T.
Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Eric Erhardt also added that the cell tower would improve connectivity for a part of the county that may struggle to reach law enforcement during an emergency.