“Civil Rights for Cell Tower Corporations? You’ve Got to be Kidding!”

untitled“Civil Rights for Cell Tower Corporations? You’ve Got to be Kidding!”

Paul Cienfuegos’ April 21st, 2015 Commentary on KBOO Evening News

 (His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes.)

Yesterday evening, I attended a two-hour informational meeting about T-Mobile Corporation’s imminent application to the City to mount a new cell phone antenna on a utility pole in a residential neighborhood just a few blocks from Mount Tabor. The City requires that the corporate applicant hold such an informational meeting at least 30 days before they file their application.

90 residents from the immediate neighborhood attended the session. Although the meeting was officially facilitated by a fellow hired by the City, most of the packed agenda was filled up by one corporate employee after another – first from T-Mobile Corporation, then by Odelia Pacific Corporation (the company contracted to install the new antenna -on a pole owned by PGE Corporation), and finally by a certified health physicist who is an expert in non-ionized radiation. He too was paid by T Mobile Corporation to make the presentation, so you can imagine how little his claims were trusted by the very agitated audience of 90 neighborhood residents. The energy in the room became even more unsettled when an oncologist specializing in brain cancers challenged the corporate-funded physicist’s claims that there was absolutely nothing to fear by having a cell phone antenna placed on a pole just twenty feet from the nearest home bedroom – and just about 100 feet from the oncologist’s home down the street.

What struck me as most surprising is how tone deaf the City’s hired facilitator was. What did the City think would be the inevitable outcome when yet another corporation appears to be forcing yet another corporate project down the throats of its unwilling victims? The two-hour agenda provided a scant fifteen minutes for “Additional Q & A”. But this crowd of angry home owners wasn’t going to take this lying down, so they interrupted every few minutes with one insistent question after another, not willing to wait until the very end of the meeting to express their opposition. And only questions were permitted by the facilitator – no statements were allowed at all – which just further cemented an assumption among all of the attendees that this meeting was held merely as a legally-required formality, after which time the City would rubber-stamp the permit.

As listeners to my weekly commentary have learned by now, I focus a lot of my educational work on spreading the word about how corporations have been granted one new constitutional “right” after another by the Supreme Court, starting in 1819 – that’s 196 years ago!

The corporate constitutional “rights” angle to this cell tower story is perhaps more startling than most. For you see, the federal government passed a sweeping new law in 1996 that made it illegal for a city or county government to vote “No” on a cell tower application based on the elected officials’ concerns about the human or environmental health impact of the proposed tower. Let me say that again, because it’s such a dramatic example of corporate “rights” trumping the rights of We the People.

Back in 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act. It was the very first piece of national legislation ever written entirely by a corporate industry. The telecommunications industry didn’t have to lobby to get it passed, they simply wrote it from beginning to end, and our elected legislators overwhelmingly passed it – very few of them even read it because the bill was as thick as the Manhattan phone book!

Buried in the Act was Section 704, that banned local governments from even considering the human or environmental health impact of a proposed cell tower in their decision-making process, because, and this is the best part….because it would violate the corporation’s civil rights. Yes, that’s right. The telecommunications industry argued that they were people just like historically oppressed African Americans, and therefore the 1964 Civil Rights Act protected the corporation’s civil rights against discrimination by race, religion, or gender. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty darn sure that a for-profit business corporation does not have a definable race, religion, or gender. But hey, that’s what the industry-written law stated, so it must be true, right?

But it gets even better than that! Even if the local government votes to not approve a cell tower

application, and bases its decision on other issues that they are allowed to consider, such as aesthetics, the corporation can still sue the City if their leaders “believe” that the City’s decision was partially based on concerns about human health. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. The corporate leaders must simply “believe” it to be true, and they then have the legal right to sue, to overturn a city or county government’s decision. So what tends to happen is that local governments approve tower after tower, even when 99% of the neighborhood is adamantly opposed. And they call this democracy!

We the People have to stop acting so obedient, when one unjust law after another is shoved in our faces to silence our opposition. And there actually is much that we can do, once we’re prepared to push back on these unjust and illegitimate laws. For example, within the framework of the Community Rights movement, Portland voters could pass a ballot initiative that bans any further cell towers in our city. Or we could pass a ballot initiative that bans any significant corporate development if the majority of the impacted neighborhood votes no. Wouldn’t that be so much more sensible than one neighborhood after another battling one individual cell tower application after another, within a political process where the corporation has the constitutionally-protected “right” to place the tower anywhere it wants to, while the local residents have to sit obediently, while their local elected officials watch their backs and try to avoid a corporate lawsuit? Is this really the best we can do? Of course not!

I will be sharing this vision at our upcoming neighborhood meetings, proposing a more effective

strategy to stop this and other new cell towers. And if anyone out there has a cell tower controversy in another neighborhood, let’s get our neighborhoods networked together so that we can stop these dangerous towers once and for all.

You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.

You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. You can sign up for my newsletter at PaulCienfuegos.com. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for!