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LAGUNA BEACH : School Board Will Sue AirTouch Cellular to Have Tower Removed

January 26, 1995|LESLIE EARNEST

In a move that pleased some parents but may cost the city's financially beleaguered school district thousands of dollars, the school board has agreed to sue AirTouch Cellular to remove a microwave tower at El Morro Elementary School.

About 45 parents, some maintaining the tower could pose a health risk to students, burst into applause when the board announced its decision following a closed session Tuesday night.

"I'm speechless. What can I say?" said parent Catherine Rowe. "I'm very glad to see our school board's decided to do the right thing."

United as PEST, Parents for the Elimination of the Schoolyard Tower, the parents aggressively lobbied for more than a year for the removal of the 90-foot tower, which is used by cellular telephones.

While AirTouch cellular and school district officials have maintained the tower poses no risk, board President Timothy D. Carlyle acknowledged that opinions vary on the subject and said the board has "long agonized" over how to resolve the issue.

Noting that a lawsuit would be a further financial strain for the district, Carlyle reminded the audience that some parents have said they would be willing to contribute to the district's general fund to help offset the expense. One man in the audience promptly rose and offered a cash donation.

In October, 1992, the district entered into a 10-year contract with AirTouch cellular, then PacTel, allowing the company to lease the school property for $18,556 per year.

The tower and a microwave dish were installed in August, 1993, but the satellite dish was removed in January after parents complained that electromagnetic radiation emissions could be a hazard. The parents have continued to push for the removal of the tower and other equipment.

An AirTouch Cellular spokeswoman said Wednesday the company provides an important service for the city and for all cellular telephone users in the area.

"We absolutely believe we have a valid contract with the school district," Melissa May said. "And now it's a matter for the court to decide."

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