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Letters to the Editor
Jack's Tail Is Wagging
This is an appreciative "thank you" to the caring people of Noe Valley.
In early October, our family dog, Jack, disappeared. My sister and I were up until midnight posting flyers and searching desperately for him. We met so many people in the neighborhood who helped to look for him. One person even stapled our flyer to the pole. Another family found him and adopted him for the night.
The lovely man returned our dog the next morning, and I never got his name. This is a true example of community. Thank you to those who helped and cared.
Tracy E. Cronin
'Teddies'--Techies with Feelings
It's difficult to dialogue in a monthly, but I must respond to Hugh Palmerston's comments on my letter to the editor [Voice October and November 1997 issues]. He comments on the "irony" of my having a cell phone while opposing the antennas on top of the Noe Valley Ministry because it houses a nursery school. He calls this "one of the sorest points in the great antenna controversy."
I am a parent, a mother. I am biologically, spiritually, emotionally programmed to nurture and protect children. This is as it should be, and it will always be more important to me than instant telecommunications access. It makes sense to err on the side of caution when it comes to our environment, especially where children are concerned, as their developing systems can have vulnerabilities that differ from those of adults. The law of the land, however, is to err on the side of profit, and that to me is the sorest point in this or any similar controversy.
The arguments that favorably compare the antennas to household EMFs don't do much for me, as there are wide variances in both household environments and individual sensitivities. An essential difference is the element of personal choice.
In my home I can make choices based on what I think is best and what is comfortable for me and my family. I can kill my television, update my computer, make tech art, and pass on microwave ovens altogether. If I can't sleep well near clock radios, TVs et al, well, that's just my quirky princess-and-the-pea syndrome.
I think there are lots of people like me, neither "techies" nor "Luddites" (as Harry Stern, some months ago, divided folks on this issue), but "teddies" if you will: hip but wary techies with lots of warm, fuzzy feelings for children and other living things, who do their best to make respon-sible choices based on personal experience and often conflicting information.
Though cell phones are de rigueur in my husband's business, we support the proposed moratorium on new antenna sites in San Francisco and will drop our cell phone immediately if it doesn't go through. The moratorium makes sense. I personally am offended by the amount of money spent by the telecommuncations companies to expedite their antenna installations in the frenzy for all companies to have reception available on every square foot of San Francisco.
The adage "Where there's smoke there's fire" comes repeatedly to mind. I am not reassured by the letter put out by the Ministry earlier this month, which comes off more like advertising than solid information. When it comes to developing technologies and the environment, it's critical to establish public policies that reflect values other than the bottom line of profit.
I do not fault the Ministry for considering this as a solution to their financial problems. My hope is that an alternative solution can and will be found.
The View from the Ministry
What is going on in Noe Valley? Cell phone antenna plans and protests.
Pacific Bell and Cellular One last summer proposed putting cell phone antennas within the very tall steeple of Noe Valley Ministry's building. "Praise and thanks be to God," cried the Session, the church's board of directors. With the proposal came new wiring for the building and soundproofing for the studio, along with five years of guaranteed rental income, which would increase the church's budget by 20 percent.
Noe Valley Ministry is 20 years old, a community ministry to the arts. It is housed in a stick-style Victorian building, 110 years old, site of the long-gone Lebanon Presbyterian Church.
We are a Presbyterian church who shares the building with a neighborhood newspaper, a belly-dance group, a nursery school, a senior lunch program, and lots of music and dance groups. Twelve-step groups meet most days. Most Saturdays, concerts make a joyful noise. Artists hang their art on our walls, and singers rehearse in our studio. At some point in each day, the quiet ones share the building -- the practitioners of yoga and tai chi.
The old building has a wonderful springy dance floor and glorious acoustics. It also has a crumbling brick foundation, sewers that clog with regularity, wiring that has been improvised, and lots of steps but no elevator. Though the community has helped out, the congregation went deep in debt during our first round of renovations -- a new roof and painting inside and out. The projected cost of future renovation? $1 million more.
Some members of our community are opposed to this guaranteed source of income. At the public information meetings we held, these protesters spoke of the fears they have about cellular technology. Some think electromagnetic fields are linked to cancer in children. What about that concern?
The New England Journal of Medicine, in its July 3, 1997, issue, reported on research by the National Cancer Institute conducted over an eight-year period. It found that EMFs were not a cause of childhood leukemia. Indeed, the journal recommended an end to further medical research on EMFs. A study done in Colorado in 1979 first raised questions. It seemed to show that children with leu-kemia lived closer to high-voltage power lines than did healthy youngsters. Further studies produced different conclusions. The July report seemed conclusive to us.
Since early October the protesters have picketed our worship services. Every Sunday morning, they have marched. Angry signs have sprouted in neighboring windows. They called the media. TV cameras pursued members of the congregation as they studied God's word and prepared for worship. The extremely well organized protesters called the Board of Supervisors, sought out endorsements for their position from others in the neighborhood, and thrust petitions in front of all comers on 24th Street. They are raising funds to bring a doctor from New Zealand to testify concerning his research. All of this to dissuade one very small neighborhood church from accepting corporate help in our renovation to keep our building safe and accessible for neighborhood use.
What is going on in Noe Valley? The antenna protest is not about science. It is about how we live in a diverse community. How do we live together when we disagree with our neighbors? How do we accommodate actions by our neighbors that have an impact on our space?
