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5G Battle: midtown residents host block parties, rallies and bake sales to stop towers from going up

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 11:02 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -Like it or not, 5G cell phone towers could be coming to a neighborhood near you. They started popping up across Tucson earlier this year with little to no community input.

“The telecom companies are protected by federal and state law,” said Tucson City Council Member Steve Kozachik, who represents Ward 6. “It’s like the 1960s space race [when] we were racing Russia with Sputnik and all of that. Now, we are racing China with cyber security; 5G is their argument.”

However, some midtown residents are fighting back, saying “not in our yards.”

Three weeks ago, a few homeowners were notified Verizon planned to install a 5G tower on the corner of 5th Street and Longfellow Avenue (next to Peter Howell Elementary School) on June 1.

Less than a mile away, AT&T told residents it would be putting up a 5G tower on Calle Fernando and El Camino Del Norte on June 10.

“The AT&T letter says it’s a quote ‘small cell [tower],’” said Rima Laibow. “The reason it’s a ‘small cell’ is that the tower is only 34 feet tall - that makes it small! It’s within 20 feet of my home.”

Neighbors’ concerns boil down to three main factors: aesthetics, property value and health.

“My home is a historic property,” said Laibow. “It is not on the register yet, but in order to have it adopted on the historic property register, it has to not have the visual aspect altered.”

Laibow showed KOLD News 13 the cease and desist letter she issued AT&T.

“This is a problem,” said Marybeth Zellon, who lives down the street from Laibow.

“And it’s a long-term problem,” agreed Rubin Moreno. “Nobody knew smoking cigarettes, lead exposure, asbestos [was toxic]. I think this is the next toxic exposure that in time will prove that we should have done something sooner to save those lives. It may not kill us over night, but how do we monitor them? How do we know what is safe for us? I think the people who stand to gain the most financially are saying, ‘Oh no it’s safe, it’s safe.’”

Neighbors have been occupying the planned 5G sites in shifts in the form of small block parties, rallies and bake sales. So far, their efforts have been successful.

While Kozachik understands the convince of faster communication, he believes telecom companies need to work with residents and seek solutions.

“This sort of mild civil disobedience is to get the telecom companies’ attention to say, ‘There is a broader conversation that needs to be had. You can’t just come in and inflict your pole on the aesthetics of our neighborhood without having a conversation,’” he said.

Verizon and AT&T may have a permit, but if neighbors stand in their way, the burden shifts onto them.

“If you want to sue these people to get them out of the way, knock yourself out,” said Kozachik. “Go find yourself a judge, get yourself a restraining order and you go and move them out of the way. I am going to go buy cookies from them.”

KOLD News 13 reached out to Verizon and AT&T for comment. We have not heard back yet.

********* UPDATE ***********

On June 14, KOLD News 13 received the following statement from an AT&T spokesperson:

“This site is part of our ongoing investment to help us provide better service and coverage for our Tucson customers. When selecting a new cell site, we work with local city officials to find the location that balances the needs of our business with the concerns of the community.”

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.