By Mark Wahl, Director of CLEAR
As new director of CLEAR (Citizen League Encouraging Awareness of Radiation) on Whidbey Island, WA, in 2019, I appointed myself to a task. I undertook some EMF-measuring, close observation, and attempted documentation of an ungainly, decades-old power-pole-mounted cell facility in our city of Langley. It was absurdly located very near a church, only 50 feet from some newer residences, and within 100-200 feet of several other homes, as well as 150 feet from a young childrens’ playground. I saw this as something not even allowed in most countries. It had a sketchy decades-old trail of permitting documents obscuring who the responsible owner was. The city had no idea of its ownership or emission strength. The untimely glioblastoma death of a well-known healing activist, a casual friend of mine, who had lived and worked for decades 125 feet away from it, was one of my motivators to investigate.
I got a couple of city council members and the mayor somewhat interested in this chronic city oversight, having offered to meter their homes earlier for other RF vulnerabilities. In my document research I came to realize the need to revise Langley’s toothless 1-page wireless code (written in 1997), and, with effort, got the city attorney to state in print that “…The code needs a major upgrade.” I used this to badger the slow-moving mayor and public-works director to finally have the pole surveyed, proving the facility was on public right-of-way land (when all previously had thought it was on private church property very nearby). After fits and starts this item was put up for my presentation and a discussion in a Council meeting agenda in late 2020. That meeting ended with a 4-1 vote in favor of upgrading the code—but with no actual delegation of authority, making of a plan, or budgeting to do it.
At least I had a council vote in my pocket for persuasion purposes! Eventually the city attorney preemptively provided me a sample 30-page code he had helped write in 2017 for a nearby Washington city. He had tweaked it with Langley code and FCC regulation references, thinking that with a few more changes it would fit Langley’s needs. I was educated enough by good material on the web to know this code was a loophole-filled red carpet inviting wireless developers, quoting FCC regs, to have a field day in Langley. Initially, seeing no better options, I embarked on cut-and-paste revisions and some writing, that could make that code “smart” for Langley. Meanwhile, beyond my control, the staff and a council member tried shunting the proposed code’s revision job inappropriately to a citizen infrastructure committee. They had one meeting on it, keeping me mostly muzzled on the sidelines, perused through it with minor comments, and ultimately decided this was not a project fit for them or their expertise, leaving the project in limbo. I learned that such a job is customarily done by the planning department, so, knowing I would offer to help a lot with the writing, I contacted the planner; she agreed that it was her job, but she was impossibly overcommitted and couldn’t even consider it until the fall of 2021. She quit her job in exhaustion that fall. The project was deeper in limbo, dying on the administrative vine if I let it.
In this whole interim I plugged ahead on the attorney-provided sample code, re-writing parts, adapting, cutting and pasting the progressive provisions from the other cities’ more newer ordinances. I picked the brains of other innovators like CA resident Paul McGavin, listened to Youtubes of Andrew Campanelli talking to other towns about good code, and looked to EHT and Americans for Responsible Tech for code samples, etc. Simultaneously I kept wondering how to get city money and staff behind this voted revision as the city always seemed financially stretched. I had a continuing fear that my patch-job would encounter a hard time getting an approval from our FCC-friendly city attorney without his insertion of many weakening changes. My time consumed in attempted revision at least helped me grow much sharper on all the currently evolving code issues, strategies, and court actions nationally; these ideas helped me move quickly and knowledgeably in later stages. Then, in mid-2021 the mayor suddenly resigned, accompanied by a shakeup in the administration, some turbulence behind closed doors, and three Council members announcing plans to retire in the fall. At first I thought this spelled doom for the code update, upending several contacts I had nurtured. This action literally had me as its only shepherd.
Amidst this slog came a small burst of grace. Ithaca, NY, got a Campanelli-aided code passed, and this attracted national activist attention. I heard an an interview of its citizen proponent, activist Andrew Mulnar, whom I immediately contacted, speaking at length about his tactics. They required two years of effort against headwinds of strong local opposition from their mayor and resistant city council. I was booste by the camaraderie and his many strategic thoughts. He referred to Andrew Campanelli’s crucial and patient help during virtual meetings with city personnel, his many advisory phone conversations, and Andrew’s subsequent re-writing of several key portions of the Ithaca code. (He didn’t do their full code revision apparently because of limited city finances and support.) I perused a draft of that revised code, coming up somewhat disappointed that it had a cut-and-paste feeling. It included a few more radical “populist” clauses, council-approved, that even went beyond what I had learned of Campanelli’s prudent moderate approach. Some of the new clauses tailored by Ithaca’s Council seemed even a bit unenforceable and populist, while some of the unrevised original parts appeared poorly worded. Nevertheless I forged ahead, copying a few key Ithaca parts for Langley’s code, but the task was beginning to seem like a dubious slog.
Soon after this there was a burst of grace! The “lame-duck” (pre-retirement) council surprisingly appointed a more progressive mayor to finish the term and he was a friendly acquaintance of mine. We also shared a mutual friend who was strongly anti-5G and EMF-sensitive! He liked my code attempt and expressed support for it. Simultaneously I worked hard with others in the Fall of 2021 on the campaign to educate and elect three new council members who, besides having other good attributes, were in my corner on this issue. Suddenly by January 2022 a majority of five Langley City Council members far more friendly toward this code-revision task! I phoned Campanelli about the possibilities of his coming on board to consult, as he had affordably done in Ithaca. In our discussion he agreed with my assessment of the unevenness of that code and he easily convinced me against the “cut and paste” option that would inevitably still leave many exploitable holes. Low-conscience wireless developers love to expertly exploit these. He left the decision of the extent of his participation up to us; I became convinced we needed “the whole enchalada.” It was attractive to have a whole integrated code reflecting all the latest federal rulings and court cases and would exactly tie in with Langley’s full code of regulations, as wireless code overlaps zoning, easement, utilities, and construction segments as well. It would be a potential bullet-proof bargain, priced at a relatively modest $8500. This would remove me from the writing task altogether (Whew!), shifting my work to getting the now-friendly city government to cough up $8500 while I educated the new planner on smart wireless code basics. That would allow her, with her general knowledge of city codes, to be the lead contact for Campanelli during his work. In strategy sessions with the new mayor we concluded that for speed it was best to try to sidestep the usual onerous city bureaucracy of work dockets, stingy budget negotiations, and expensive city attorney advice, while just letting Campanelli do the lion’s share of the work. The $8500 loomed, though, as a heavy lift for the current already-allocated and strapped city budget.
In pondering where to get the money we considered educating and tapping a local philanthropist or two but a light bulb began to glow in me that a gofund.me campaign could possibly be better. I was brand new to this crowd-funding platform and I had never heard of it used for a government action. As a retired educator I fantasized that such a campaign could be a great popular learning tool and a creator of a “buy-in” on wireless issues for our community that extends into the county beyond Langley. I and the CLEAR organization had about a 300-person mailing list that included city and county, along with some social media presence. The mayor first had to clear with city staff and attorney whether it was OK for money from a citizen organization to back a city administrative action; the city clerk had to ponder how to budget a city action with donated money. Since CLEAR, my organization with private grant money, is a non-profit, it was decided this wasn’t a “special interest” influencing government actions for some profit motive. We got the ok from the city attorney and I sighed relief.
Next hitch: the clerk said the money had to be PRESENT in the city’s accounts BEFORE the contract hiring Campanelli could even proceed. That could delay all action until after the fundraiser was over. I was informed earlier that wireless developers had already made some soft inquiries about antenna locations in Langley. This made time of the essence, as we wanted any new wireless permits to be governed by the new code, not the old give-away one. And who knew how long the gofund.me would take to raise the money? The mayor was offering immediate support in trying to clear roadblocks and get the writing going. I took a long breath and decided as budget director of CLEAR to immediately and temporarily allocate $8500 to the city from our operating account. (This included a goose-bumped feeling of risk that I would become personally responsible for this money if it failed to be gained back through the gofundme.com donations!) A positive way to clear the fear and motivate myself was seeing that this debt meant I would be highly motivated to go full bore with the gofund.me campaign and enjoy watching its proceeds dribble back to replenish the CLEAR account. I added the thought, “If I truly think this is a good idea, and want others to commit, then I have to be the first one willing to take a risk on it.” I added to my motivation the strong belief I had in my network and in the credibility I and CLEAR had gained locally in the last three years.
I wrote an $8500 check from CLEAR to the city to have in escrow for the project then plunged into studying good gofund.me creation. I crafted and launched a fundraiser within about two weeks; it had a very informative pitch. Simultaneously I educated the young good-hearted new planner, who at first knew basically nothing about wireless code. She reached reasonable literacy on the issues and language, then I helped her communicate the appropriate questions, info and talks with Campanelli. I wrote some summary info for other staff and appropriate state agencies for her as she needed it. I met jointly with her and Campanelli to iron out some understandings and to answer various concerns she and I had. I also sometimes called helpful Mr. Campanelli just to further clarify some my own subtler issues that I felt related specifically to Langley.
Within three to four weeks after crafting the fundraiser, the money, surprisingly, was already raised from 80 generous donations. The vast majority of gifts were small with just two hefty ones being $1000 and $1500. (Here is the link to view the gofund.me campaign.) Meanwhile the Campanelli contract and the contract signing happened fairly promptly and he jumped aboard, getting the complex 48-page draft writing task done within about four weeks. He also included flexibly appearing online to communicate with us about the draft, to Zoom with the citizen Planning Advisory board, then Zoom again with the City Council to introduce the code overview at a public meeting. Incidentally, he had added assurances at the beginning that he “looks after his clients,” that he will continue to be available after all is done to iron out wrinkles, and that he will inform us in the future if any major court cases or law changes occur that trigger a need for code changes. I felt this is kind of like having an ace wireless attorney “on retainer.”
Several bureaucratic hurdles had to be cleared by the planner with me coaching a bit from the side from my knowledge of the wireless issues. Campanelli’s draft had to be run through the city attorney’s office (a step I was still worried might result in some nit-picking resistance) but it sailed through with virtually no corrections! It skated through two Planning Board meetings culminating in a “send to city council” vote. That vote had followed a 14-day public comment period (where only a couple of people had anything to offer, but gave no significant objections). Then it waltzed through a “first reading” in City council in August, 2022, with Campanelli online for about 1/2 hr, addressing concerns and deflecting a few “gotcha” critical questions from a Council skeptic. Council members studied it for three weeks and it passed a final “second reading” on September 6, 2022 with a final unanimous vote! That took us across the finish line! Publishing it as official code took a few more weeks delay, but it is now published in Langley’s Municipal Code as “Chapter 18.23 PERSONAL WIRELESS FACILITIES,” reachable with this link: https://www.codepublishing.com/WA/Langley/#!/Langley18/Langley1823.html#18.23 Voila and a toast!
Mark Wahl is a civic activist living on Whidbey Island, in Washington’s Puget Sound north of Seattle. He has a Master’s degree in mathematics, a minor in science, and is a retired math education specialist. He has an understanding of electronics that burgeoned as a 16-year-old general class licensed ham radio operator and a Westinghouse Science Talent search award winner for a high school radio astronomy project. He now heads up the CLEAR organization, has seven grandchildren, and relaxes with his conga drumming hobby.
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