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City Council delays decision on Wi-Fi
[February 11, 2010]

City Council delays decision on Wi-Fi

Feb 11, 2010 (The Santa Fe New Mexican - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The Santa Fe City Council, after a contentious meeting Wednesday, agreed to table a telecommunications ordinance and two franchises, despite predictions that the move could expose the city to costly litigation.

Twenty-eight people spoke against the ordinance which, they said, would allow low-power antennas to be erected with little public scrutiny of health and environmental impacts.

"I don't think we want to turn our city into a microwave," said Azlan White of Santa Fe.

"This feels like an enormous experiment on our health and rights," said Dierdra McCarthy of Chimayo.

Arthur Firstenberg, a west-side resident who recently sued a neighbor for using a cell phone and Wi-Fi in her house, called on the councilors to enact a stronger ordinance that requires firms to prove their facilities are safe.

Police were called into the late-night meeting after Bill Bruno, a Santa Fe resident who works as a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and is a longtime opponent of Wi-Fi systems, became so upset that he cursed at an agent for one of the two firms seeking a franchise.

"Get out of my neighborhood," Bruno screamed at Todd Wells, a lawyer representing NewPath Networks of Seattle, which seeks to build a distributed antenna system or DAS in Santa Fe that would enhance wireless reception over the city. Bruno left before the police arrived.

The other proposed franchise would be for a firm that wants to build a fiber-optics network.

Assistant City Attorney Maureen Reed said the city's old telecommunications ordinance was largely struck down by a federal appellate court that said its lease agreements for city rights of way must be replaced by franchise agreements that are called for in the new proposed ordinance.

She warned that a November ruling by the Federal Communications Commission calls for cities to make decisions on franchise applications within 90 days. She said the city already is past that deadline for NewPath Networks, so the firm could seek damages in federal court.

Reed said that although the proposed ordinance does not allow the city much leeway in regulating cell towers and similar systems, these systems could be regulated by the land-use codes. But she said federal law currently does not allow municipalities to consider the health and environmental consequences of cell phone towers and similar facilities.

"I just don't feel like we're there yet," said Councilor Patti Bushee about 10 p.m. after more than 2 1/2 hours of debate. "I just don't like the way we've done this." Bushee said she would prefer an up-or-down vote on the ordinance and the two franchises. But at the recommendation of Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger, who as mayor pro tem ran the meeting in Mayor David Coss' absence, Bushee moved to table the measure until the council's next regular meeting Feb. 24.

Her motion, which called for an end to the public hearing, was approved unanimously. Councilor Chris Calvert had tried to postpone the public hearing early at Wednesday's meeting, but his motion died for lack of a second.

The City Council then went on to pass a resolution asking the federal government to give municipalities the ability to consider heath and environment effects of cell towers and similar devices.

Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or

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