Outcry over cell towers may change how companies hold meetings

PORTLAND, Ore. - The intense battle to stop a new cell tower in Northeast Portland could rewrite the rules about how cell companies deal with the public's concerns.

T-Mobile's action against KATU is part of what's driving a possible change in city law. One of KATU's news photographers was invited by neighbors concerned about a new tower to be at a public meeting hosted by the company. But the company's lawyer kicked him out of the public meeting.

He was only able to get video outside the October 26, 2011 meeting at the Fremont United Methodist Church.

But inside some neighbors took cell phone video, which revealed a contentious situation with hundreds of upset neighbors claiming T-Mobile wasn't addressing their health concerns. Some described the meeting as a disaster.

"It was more of a trade show with brochures and candies more than it was an informative, let's sit down and discuss the issue at hand. A lot of folks felt it was condescending," said Steve Backer, a neighborhood association board member. "They didn't want the news getting out. They didn't want folks to know about how strongly the people of Portland felt about this topic."

"The reason was why we set up the meeting we did, it was more conducive to having folks get their questions answered," said T-Mobile spokesman, Rod De La Rosa. "At the time, we didn't believe having a camera in people's faces would really open people up to answer questions."

The company was supposed to address neighbor's concerns about a cell phone antenna planned for the top of a power pole at Northeast 31st and Prescott.

After the chaos of the meeting and T-Mobile's exclusion of the media, the city of Portland is proposing new laws, giving cell tower companies much more strict guidelines on how to run these required meetings, including keeping them open to the media.

Rod De La Rosa said the company has already changed its meeting strategy and design and is now inviting the media.

Even though Portland is trying to toughen its rules to require cell companies to be more accommodating of the public, cities are handcuffed in limiting where these towers go. Federal law makes most places fair game for cell towers.

On Tuesday night, the Portland Office of Community Technology received input about proposed new tougher rules. It hopes to finalize its proposed rules in July.

According to T-Mobile, it still plans to go ahead with the cell phone antenna on top of that pre-existing power pole at Northeast 31st and Prescott.