The Cambrian

Proposed cellular sites to be examined in Cambria

Members of the North Coast Advisory Council’s Land Use Committee plan to tour three neighborhood locations on Saturday, Aug. 1, where Verizon wants permission to install 2-foot “canister antennas” on existing utility poles to improve cellular communications.

Committee members are to discuss the permit applications at a meeting starting at 3 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3, at Rabobank, 1070 Main St. The public can attend.

The committee’s recommendations then go to the full council’s regular monthly meeting, also open to the public, that starts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, at Rabobank.

The installations would be at 2599 Pineridge Drive and at the intersections of Dorset Street-Whitehall Avenue and Melrose Avenue-Berwick Drive.

Hot topic

Increasing the reliability of cellphone coverage has been a hot topic recently at several public meetings, including the July 23 Cambria Community Services District board meeting; the June 24, July 8 and 22, Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group meetings; as well as at meetings of the San Luis Obispo County Fire Safe Council, Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, Community Emergency Response Team and others.

According to comments made at some of those meetings, groups that have endorsed increased coverage, at least in concept, include FFRP, Cambria Forest Committee and the Cambria Chamber of Commerce.

The Fire Safe and Focus groups already have submitted a joint letter endorsing the need for more cellular connections in the hilly, forested community where there are wide gaps in coverage. 

Sheriff’s Cmdr. James Taylor said July 23 that he was going to request that Sheriff Ian Parkinson submit a letter of endorsement.

Focus Group Chairwoman Shirley Bianchi has been trying to coordinate a meeting with county planning director James  Bergman, to see whether permitting for cellular antennas can be expedited based on public-safety concerns. Director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services Ron Alsop, and Planning Commissioner Ken Topping also are expected to attend that brainstorming session.


Some people have expressed concerns about adding more cellular facilities in Cambria, especially in residential neighborhoods. The topic has arisen several times at advisory council meetings, frequently triggering lively discussion and conflicting opinions.

Federal law says local government can’t use the potential for health hazards to refuse to issue a permit for new cellular sites.

Former NCAC chairwoman Claudia Harmon Worthen said in an email July 28 that “a cell tower/booster next to my home represents a health and safety issue. I know that health reasons are not legal arguments against residential cell towers because of the 1996 FCC ruling, but being subjected to microwaves 24 hours a day without any say is just wrong … there are legal reasons to oppose residential cell towers/ boosters, which we will pursue.”

She added that in case of fire, if phone poles burn, so will the cell facilities attached to them, and “the PVC pipe and cell equipment will put toxic chemicals into the air.” 

She said people who want details on her thoughts can contact her at 927-1934 or via email to

A long list of questions was circulating via email July 28 about new cell installations (which incidentally, the industry no longer refers to as towers, because most new facilities are so much smaller now than in the past). 

Those questions address visuals, maintenance, reasons for each project, expected outcome, future projects, economics and health, noise and lighting concerns.

Dangerous gaps

Fire, law enforcement, ambulance and other emergency services have said gaps in North Coast cellular coverage could be dangerous — even fatal — in a crisis situation, such as an approaching wildfire, earthquake, someone on Moonstone Beach Drive seeing a drowning person or sinking boat in the Pacific or even someone having a heart attack on Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

Rob Lewin, chief of county fire and the county’s Cal Fire stations and interim chief of Cambria Fire Department, said Tuesday, July 28, that “Emergency services rely more and more on cellular technology.” He said Cal Fire and other emergency computers communicate via cellular, and all his officers have smart phones. 

“We, of course, have radio systems that don’t rely on cellular coverage,” but if gaps can be filled in cellular coverage, that would “improve command and control on emergency incidents.”

At the CCSD meeting 

July 23, Lewin also said that “while sometimes cellular systems will be overwhelmed during an emergency, when they’ll reach capacity and won’t work,” firefighters and other emergency crews can resort to text messaging on the same devices, “which uses very little bandwidth.”

He said that during the recent Deer Fire near Lake Nacimiento, when sparse connections were overwhelmed, and “we couldn’t communicate by phone, we were able to sneak in text messages to incident command.”