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STEVE LOPEZ POINTS WEST

Serenity under a 24-hour assault

May 28, 2008|STEVE LOPEZ

My apologies, but I haven't been very good lately at keeping up with e-mail, phone messages and old-fashioned mail, as some of you out there have discovered.

To assuage my sins, I closed my eyes Tuesday morning, reached into a box of unopened letters and grabbed one. No matter who it was from or what it said, I had decided, it would be the subject of today's column.

The letter was from Carol Scott of Sherman Oaks.

"Without notice to me," said the letter, a contractor came onto her property and "installed two boxes for Sprint on a utility pole outside my house. . . . The boxes are very large and unsightly with huge wires and both emit a very loud noise that is extremely disturbing. I have double-paned windows but can still hear the noise."

Well, all right. This doesn't quite rank with gang violence, rampant foreclosures or the crisis in either healthcare or public education.

But a culture of addiction to constant wireless communication, even if it means palm tree cellphone towers and high-frequency torture, certainly warrants an occasional rant.

When I called Scott, an attorney, she told me she had called and written to everyone she could think of, begging for relief. The equipment was installed almost two months ago to improve high-speed broadband service for cellphone users in the area so they can link with the Internet more quickly and get better service.

Which does Scott no good at all. She's a Verizon customer.

On the warpath, she has chased after Sprint, the Public Utilities Commission, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the city attorney's office, the LAPD, and the offices of City Councilman Jack Weiss and state Sen. Sheila Kuehl. To summarize, let's just say that, for the most part, she's gotten the run-around.

To see and hear for myself, I drove to Scott's hillside home in a lovely canyon above Ventura Boulevard.

Sure enough, the utility pole is only a few feet from her house, which doesn't have much of a setback. The boxes in question, which are bolted to the pole with wires and cables running in and out like giant worms, are the size of college dorm refrigerators and ugly to boot.

As for the noise, I didn't think it was so outrageous until a nearby leaf blower was turned off and a departing jet cleared the air space above Burbank. Then the constant whoosh became pretty annoying.

Sounds like an air-conditioner, I said.

"Or like an old refrigerator you need to get rid of," Scott said.

And it never, ever stops.

Keep listening, she said, and the noise would shift into another gear, with a lower rumble. A minute later, even I was gritting my teeth.

"It's been absolutely driving me nuts," she said, adding that she was told by someone at Sprint Nextel -- who didn't sound particularly convincing -- that her complaint was being "investigated."

We went inside the house, where I could hear the dreaded noise in her bathroom and bedroom and out on the back deck. It's worse at night, she said, when competing sounds die off, and all that's left is the 24-hour assault on serenity.

Scott said she's been kept up half the night but doesn't want to use ear plugs for fear of missing a phone call, a knock or an intruder. She keeps the TV on all night to compete with the noise. CNN, she said, or C-SPAN.

Frankly, I think I might choose high-frequency torture over Nancy Grace, but that's just me.

"It's been over a month, and I have not heard anything from Sprint," Scott wrote to the carrier's Landlord Property Services office in Kansas on May 20, having fitfully Googled the address in a moment of despair.

The PUC, for its part, sent her a letter listing 22 issues it does not get involved in, including telephone equipment. The PUC suggested that Scott contact "another agency."

"I've found out there is no regulatory agency that's in charge. That's what I've really found out."

With some of her calls to City Hall, she said, "They treat you like you're a crazy person."

I assure you, she is not. I spoke with her next-door neighbor, Edythe Bronston, who's also been driven to the brink.

"I can hear it in my bedroom," Bronston said.

I called Councilman Weiss' office, and a staffer promised to see what could be done, if anything.

Scott would like to know if the humming violates the city noise ordinance, and said she told a Sprint Nextel representative by phone that she was thinking of suing.

I left messages with two Sprint Nextel employees, and, unlike Scott, got an instant callback after saying I was working on a daily column.

Spokeswoman Kathleen Dunleavy was extremely apologetic about Scott's ongoing misery. She said work crews have been back to the scene, looking for solutions, and will continue to do so.

"I can tell you the network team has been taking this seriously and has been looking for ways to lessen the noise," she said.

I think I can help, even though I'm not on the network team.

Find another utility pole in the area that's not practically in the bedrooms of two homeowners, and move the offending equipment to the new location.

This shouldn't take two days, let alone two months.

Is the company not called Sprint?

--

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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