SF takes first step to approve watered-down cellphone radiation settlement

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors approves a proposed settlement with the wireless industry over the "Right to Know" ordinance. Health care advocates wanted a tougher measure.

A San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee on Thursday voted unanimously to approve a watered-down settlement with the wireless industry over legislation that required cell phone retailers to distribute radiation warning materials.

As currently written, the settlement calls for San Francisco to agree to a permanent injunction against the "Right to Know" ordinance and promise that it will refrain from further litigation. In return, the CTIA, the wireless industry's trade association, will waive any claims to attorney's fees.

The proposed settlement now advances to the full board for consideration at its May 7 meeting. If approved by the 11-member body and signed by Mayor Edwin Lee, the agreement will go into effect immediately.

Ellie Marks, the director of the California Brain Tumor Association and a strong supporter of the law, attended yesterday's meeting. "We're extremely disappointed by the city's decision," she told CNET. "This case is not lost and the city does not have to give up on this issue."

The vote marks the latest development in a circuitous legal battle between San Francisco and the CTIA that has lasted almost three years. As originally passed by the full board in June 2010, the ordinance, the first of its kind in the country, would have required retailers to post the specific absorption rate (SAR) of each phone sold in a store.

Though the legislation won praise from public health advocates like Marks, the CTIA sued the city on the grounds that the ordinance was unconstitutional, it was misleading to consumers, and that it infringed on the First Amendment rights of retailers. Though the city dropped the mandate to post the SAR of every handset, the CTIA continued to contest provisions that forced retailers to post informational notices on radio frequency exposure and offer fact sheets to consumers that request them.

A U.S. district court judge initially ruled in favor of the city while further scaling down the fact sheets, but a federal appeals court blocked implementation of the ordinance last September after the CTIA appealed .

In an e-mailed statement to CNET, John Walls, the CTIA's vice president for public affairs, pointed to that decision while declining to comment on Thursday's vote. "The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco has agreed with CTIA's challenge to the ordinance," he wrote. "As the Federal District Court observed, 'San Francisco concedes that there is no evidence of cancer caused by cell phones'."

Dr. Devra Davis , the president of Environmental Health Trust who also attended Thursday's meeting in support of the ordinance, said that she and her colleagues will continue to ask the city to legislate on the issue. "I think that many of the supervisors want this law enforced," she said. "They've studied the issue for over two years so I don't understand how they can agree to this."

Board Supervisor Malia Cohen said she decided to support the proposed settlement agreement because she said the deal was in San Francisco's best interests.

"I will continue to be an advocate for the policy objectives in the ordinance we passed to protect consumers, but we need to make sure that our limited city resources are spent wisely," she told CNET. "I do not believe that this settlement agreement forecloses on our opportunities to continue to advocate for consumers or work on other related policies."

 

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