City Council puts cellphone ordinance on hold

Despite public support for an ordinance that would warn of possible radiation from cellphones, Berkeley City Council members continue to wait for the resolution of similar legislation in San Francisco.

“My impression is that sometime in the next two or three months, there’s going to be an item on the (Berkeley) agenda saying to adopt an ordinance like what’s left of San Francisco’s,” said Berkeley City Attorney Zach Cowan.

In San Francisco, an ordinance that would force cellphone stores to hand out fact sheets on potential health effects is currently under debate, according to Cowan. Berkeley drafted an ordinance in December last year but has yet to take action.

In a special session of the Berkeley City Council Tuesday night, council members heard presentations from the Environmental Health Trust and CTIA-The Wireless Association — an industry trade group representing cellular providers, suppliers and manufacturers — debating the health effects of cellphone usage.
Every public comment from residents at the meeting was “overwhelmingly in support” of passing a law that would require cellphone companies to publish visible warnings on possible health effects in their stores, according to Zack Marks, director of the California Brain Tumor Association.

However, Cowan said the city will wait for the results of San Francisco’s litigation before taking further action.

“The cellphone industry is definitely going to challenge any ordinance and fight it to the death,” Cowan said. “They’re already fighting it across the bay.”

According to Jack Song, spokesperson for the city attorney’s office in San Francisco, CTIA recently filed an appeal against the San Francisco ordinance, claiming lack of concrete evidence on phone-related health effects.

“The cellphone industry feels extremely threatened by this, so they’re trying to do anything they can, including lawsuits,” Marks said.
Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said he has seen several dozen different professional analyses that prove cellphones are a “real risk.”

“We need to do more research. But given how widely cellphones are used today, we can’t afford to wait,” Moskowitz said.

At its Tuesday meeting, the council approved a resolution to post information regarding cellphone radiation on the Public Health Division’s website — but some believe that this single step is not enough.

According to city officials, if the San Francisco ordinance remains in place, the Berkeley ordinance will most likely be voted on by the council in January next year.

“If this started spreading on a city level, hopefully it would eventually turn into a national issue,” Marks said. “We are either looking to either make the cellphones safer, or to disclose the potential health implications. People have the right to know.”