Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

Mayor Svante Myrick '09 discussed covering residents' rent during a May 6 Common Council meeting.

May 7, 2020

Ithaca to Cover 50 Households’ Rent for Three Months, 5G Installation Spurs Public Pushback

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The Ithaca Common Council updated the public on recent plans to use federal funding through a grant program to support renters hardest hit by the pandemic in a May 6 meeting.

The council also fielded public outcry over the possible negative health impacts of 5G service, which Verizon has proposed to install by next October, pending the council’s go-ahead.

According to Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, the federal government has increased Community Development and Block Grant Program funding to help cities support residents’ ongoing financial struggles.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency resolved to spend $190,000 of that increased funding to help renters in the area. The city and Tompkins County are coordinating efforts to allocate the money to those most in need. Myrick specifically mentioned those making 60 percent or less than the area’s median income, but those making 80 percent or less still qualify.

Individuals are required to apply for the aid, which will cover three months’ rent for 50 households.

“It’s a drop in the ocean, given that there are about 7,000 rental households in [the] city, but we hope that this money would get to the people who most need it,” Myrick said.

The funds will be released sometime between May 7 and May 30, according to Alderperson Laura Lewis (D-5th Ward).

The council also fielded public outcry over the possible negative health impacts of 5G cellular service, which Verizon has proposed to install by next October, pending the council’s go-ahead. The meeting began with 49 individual submissions from the general public denouncing the council’s consideration of Verizon’s proposed installation.

Members of the public disapproved of the project on the grounds of possible negative health effects to both people and animals. Many comments cited the overall lack of evidence of the health impacts of 5G service.

Three comments advocated for 5G service, saying that it would increase internet capability.

Some studies have suggested that 5G towers emit electromagnetic radiation that can be harmful after prolonged exposure. But other research argues that some of these studies have been misleading, and that the electromagnetic waves emitted by 5G towers are not harmful to human health.

One public comment read, “3G causes cancer, and 5G is unforgivable. 5G is a death wish.”

But many council members doubted the truth of these claims, and emphasized the need for the improvement in internet access that 5G service would provide.

“There’s about as much science saying that 5G is an issue as there is saying that vaccines are an issue,” said Alderperson Stephen Smith (D-4th ward). Alderperson Graham Kerslick (D-4th ward) agreed, saying that there is a lot of misinformation about the health impacts of 5G.

“From what I’ve read, this is certainly a safe technology,” Kerslick said.

Several members stressed the increased need for fast and accessible internet access, as most jobs and schools have moved online until further notice. Alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff (D-5th Ward) cited the capability of 5G to better handle an overload of different devices in a single household or area.

But Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) still had concerns about the possible negative effects of the prolonged exposure to 5G service, adding that she had difficulty finding studies on the topic that were not presented by a telecommunications company.

Myrick recused himself from the discussion and vote, citing a conflict of interest arising from a family member who works for Verizon, though he did not believe that this decision could have financial repercussions for either him or the family member.

Council members were primarily concerned by the potentially negative visual consequences of the 5G installation. The permit process that would allow Verizon to install 5G only explicitly handles the 5G boxes themselves, but since 5G boxes require taller utility poles than the ones currently in place, aesthetic implications were of particular concern.

In addition to the taller poles, Alderperson George McGonigal (D-1st Ward) was also concerned that the installation would involve cutting limbs off trees, something he said he noticed in utility pole improvements already taking place on West Hill.

Ultimately the resolution passed after the wording was changed to emphasize that the acting mayor — Mohlenhoff, who took the lead because of the mayor’s recusal — could not sign any agreement with Verizon until the council as a whole approved design guidelines.

The resolution carried 9-1, with McGonigal voting against.