The Why's Guy

Cell phone towers at schools? Here's a lesson

Ring.

I picked up the phone and a booming voice answered my greeting.

"Kyle, it's Zell."

I hadn't heard from Zell in a while. We met more than a decade ago when Zell was helping a bunch of rich residents in his McMansion-filled country-club community fight a cell tower someone wanted to place just outside their walled-in paradise.

Zell is the Don Quixote of cell towers. He spends all his time battling the beasts that threaten to soil our great vistas.

I once asked him why he was so passionate and became ensnared in a rant about roaming charges and small print.

"How ya been, Zell?"

Static.

"Zell?"

"Yeah, Kyle, I'm here. Damn cell reception in Tampa is lousy. It's never any good when you need it."

I considered the hypocrisy of his complaint, but decided against mentioning it.

"What are you doing in Tampa?" I asked.

"Have you heard about that school that wants to build a tower on its property? They've played right into our hands this time, Kyle."

I remembered similar words 15 years ago when he organized his neighbors in northeast Florida. That group was fighting a guy from the other side of the tracks (well, the other side of their gated wall) who had reached a deal with the devil to put a cell tower on his property. Zell's friends were appalled that anyone would allow such an attack on their quality of life, not to mention (actually, they did) their property values.

No matter that the "outsider" had lived there long before anyone thought of turning a swamp into a Preserve. Or that its developer had encroached on the guy's little slice of heaven.

Zell marshaled his group before the media. The photos would have been better had the residents left their cell phones at home.

The message was clear: They had cell phones, but they shouldn't have to endure a tower. Put it somewhere else — like in a rundown neighborhood where people can't afford cell phones.

The tower was built, but Zell had found his calling: fighting towers. This time, he was now telling me, he had a winner.

"So what's the deal?" I asked.

"Hang on, Kyle, got a call on my Bluetooth."

Two cell phones? I decided not to ask.

I heard some chatter, followed by a few profanities as that call was lost. Then he was back.

"Health issues," Zell said, as if he had never left. "No one knows if the electramagneto revolution they give off is safe."

"Electromagnetic radiation?"

"Right," he said. "How safe can it be if you can't even pronounce it?"

"You're right, Zell, the science is inconclusive. It might work. But schools here are in dire straits, and this is a good revenue source for them."

"Even better," Zell said. "Imagine risking kids' lives for a few bucks."

I started to mention that some of the school's neighbors are using the same old arguments.

"Hello, hello," Zell called into his phone. "You still there, Kyle?"

"I'm here, Zell."

"My phone keeps cutting in and out," he said.

"Zell, did you know there are studies that say using a cell phone is more dangerous than being near a tower? How many in your group have given their kids cell phones?"

"Doesn't matter," he said.

"Well, Zell, having little Johnny standing behind Mom at your protest, yakking away on his own little electromagnetic radiation generator, might ruin the photo op."

"Yeah, that might be counterproductive," Zell admitted.

"And hypocritical," I added.

Silence.

"Zell?"

Static.

"Zell?"

I don't think he can hear me now.

Times staff writer Kyle Kreiger writes about the serious and silly with one question in mind: Why? He can be reached at kreiger@sptimes.com. To read previous rants, click on his name at the top of this column.

Cell phone towers at schools? Here's a lesson 12/23/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 10:26am]

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