The Ithaca Common Council gathered Wednesday to fill its Fourth Ward seat and voted to install 5G cell towers throughout the city after months of debate over these services.
Council members kicked off the meeting by officially appointing Patrick Mehler ’23 to represent Ithaca’s Fourth Ward, a zone that includes much of West Campus and Collegetown. The position opened up this summer, as former Alderperson Stephen Smith resigned, leaving a vacancy for a role that, alongside Fourth Ward council member Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward), represents a constituency of largely Cornellian voters.
Earlier this fall, a selection committee evaluated the applications of Mehler and Katie Sims ’20 through interviews and hearings. Council members said Wednesday that both candidates consistently demonstrated dedication to Ithaca and the University campus, strong communication skills and the ethos to revitalize Common Council as young people in tune with the unique needs of student populations.
Ultimately, the committee reached a conclusion about the Fourth Ward seat earlier this week –– they nominated Mehler to fill the vacancy.
Before the official swearing in, Sims and her supporters urged council members to reconsider the nomination.
Residents including Carol Chock ’85 spoke to the council about Sims’ strengths.
“[Katie] understands the need to get situated — to listen and learn, first — before making big changes,” Chock said.
Despite this final push for a reconsideration, Mehler earned the final vote 6 to 3, under his platform of strengthening civic connections between the student body and city government.
“This term, I hope to get as many folks connected to the city government as possible,” Mehler said, directly before his official appointment at Wednesday’s meeting.
Immediately following the vote, Mehler was sworn in. The swearing in marked the first time that Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 facilitated an oath of office virtually. Mehler’s term will officially begin at next week’s Common Council meeting and he will serve until December 2022.
Following those proceedings, council turned to discuss installing 5G cell towers and antennae around Ithaca.
Earlier this year, the council approved an agreement with Verizon to install small cell and wireless facilities with 4G and 5G capabilities around Ithaca. Proponents of 5G say these cell towers provide the infrastructure for improved speed and more reliable internet connection.
During this week’s meeting, the council voted on the guidelines and restrictions that Verizon — and all future telecommunications developers — will have to follow.
These restrictions come after significant concern among Ithaca residents over health risks claimed to be associated with 5G service. Even as scientists and safety advisory boards alike emphasize the safety of the cellular service, concern over 5G has also drawn concern on a national level.
Still, for more than an hour, Ithaca residents and telecommunications safety advocates voiced their concerns to the council over potential adverse health effects from the service towers. These individuals urged the council to increase the required minimum distance between these 5G facilities and residential areas from the proposed 250 feet to 1,500 feet.
Dr. Cindy Russell, the founder of national organization Physicians for Safe Technology, a group of physicians raising awareness for health risks that come with technology, advocated for maintaining a distance of 1,500 feet between cell towers and housing, arguing that wireless technology emits environmental and biological toxins.
Local resident Lisa Bertuzzi also shared her public health concerns with the council.
“It is one thing to drive by a tower, but another one, altogether, to spend seven, and sometimes 24-hours a day, near one,” Bertuzzi said. “This is why I urge you to increase the setback to 1,500 feet for all schools and daycares.”
When it came time for members of the council to vote, Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) argued in support of increasing the limit.
“Given the distances and our environment, I think that we could adequately be served with towers with a 500-foot setback, respecting people’s concerns with regards to aesthetic values and also allowing for expanded coverage,” Brock said.
Despite the opposition from Brock and Ducson Nyugen (D-2nd Ward), the council approved the ordinance to implement 5G services throughout Ithaca with a 250-foot setback limit. The approval marks the end of a months-long debate in Ithaca over the 5G services.
The council also discussed plans to develop Inlet Island in Ithaca with affordable housing and recreation attractions, and unanimously passed a resolution to officially denounce Texas’s SB8 abortion law.