Cell Phone Controversy on Oahu's North Shore

Eddie Black
Eddie Black

PUPUKEA (KHNL) - A controversy is brewing on Oahu's North Shore where plans to erect a new cell phone site has many residents upset. Homeowner Eddie Black shows us where a proposed cell phone site would go in his neighbor's yard. "Our neighbor has decided to erect a 100' cell phone tower in the middle of a residential neighborhood," he says and points to a tall coconut tree which he says is 60 feet tall.

A pole disguised as a tree, according to T Mobile. (see artist rendering at http://www.t-mobile-takeaction.com/northshore.html) "It's going to devalue our property values, it's going to impact some people's ocean views," says Black. "Our real estate advisor Stephany Sofos has drafted a letter for us stating that the surrounding property values will suffer as a result of this cell tower." He also cites health concerns about the radio frequency emissions.

The host would be Mitchell Ortiz, who didn't want to go on camera. Ortiz's wife says they wanted to do it to improve cell phone service to the area because they can't call 911 on their cell. It's something even critics like the Blacks don't dispute; they say they get excellent Cingular coverage from their home, but Black acknowledges he has friends with other wireless carriers, and they can't get a signal from his house. Still, he says, "The general consensus of the neighborhood is that they are willing to compromise their cell phone coverage and if needed drop T Mobile and go with another carrier that has coverage up here."

T mobile has a site at the bottom of the hill. It says it needs another, to meet federal rules requiring wireless carriers to provide 911 service to customers in a law called E911. "It refers to 'Enhanced 911', a federally-mandated program that seeks to improve the effectiveness and reliability of 911 service by providing emergency dispatchers with additional information on 911 calls. E911 provides the phone number of the wireless device and information about the location of the person in need to the 911 dispatcher," says Sr. Mgr of National External Affairs Jessica Prince from the Seattle offices of T Mobile.

She continues, "The area without coverage is the upper portion of Pupukea. There are approximately 400 houses with no T-Mobile coverage. You can't place an outdoor call in most of the area. We do have a site at the bottom of Pupukea, but it provides coverage towards the ocean and along Kamehameha Highway not up towards the mountain."

Black says the proposed site calls for a 600 foot "compound" that would include a noisy generator that hums day and night. T Mobile's Prince says, "The specifications of proposed lease area is 20'x20'. This is a normal size lease area for a raw land site such as the one we proposed. As for noise concerns, T-Mobile complies with all local noise ordinance provisions. We would not allow our generators to exceed any local noise standards."

Black and his wife Tracy say they got 365 people to sign a petition against the proposed cell phone site. "That's Pupukea neighbors only," they say. "There is an additional petition circulating for North Shore residents which has 100 plus signatures of family and friends who wanted to support us as well, for a total of approximately 500 signatures."

Still, they say they are frustrated. The North Shore Neighborhood Board and the Sunset Community Association both voted the idea down but the law still allows T Mobile to pursue it. "Whether they get the approval or not they are still able to go and apply for the permit at the building department," says Black. The Blacks say they will file a class action lawsuit if T Mobile proceeds with its original plan, and that they already have 10 people on board.

City councilman Donovan Dela Cruz says he supports what the community wants and has asked the Building Department for information about this case. At the end of January Dela Cruz submitted a "RISER" or request for information and service to the Mayor's office, because the Mayor heads that department. Dela Cruz is asking what the Building Department's intent is in this case; he expects a response back shortly.

The Ortizs say there is currently no ocean view so the proposed pole would not detract from any aesthetics. Mrs. Ortiz says by telephone she figures most people would "prefer not to have it but they realize it will happen anyway because there are 4 poles at the bottom of the hill." She says she does not believe there are health concerns, and indicates she has small children that she would most definitely have considered. Ortiz says the family has already been hassled anonymously and wishes any critics would approach the family to discuss the matter in a civil fashion.

This may all be a moot point because Sr. Mgr of National External Affairs Jessica Prince said Friday by phone T Mobile wants to be a good neighbor and is now considering other sites in the North Shore area due to the community response.