To keep the Ministry open for neighborhood use, the church needs great financial resources. To accommodate those neighbors who are picketing, we would have to reject this offer of corporate mon-ey. After 20 years of fundraising from denominational sources, individuals, foundations, community block grants, in addition to building-use fees and the money given by congregation members, we have proven that the capital needs of the building vastly outweigh the capital receipts we have been able to generate.
The action we have taken is fiscally sound. The question before the greater community is: Does the neighborhood wish to support our continued existence as a community resource?
Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian Church
Living in a Plastic Bubble
I just can't seem to grasp why there's all this bellyaching about the proposed installing of cellular telephone antennas in the steeple of the Noe Valley Ministry. I believe that there is not a shred of evidence that these antennas emit enough dangerous radiation to cause even one iota of concern.
Have these complainers given any thought to the overhead power lines that generate magnetic fields? Or the television screens and microwave ovens that emit radiation -- and what about the pollution from the gas-driven vehicles that ply our streets?
I should hope they don't use electricity and that they keep their homes sealed from the pollutants in the air. Surely they outfit their kids and themselves with space suits whenever they venture outside!
Grace, Common Sense, and Goodwill
It's a strange experience to cross a picket line to go to church. After we announced our decision to pursue negotiations concerning leasing our steeple for a cell phone antenna site, Noe Valley Ministry members have had to walk through a cluster of protesters and media people to attend worship.
I would not have chosen it, but I have learned a lot from this particular form of spiritual discipline. My own learning has come not from the songs, chants, and signs of those gathered outside, but from the quiet, prayerful responses of those inside. The tone was set for me the first Sunday I came to church and saw the protesters. One of the members of our governing board opened worship by reflecting on her own gratitude for the community of picketers whom we heard singing on the street below. She called us to be joyful at the way this group of strangers was finding community on a Sunday morning, as they united to protest our decision. At the close of worship, as always, we stood and joined hands in a circle and offered our prayers. Several members offered earnest prayers for the welfare of our protesters. Others expressed prayers for a wise and just resolution of the conflict.
It's gone on like that every Sunday. Each week our pastor, Joan Huff, and lay leaders have called us to maintain an open, gracious, and grateful attitude toward those who disagree with our decision. More moving, though, have been the prayers offered each week by many of our members: for wisdom, for reconciliation, and for our neighbors.
Personally, I support the decision to go ahead with negotiations to lease our space. Our governing board reached its decision only after carefully reviewing all the evidence of potential health risks. I agree with their finding that the antennas pose no threat to our neighbors, our building sharers, or ourselves.
But I am not writing to defend that decision. Instead, I wanted simply to say that beyond the protests and rancor, I've learned from the congregation and leadership of Noe Valley Ministry a lot about openness and gratitude. It strengthens my hope that there may be enough grace, common sense, and goodwill on all sides to find a peaceful and satisfactory resolution.
Fair Oaks Street
Pigeons Obey Planck's Law
Protesters of the electromagnetic radiation from within the tower of the Noe Valley Ministry are scientifically "out of tune" by orders of magnitude in frequency and wavelength. Ask them the all-important question "What is the frequency of the electromagnetic radiation that you fear?" If they don't know or don't care, then they display utter ignorance.
Anyone who has taken a physics course knows Planck's law, E = hv, which states that the energy of a photon is proportional to its frequency. Planck's law applies to all electromagnetic radiation -- from the sun, from TV towers, from power lines, from your wireless transceiver, yes even from the local oscillator in your boom box.
The energy of a photon of radiation from an atomic nucleus is huge. Its frequency is measured in giga-giga-giga-giga-gigahertz. These photons can split an atom in your body and cause cancer. Not so the energy of a photon from a TV tower, FM tower, or cellular phone. Radiation at these subgigahertz frequencies is 12 orders of magnitude less harmful than the UV radiation in sunlight.
The pigeons of Noe Valley know Planck's law. They know that the 60 Hz electromagnetic photons from the power lines on which they sit are harmless. They know that radiation from the antennas in the steeple would be less harmful than God's sunlight coming through a window.
Believe the pigeons if you don't believe me.
B.D. Smith, S.M., MIT '48
A Wall of Separation
Antennas may be bad for the health of adults or children. People have the right to protest and to picket a church for its actions. Politicians are free to make statements about controlling telecommunications. But the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution puts a wall of separation between the church and the state. The purpose of that wall is to keep the government from interfering with the purposes and work of the church.
The Noe Valley Ministry may be misguided in placing antennas in its steeple. However, if they choose that method to raise money to ensure the ministry of that Presbyterian Church, they have the right to do so. Financing the work of a Christian community is part of the free exercise of religion.
Robert Warren Cromey
Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church
Noe Valley resident
Make Room for Small Businesses
I wonder if the developers of the new commercial space next to Bell Market would be able to make a business out of the following idea: Lease the space (without putting up walls) to people who might have previously run their own businesses. Those might include a butcher shop, seafood market, bakery, delicatessen, candy store -- basically any independent business person who had been run out of business by the Wal-Marts of the world.
By consolidating the rent, insurance, advertising, technology, and other overhead, you could offer these once-proud business people another chance to do what they do best...serve their customers premium products at a competitive price in a neighborhood atmosphere. It might not be practical, but imagine how nice it would be if a trend AWAY from the giant chains would occur.