By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
TORRANCE — A group of North Torrance residents continued their fight against a proposed cell tower in their neighborhood before and during the Oct. 24 meeting of the City Council.
Telecom giant Crown Castle plans to erect the tower in the form of an artificial tree, referred to as a monopine, at 2124 Redondo Beach Blvd. The tree would stand in front of an outdoor mall that includes a children’s martial arts studio and dentistry for children.
A temporary tower on wheels stands behind the shopping center, very close to residences, replacing an earlier tower that was destroyed in a fire. Residents allege that electromagnetic emissions from cell towers are harmful to people as well as the environment, including bees and birds.
At its Sept. 26 meeting, the City Council voted 5-1 to approve the cell tower over the objections of several residents, with Councilmember Jon Kaji — whose district includes the proposed site — casting the dissenting vote. North Torrance ACTION (Against Cell Towers in Our Neighborhood) Coalition was appealing an earlier decision by the Planning Commission to approve the project.
Crown Castle Refuses to Move Cell Tower
Crown Castle representatives at the meeting argued that the cell tower is needed to maintain strong wireless connectivity, including 911 calls; presented expert testimony that downplayed residents’ health concerns; and rejected a proposal to move the cell tower across the street to the Target parking lot, which is located in Gardena and would require approval by that city.
The vote came after the council went into closed session. Details of closed-session meetings can’t be discussed publicly, but the coalition alleges that the council was afraid of being sued by Crown Castle.
Prior to the October meeting, the coalition — including 92-year-old Yoshiko Morohoshi — held an outdoor demonstration at the Civic Center, holding up signs and eliciting some honks of support from passing drivers on Torrance Boulevard.
Since the cell tower was not on the agenda, the council was not allowed to discuss it and no representatives of Crown Castle were present. Coalition members could only speak for one minute each during the public comment period.
Alvin Takamori, who filed the appeal that was taken up at the previous meeting, said, “If I had some confidence that Crown Castle actually researched for a more feasible alternative site beyond the immediate property, and if there had been a third-party outside telecommunications consultant to research whether the claims of Crown Castle were in fact accurate, I would have felt a lot better about the decision that was made on this matter.
“Barring that, I would hope that those of you who voted against my appeal would reconsider your decision and allow for that more extensive research to take place.”
To avoid similar situations, Takamori suggested, “You might consider adding a step back for cell towers in the future.”
Torrance Community Speaks Up
Makoto Morohoshi, Yoshiko Morohoshi’s son, said, “Crown Castle … is hiding facts, and this is not kosher. And also … that closed-door meeting session is not kosher because we don’t know what’s going on and you have to be more transparent with what’s going on. I would like the council to reconsider.”
Wilson Soohoo said, “Crown Castle has refused to look at any alternative sites outside the property that they were approved at. During the council meeting they admitted that the cell tower would work just fine at the corner of Redondo Beach Boulevard and Van Ness, which is about a thousand feet west of this site. And that site has lots of space, tall trees, and this cell tower would fit in nicely with the natural trees. Best of all, this is much further away from homes, that’s the important thing.
“I’d like to request the City Council to reconsider its decision and have Crown Castle look at alternative sites.”
Bertha Barbosa told the council, “There’s a lot of children that are around … (The cell tower) is not a beautiful sight and it’s not good for the kids. The environment’s really bad. They lied to you and you guys believed them.
“I know at one point I felt really happy because I thought you guys were going our way, and then you went behind (closed) doors and then totally disappointed.”
Sandy Ragon said, “You were in our favor until Crown Castle threatened to sue. Suddenly a community that depends on you to do the right thing, to protect the Torrance citizens, were thrown under the bus. We now see who really runs City Hall — greed and big money. You were bought out.
“Please reconsider the plea and I want to remind you that we all have the chance to go to the ballot box, and that’s what I intend to do. I’ve lived here 50 years and you can believe that I’m going to talk to my neighbors and friends. Shame on you.”
Debbie Mochidome noted that the councilmembers and staff were dressed in uniforms from “Star Trek” for Halloween. “In keeping with tonight’s theme, Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, you probably remember this exchange you had in ‘The Wrath of Khan’: ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.’ So our neighbors, especially their kids too, are the many and Crown Castle is the one.
“Our need is that we do not want to have their cell towers so close to our homes, endangering our health and our well-being and our property value … I would like for you very much to reconsider their bid to build the cell tower so close to our homes.”
Julie Soohoo argued, “We are not against the cell tower, but we’re against the cell tower next to our homes. This is where children visit daily. What difference would it make to move the cell tower a few hundred feet across the street? Please reconsider your decision.”
Kaji told The Rafu Shimpo after the meeting, “Given the 5-1 vote to deny the appeal, I believe that the coalition has exhausted all avenues with the city.”
Marie Morohoshi, Yoshiko Morohoshi’s daughter, lives in San Francisco but has attended several meetings and has been monitoring the situation. “At this point, there is very little recourse,” she said. “We pushed very hard for Jon Kaji to work with us in bringing a motion to reconsider our case, but he willfully ignored the timing issue as we only had two subsequent City Council meetings to bring this forward from the Sept. 26 meeting where our appeal was denied.
“In our group meeting with the North Torrance ACTION Coalition, we discussed the following: In order for Jon to coordinate a motion to reconsider with the assistance of another councilmember who is from the prevailing side to reconsider our case, Jon will need to act on our behalf before the next council meeting of Oct. 24. The fact that he delayed in getting back to us … only proves his willful avoidance … and now he’s forfeited his opportunity to truly support us … If Jon Kaji really supported us, he would’ve responded immediately given the urgent nature of the request.”
A meeting with Kaji was held after the City Council returned from a trip to Torrance’s Japanese sister city, Kashiwa, to celebrate the exchange program’s 50th anniversary.
Morohoshi said, “Alvin Takamori and I met with him recently and Kaji told us he would do his own research about the case to see if he could reintroduce it to City Council, but since his fellow councilmembers had apparently indicated to him during their trip to Japan that they were not interested, and the due date for a motion to reconsider had already passed, we weren’t clear what options Kaji actually had … We are truly disappointed in Jon Kaji …
“We are still protecting our neighborhood by picketing in front of the proposed cell tower site. According to the City Council the case is over, but we’ve grown close as a community and neighbors who have been living on the same block for over 40 years … Organizing and staying in touch with one another over the past 15 months has created a close-knit community that now looks out for each in a way that didn’t before.
“My mother, who will turn 93 next week, now distributes her Japanese cucumbers and eggplants to at least a dozen more new neighbors because of it.
“We now look out for each other and genuinely care for one another, and that is priceless. And we haven’t given up hope yet either. There’s always room for a miracle and we believe in that too.”
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo