Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Electromagnetic Sensitivity with a Special Needs Child: The Verizon Cell Tower Fight

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Always a mountain a climb in my life all because I'm now the parent to a severely disabled child.  These things are hard, no matter what the issue is, it's hard.  The most painful part is the feeling that your soul is literally screaming on the inside, but no one can hear it, no one can see it, no one can even sense it.  The entire world is blind to it.  It's so easy to turn the other cheek and to think, "better you than me," "or we feel bad for you, but it not our kid, so really it's no big deal."  we feel for you, but..."  or even the artificial concern.  And believe me it's so easy to sniff out the artificial caring.   

I don't ever get a break, or a time out, or the freedom to really tell people how they make often make me feel.  That darn ego that I wish people didn't have, that forces people to think I before we, and me before you. The world is filled with opinions, statements and thoughts - and people carelessly throw them around like it's really no big deal at your expense.  I wish I could gift everyone with one day in my shoes.  And I say gift because Noah is the ultimate gift, and because that would be the only way to give another human being, no matter what relationship they had with you, a profound understanding of your life's journey and the real and present struggle that exists with raising a child with special needs. 

Likewise, it's certainly hard to get those who are unfamiliar with a child who has special needs to understand the gravity of what you deal with, how truly "un-normal" our lives are.   I think I've tried to explain Noah's severe sensory processing disorder in a handful of ways in the last few weeks and no matter how hard I try, it doesn't work.  It's like trying to talk to someone who's never seen the sky and that person only being told what it looks like.  They'll never really know because they haven't experienced or seen the sky for themselves. 

And then cognitive dissonance comes into play. If you've never heard of the term before, it is the psychological theory that causes people to dig in their heels and hold on to their beliefs and opinions even when faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  For example it's easy for someone to say for instance "Local government allows citizens to be closer to decisions and to have direct and timely input into decisions effecting their quality of life, their individual rights and their property values."  Yet even with evidence demonstrating facts for all those three basic human right and values, it's easier to double-down on an opinion in light of evidence to the contrary.  The end result means no one ever has to recant or reconsider their position.  And if they are in a position of power they can always be right, no matter what.  They don't need facts nor evidence. 

Cognitive dissonance also puts people on the defensive.  That is something that I think many special needs parents experience quite frequently.  As such, it really decreases the amount of real support that a special needs family really feels it has, and further contributes to the realization that we don't mean as much to others as we wish we did.  And in the end only confirms what we were already feeling... we are alone, so very alone in all this.

I've spent the last three weeks trying to advocate for my neighborhood and for Noah.  Pounding the pavement so to speak and keeping my heart, ears and mind open so that I could absorb other homeowner concerns and incorporate them with mine for Noah. 

Ironically when I moved to this house I thought it was a really wonderful thing that I had a church across the street and a church on the side of me.  Like we were nestled in God's space.  Two months after we moved in the church closest to the city's cemetery was torn down due to soil issues.  I'd still walk the cemetery with Noah and walk the path to the park, and I often would ask God personal questions that I only wanted to share with him and no one else, and being so ever still to see if the wind would whisper me the answers I am always seeking.

Then last July I got a notice on my door that changed it all.  The closest church to me decided they were going to enter into a contract to allow Verizon Wireless to build a 52 foot bell tower on their property, giving the church $2,000 a month to lease their land to start, (and I say that because now any other cell company can add to the tower and give the Church even more money monthly). Homeowners fought it, I fought it and we had a 4-0 victory vote with Planning and Zoning.  We thought that our collective voices had prevailed, until City Council voted to override planning and zoning and approve it 5 to 4.  The last three weeks I've dedicated my time and efforts to presenting information to City Council that were all of homeowner's complaints and concerns, even submitting letters from Noah's treating providers to document the impact that a cell tower will have on his life.  Because of the frequencies that Noah's medical equipment runs on a tower that is 300 feet to the closest home very well cause static, and influence the ability to properly hear and see or determine what is going on with him.  And yes frequencies can interfere with each other.   Electric fences can have an impact on cell tower, pacemakers are influenced by EMF (which is referred to as EMI).  It's real and can be substantiated even though there are many who believe that isn't the case.  I suppose it's very much like that cliche saying:  "Ignorance is bliss."  And then I have Noah's sensory gag and vomit reflex that makes him at risk for aspiration.  Noah's triggers are to sounds, and even vibrations - among a host of lots of other things.  When you know your child well enough you know what is going to cause a problem.   I even reached out to the Church and their silence towards me has made my heart even heavier.  Promises they'd be in touch with me turned into literally the church offering me nothing but a cold shoulder.  Although being shunned by a Church over a child with a disability isn't at all uncommon, especially when you don't want to compromise a desire for money which rules all else in the world we live in - even in places of worship.  An article about this church's efforts couldn't have said it better.  It's a "Non-Demominational Cash Flowing Epiphany."

I wasn't the only homeowner in the subdivision to have a complaint, there were soil and water table concerns - because the church was torn down in 2013 because of a soil issue, now the church meets in a gym, and just in the last few days, because of his issue slapped a Church sign on the gym.  The community was starting to point fingers that we were putting a bell tower on property where a church doesn't even exist.   There were horned owl concerns that are a protected migratory bird, data of cell tower fire and collapse, the liability that the Church is assuming, no testing had been done, no neutral third party agency consulted and property values decreasing, and asthetics concerns of the tower.  City council tried to convince me and others we needed this for 911 safety, although after I pointed out that the Verizon representative herself admitted this was a preemptive request and that I being ironically a Verizon customer myself have experienced no difficulties in any of my calls even to 911, they changed their tune and then ironically it became about our community needing increased Wi-Fi service at this last hearing.  I'd offer the fact that we lack a problem with either.

And the kicker I suppose is a homeowner asked about existing conflicts of interest and inquired of City Council members who were either members of the church or a Verizon customer.  Some chose not to answer because they didn't have to, while some did indicating they did not have a conflict.  Yet the Mayor admitted he had been a member, but honestly I suspected as such when he mentioned it was his late wife's desire to see a steeple rebuilt there at the last hearing.  The Mayor isn't a part of the voting process unless there would be a tie.  But I would have felt better if there wasn't a church relationship of any kind at all with any of City Council so that all of us could have that reassurance without a shadow of a doubt that a conflict didn't exist.  He after all feels like the ring master in essence of these meetings.  And it's not uncommon for a body of peers to have an allegiance to vote alongside their friends.  There wasn't anything that we could have presented to City Council - none of it would have made a difference.  Their intent was always to approve this tower no matter what Planning and Zoning decided.  There was way too much they turned the other cheek to - Including ADA law that supports and recognizes electromagnetic sensitivity.  Having over a decade of courtroom experience it's easy to recognize when some is leading questions to pull out the responses you want to hear to justify your cause.

The end result - not a reversal of vote, not even a reversal to consider additional information or time - but a "study session."  What is a study session you might ask?  It's just a time when City Council members discuss the issues without the public being able to comment - although the public can attend.  What becomes of them?  Nothing they are non-decision bearing.   No formal action may be taken by the Council at a study session other than to direct staff to proceed in a certain manner and to bring items back to a regular session for action.   If I had to place bets I'd say that this issue will ever be brought back for a regular session or for any action.  Although the Mayor made a statement that Verizon could only be "asked" to delay but were not obligated to do so, which was likely leading Verizon to the suggestion that they should not only go ahead but to move quickly.  Although the ground is hard from the winter temperatures, I have no doubts that they'll probably be digging in the next few weeks.

I still had hope and faith all homeowners would have an impact - even after one city council member said he didn't want to play whack-a-mole, and was firm on his standing.  Realistically if we assume that attitude then not only are we wasting tax dollars on Planning and Zoning application reviews but we're wasting City Council's time too.  If the standard is let's approve all tower requests that come our way, then why have a process?  There is such a thing as the Federal Cell Tower roll out which is happening in Northern California; Houston, Texas; Parts of Colorado; New Jersey; and New Mexico ... just think this could be happening to you too super soon!  Because we all should desire to live 500 feet or less from a tower - camouflaged as a tree, a church bell tower, or even a cactus. 

I did everything I could, so did other homeowners.  We worked hard to have our voices heard.  We really did.  Super hard.  I have some great neighbors.  But now soon I'll have a cell phone tower as a neighbor too.  Along the way I met some incredible people I wouldn't have met otherwise and connected with those I felt that really genuinely wanted to help me, and I owe them the world of thanks for their kindness and sincerity.  Katie Singer, who wrote an informative book that I think everyone should read called Electronic Silent Spring and his been gracious and kind in her correspondence, Deb Carney, an environmental attorney that was warm and easy to talk to, who I'm so blessed accepted my call when I learned of the cell tower approval. William Collinge, Ph.D, who provided me with amazing expert reports, and words of wisdom, to all the reporters and press who took the time to cover the story,  my neighbors many of whom I may have never been able to meet otherwise. The investment of all of their time to not only try to help me, but themselves as well, means more than I could ever express.  And I am so appreciative of their efforts and support. 

Katie Singer reminded me when one door closes... another opens.   I have no idea what that door would be.  That new door not only feels locked but locked with hundreds of locks with missing keys.  Where do any of us go from here? I can't move although that feels like the first thing I want to do - how far can I run away from all of it?  But I can't my hands are tied more than I could ever tell anyone.  I am stuck.  In fact I am stranded.  One of City Council members suggested the neighborhood find a neighbor with money to buy out the church if we didn't like it, perhaps I should have countered the suggestion that City Council find a way to relocate our home, but it's not in my personality to be snide.  The fact that the Church was here before the homeowner subdivision and that the Church trumps us was also a hard pill to swallow.  I was here before the cell tower, but that doesn't mean anything.   

Of course this has caused an me to develop a tremendous distrust that was already growing as time went along, and now the suggestion is I allow Verizon into my home to attempt to minimize interference that this will cause to Noah.  Ironic isn't it that a business who can get up and give testimony that this is all okay and safe would even engage in a conversation to suggest otherwise? Even if I were to entertain this idea, it would do absolutely nothing for his sensory issues.  My government elected officials have successfully made me and Noah even stronger prisoners of our own home.

And yet I'm left with how I am truly feeling which was included in my speech to City Council:

"A church bell tower with a cross on top is an aesthetic symbol in our civilization of good will, compassion, caring about humanity, caring about the most vulnerable among us, and spiritual values. Instead this church, which already gets special tax and zoning considerations from the city, is proposing to change the meaning of this revered symbol into an obscene symbol of greed and disregard of human and spiritual values—the opposite of what it is supposed to symbolize. Aesthetics, as you know, is a valid criterion for denial according to the FCC regulations.

This will become a SYMBOL of corporate greed and rejection of spiritual values in our neighborhood every day, and all homeowners and residents of Broomfield County will be constantly reminded of the failure of our City government to put our human values first."

Introducing my new daily reminder of just how much our voices mean: 
These are the links to some of the news media stories and publications:

City County Hearing: Here


Noah's Miracle by Stacy Warden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.