Mike Bender intends to file lawsuit over 5G installment
A Santa Barbara resident is intending to file a federal lawsuit against Santa Barbara County in an effort to urge officials to reconsider the placement of a 5G small cell wireless facility in his neighborhood.
Mike Bender, who lives on Arroyo Road, is voicing opposition to the installation of a 5G wireless facility that would sit less than 45 feet from his home that he says will have harmful effects on his health.
5G, a new technology that is meant to provide higher data speeds and increased network capacity, has become a hot-button topic worldwide. Proponents of the advanced network say it has increased data capacity and higher internet speeds to benefit users, while opponents raise concerns about radiation outputs and the placement of 5G facilities in close proximity to neighborhoods and schools.
Mr. Bender, who lives with Lyme disease and mast cell activation disorder, experiences extreme sensitivity to electromagnetic and radio frequencies, both of which radiate from 5G devices. To treat his conditions, Mr. Bender has eliminated the use of wireless devices, like cellphones and smart devices, to reduce the aggravation to his brain and nervous system.
If a 5G system were to be installed close to his home, Mr. Bender told the News-Press that it would significantly impact his quality of life.
“It’s personal for me because I removed all wireless from my house,” Mr. Bender said. “I did my part to make sure I could heal, and the part of healing is reducing all overstimulation for the nervous system. Having a steady cell tower signal 45 feet from the house would crush me. I wouldn’t sleep.”
In a note that was sent to county officials and obtained by the News-Press, Mr. Bender’s doctor wrote, “For a patient like Mr. Bender, the proximity to a cell tower of any kind would be extremely detrimental to his health and recovery process and potentially make his current residence uninhabitable for him and would exacerbate his condition.”
Before pursuing a lawsuit against the county, Mr. Bender and his attorney, Andrew Campanelli, sent a letter outlining Mr. Bender’s health concerns to officials at the end of March.
The letter claimed that under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act Amendments, the county could demand “reasonable accommodations” for Mr. Bender based on his ADA-qualified disability and FHAA-qualified handicap. Within the letter, Mr. Bender and his attorney requested that county officials consider whether Mr. Bender qualifies for reasonable accommodation and if he did, determine what reasonable accommodation would be.
The letter concluded by asking officials to halt the construction of 5G wireless facilities on Mr. Bender’s road, which is being conducted by telecommunications group Crown Castle.
Yet, when it comes to 5G installation, Santa Barbara County officials are in a tricky situation. Based on the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, Santa Barbara County does not have the authority to regulate wireless facilities based on RF emissions and does not maintain control of where certain facilities are placed, according to Lisa Plowman, the director of the county’s Planning and Development Department.
“The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) sets the standard of the amount of radiofrequency radiation that is permitted by these facilities and provided that they meet this standard, the county doesn’t have a role in reviewing (radiation levels) or have any discretion to prevent the installation of (5G),” Ms. Plowman told the News-Press.
Gregg Hart, 2nd District supervisor, further explained that the FCC law limits county regulation over the placement of 5G facilities.
“The planning department has reached out to Crown Castle to explain the situation and ask them to voluntarily relocate, and that seems very reasonable to me,” Mr. Hart told the News-Press. “There are alternative sites that would work for their needs, but with the law giving them the decision, it’s up to Crown Castle to make that choice. And I hope they make the right choice, but the county doesn’t have any authority to compel them.”
Mr. Hart added that he sympathizes with Mr. Bender’s situation and hopes Crown Castle will make the “right decision” and choose to move the facility elsewhere.
Despite the county’s response that not much can be done to remedy the situation on their end, Mr. Bender is intending to pursue a federal ADA lawsuit to urge the county to ramp up efforts where possible.
Mr. Campanelli, the attorney in this lawsuit, said ADA regulations would trump any state or local laws that would initially prevent the county from having a say in the matter.
“If someone is disabled, and the placement of the facility would, according to (Mr. Bender’s) personal position, would seriously adversely impact his health, then they must afford him a reasonable accommodation under federal law, which trumps state law,” Mr. Campanelli told the News-Press.
Mr. Campanelli said he has 28 years of experience as a telecommunications attorney, throughout which he has represented people all over the county “suffering from these installations.”
While a debate is circulating nationwide over the placement of 5G networks, local concerns over the proximity are not just limited to Mr. Bender’s case.
Miriam Lindbeck, the president SafeTech Santa Barbara County, said the installation of 5G in close proximity can cause oxidated stress in the body, which in turn can cause disease, illness, malfunctions in the nervous system and exacerbate existing conditions.
“Cumulative and constant exposure will cause these things to happen,” Ms. Lindbeck told the News-Press. “It can bring on brain malfunctions and dysfunctions which we see later in life like dementia and loss of memory. It can contribute to Alzheimer’s, and it will exacerbate existing conditions of people.”
She later added, “For Mr. Bender, it will cause his conditions to get much much worse, and with it always being inside his home and outside, he will never recover. He will always be in disrepair.”
Still, telecommunication companies argue that the use of 5G within federal limits does not have adverse effects on individuals in close proximity to wireless facilities.
In response to a News-Press request for comment, Crown Castle officials responded with a statement refuting claims that question the safety of 5G installation.
“Crown Castle provides communications infrastructure, including towers, fiber and small cells, which serve as the foundation for mobile connectivity in communities across the United States,” Scott Longhurst, the government affairs manager at Crown Castle, said in a statement. “The scientific and health communities have all come to the same general conclusion — there are no established health hazards from exposure to RF emissions within the established FCC guidelines. The research is subject to constant review by government health agencies and standard-setting organizations, like the FCC and FDA. The FCC recently reaffirmed these safety standards, on a unanimous and bipartisan basis.”
For Mr. Bender, this pending lawsuit does not involve his stance in the polarizing 5G debate; rather, it centers on the adverse health risks he could face as a result of its installation near his home. Through the lawsuit, he is hopeful the county will be able to negotiate with Crown Castle and install the 5G line further from his home or in a completely new location.
“I just want to be very clear that this is not a debate about 5G. This is a debate as to the responsibility that the county has to make sure that these facilities are placed appropriately,” Mr. Bender said. “It doesn’t matter to me if it’s 3G, 4G or 5G. It matters where you want to place it.”
Mr. Campenelli echoed this sentiment, calling the use of 5G a “necessary evil” in the cellular world.
“The goal should not be to ban wireless,” Mr. Campenelli said. “Everyone loves their smartphone and iPad, and if you do, (5G) is a necessary evil. Sewage plants are also a necessary evil, but just like a sewage treatment plant, just because you need it, doesn’t mean you put it anywhere.”