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.
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.