Santa Fe School Board Unanimous: No Cell Tower by Gonzales School

Report and Photos by ERIC SHULTZ

At its March 19 meeting, the Santa Fe School Board unanimously approved a resolution opposing plans to site a cellphone tower next to Gonzales Community School. At least one board member, Steven Carrillo, said he was unconvinced until he heard community members speak at the meeting.

Federal telecommunications laws favor the industry, leaving local communities with few avenues for challenging tower placement and proliferation. Tuesday’s resolution was directed to the Santa Fe Historic Review Board. Because the proposed tower site is within the city’s historic district, the review board can nix the plan on “esthetic” grounds.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act disqualifies local opposition to cell tower siting based on health concerns, but this didn’t stop community members from stating the obvious: they are worried for their children’s health. Gonzales parent Dee Beingessner’s statement captured the sense of the meeting: “I have applied for a transfer already for all four of my children to leave Gonzales Elementary if a cell tower is erected. If the transfers don’t go through, my children–all four of them–will go to private schools, unfortunately. I’m a big believer in public schools, but I will not risk the health and safety of my children.”

Because a private school alternative is not available for the school’s many lower-income families, this case has a clear environmental justice dimension: the risks fall disproportionately on poor and working families for whom transfers are a burden and there is no private option.

One of two new Board members, Susan Duncan (whose district includes Gonzales) drafted the resolution as her first official act.School Board Cell Tower Amend

Following Duncan’s reading of the resolution, school board vice president Carrillo proposed that it not be addressed only to the historic review board, but to the Santa Fe City Council and AT&T as well. Duncan explained that the wording reflected advice from the City, that only the historic review board had power to block the proposed siting. But since appeal of the review board’s decision would put the matter before the City Council, she agreed to the amendment [when the final language is published, we will post it here -ed.].

On several occasions during the meeting, participants reminded Superintendent Joel Boyd of his earlier commitment to “look into” removing the antenna array already installed at Santa Fe High School. Details of the contract in the High School case are not immediately known.

The Santa Fe Public Schools website provides a video of the entire meeting. For ease of viewing, here is a list of the community members who spoke. Each name is followed by the approximate time of their appearance in the recording (hour:minute:second): physicist David Stupin (01:54:50), physicist and Gonzales parent George Kaschner (02:01:30), parent Debby Kaschner (02:05:30), parent Dee Beingessner (02:13:00), parent Heather Wolf Espinosa (02:15:55) and Gonzales student Melinda Espinosa (02:17:00). Board member Duncan’s reading of the resolution, and the Board’s discussion and vote begin at 02:59:30.

One of the Santa Fe Board of Education's newest members, Susan Duncan wrote the resolution in response to families from her district's Gonzales Community School.
One of the Santa Fe Board of Education’s newest members, Susan Duncan wrote the resolution in response to families from her district’s Gonzales Community School.
Dee Beingessner, whose fourth child would enter Gonzales next year, addresses the board.
Dee Beingessner, whose fourth child would enter Gonzales next year, addresses the board.
Gonzales School parent Debby Kaschner.
School Board President Linda Trujillo.
School Board President Linda Trujillo.
Heather Wolf Espinosa and her daughter, Gonzales student Melinda Espinosa, both spoke in opposition to the proposed cellphone tower
Heather Wolf Espinosa and her daughter, Gonzales student Melinda Espinosa, both spoke in opposition to the proposed cellphone tower
Joel Boyd, Superintendent of Santa Fe Schools, agreed to "look into" removing the cellphone antennas already in place at Santa Fe High School.
Joel Boyd, Superintendent of Santa Fe Schools, agreed to “look into” removing the cellphone antennas already in place at Santa Fe High School.


  1. Ah, good news … I guess. AND the results of fighting back against corporate inanity.
    BUT, did this NIMBY (Not in my backyard) simply move the problem to another place where the same negative results will affect people unable to use the system to prevent being injured?
    Here, in this town, parents in one school effectively prevented a tower next to their school … now it is near s school with a population of poor, of recent immigrants scratching out a living, and of the vulnerable. While the district reacted well on behalf of the first school, they were totally inactive when it came to the second siting.
    Success in our own neighborhoods is commendable … no doubt … but if it merely dumps the problem on someone else … what have we gained as a society?
    Sadly, the use of cell phones (etc) means that companies want to site their towers where people live … and that is a problem, not just for some … but for all.
    Want a quick example? Think WIPP.

    • No, it’s not a NIMBY – we should press for cell phone providers to avoid locating cell towers next to any schools. AT&T, according to their representatives, have the shortest range of any provider – approximately 1 mile radius. Studies in the US and Europe recommend a minimum distance between cell tower and schools of 400m (approximately 1500′). That means that even AT&T can have their service area overlap to provide good service while keeping their towers at a safer distance from schools.

    • Real simple! Coverage is great in Santa Fe! NO NEW TOWERS ARE NEEDED! except to allow faster (and more dangerous) 4G downloads- a luxury we cannot afford.

      • You are correct–In fact, at the first meeting of AT & T with the neighborhood, one man testified that he has tested his reception–as an AT & T customer–throughout that very area as he walked the River Walk–and it was fine! What AT&T is really after is being able to rent out antenna spaces to other TeleComs on their towers–and a new law #6409 prevents there being any limit on how many antennas or how much radiation they emit–once the tower is up, or “pre-exisitng.” This was hidden in Section 6409 (Wireless Facilities Deployment) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, signed on February 22, 2012.

    • Remember: when fighting corporations that strive for immortality (to never die at any cost), one battle at a time! One school at a time. One tower at a time. The war is long and there will be many battles.

    • I agree with your criticism of NIMBY (not in MY back yard!), and as stated in this article–towers are disproportionately sited in poorer or working class neighborhoods–The occasional time there is a siting on the elite side, they have attorneys to fight them. This is why we need a citywide awareness and resistance–and to pressure our Presidents of Neighborhood Association and our City Councilors to require that Assistant City Attorney Kelley Brennan

      1) Pass more protective clauses in her TeleCom Ordinance. Attorney Brennan passed a clause that protects citizens from being involuntarily irradiated from 300-600% more than FCC guidelines, but there is no strong provision for on-going “surprise” testing, as TeleComs often “power up” beyond the legal limit.

      2) Dozens of other cities now have empowered citizen testing of “in kind” (ie if the supposed gap is in a building, they test reception in the building, not as TeleComs test in a drive by) reception to have equal power to the TeleCom “canned” data. Also, 29 states have passed “qui tam” laws (whisteblower) laws empowering private citizens to commence lawsuits to protect the rights and/or coffers of the respective State or City.

      3) City Councilors felt they could not pass guidelines keeping a 1500 ft clearance, the “Circle of Death” shown in research studies, but the most mortalities (see A. Dode: Belo Horizonte, 2011) occur within 400 feet. In Dode’s research 7191 cancer deaths occurred within a ten year period comprising 82% of the cancer deaths and all resided within 3000 feet of a cell tower. There is now enough hard science on this published by respected science journals.

  2. I’m sorry but I cannot accept that we base a minumum distance on DEATHS. It is equally unacceptible to me to consider children with cancer if we can take action to avoid it. If 400m (1500ft) is widely considered a more prudent minimum distance, let’s work with that number.

    Let’s not lose sight of the concerns stated in this article and the school board meetings: While we cannot continue to argue health concerns, there exists a very real outcome of siting cell towers near schools: Parents and caregivers with the opportunity to choose where to live and what schools to attend can choose to take their precious children to schools without cell towers. The result of this is the decline of diversity in our schools.

    It’s not NIMBY, it’s about the children in all our schools.

    Regarding cell tower reception: At that earlier meeting with AT&T in May, 2012, AT&T said they wanted to erect more towers in an effort to provide better service. They described their service as having limited range (approximately 1 mile) and line-of-sight reception. I asked whether they had any experience proving that adding a cell tower would increase reception in an area characterized by dense foliage such as the Casa Solana neighborhood. They responded that they did not know whether an additional tower at that location would improve reception in Casa Solana but that it would provide better service along St. Francis Drive.

  3. Here is a link to SFPS Resolution 2012/13-23. This version includes the amendment as accepted and passed to communicate the resolution to Santa Fe Historic District Review Board, the Santa Fe City Council, and AT&T.

    Spread the word, folks. Of all the websites talking about concerned people opposing cell towers next to schools, this is the first school board ACTION that I’ve seen!

  4. A concerned community member and film maker has committed her energy to providing this public service announcement:

    Please share it with a friend!

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