City officials act responsibly on meters
I’m writing in response to Lisa Ashelman’s letter [“Utility meter group explains petition,” Aug. 2] as well as the numerous letters regarding the Fairfield Waterworks Department’s radio-read meters. As the most heavily quoted council member on this issue I’ve learned from experience that I need to remind people that I’m only one of seven council members and my views in no way represent the entire council or the city of Fairfield. Disclaimers like that make me feel more like a politician than a public servant, though the intense and often adversarial way this issue has been handled sadly necessitates such an approach.
Petitions can be powerful tools for conveying the preferences of a large group of people to those in positions to bring about change. They’re most effective when they clearly define the issue at hand and request specific action. As an avid online petition signer myself I’ve asked members of congress if petitions sway their votes. They’ve told me that they do take them into account but they’re not as meaningful as personal messages or phone calls. Clearly it requires less commitment to add ones name to a pre-written statement than to research a topic and express oneself in a unique way. For that reason, and because petitions often over-simplify complex issues without providing all the facts, they aren’t quite as convincing a show of broad public support as one may believe. Still, I very much appreciate the time and effort of the Coalition for Safe Utility Meters volunteers in collecting the signatures and I’m glad they did their best to represent a large cross-section of our community.
What saddens me most about how this issue has been handled is the unnecessary adversarial approach taken by many members of the Coalition. Instead of spending time gathering signatures or researching potential lawsuits Coalition members could be working with city officials and employees to assess our options. The city is in no way tied to using the Neptune meters, besides the financial investment made in the equipment and software necessary to read them. At any time we can choose to go a different route if that makes sense, so the heavy-handed approach taken by the Coalition was and still is counterproductive. I commend those Coalition members who have spent time researching alternatives and working with the city on exploring all options and encourage others to follow their example.
At the root of this debate is the question, “Are these meters harmful to our health?” To date there is no scientific evidence to prove that they are harmful, nor is there conclusive evidence to prove once and for all that they are not. Here’s what we do know: the Neptune meters are four orders of magnitude less powerful than a standard cell phone; they are off/dormant/inactive 99.95% of the time; they’re powered by a 1/10 watt battery with a signal range of approximately 30 feet; the “pulses” that have been characterized by some to be so damaging last for all of 7 milliseconds. When compared to cell phones, cordless phones, WiFi, and other prevalent wireless devices the Neptune meters provide a fraction of a fraction of the exposure levels alleged to cause harm. For these reasons I, speaking for myself alone, feel that the Neptune meters’ effect on our health is negligible, especially when compared to other standard wireless technologies.
There are many very real threats to our health in today’s world, and the idea that the government would force harmful devices on the public without their consent would upset anyone. Our situation in Fairfield is much less dramatic: over ten years ago our Waterworks Department chose to begin using standard radio-read meters to reduce time spent checking meters and help their readers avoid hazards. That’s it: no conspiracy and no ill-intent. This spring a portion of the community (even 14% of adults is a small portion) expressed that they would like to choose whether or not to have a radio-read meter in their home, so the city moved quickly to amend city law to allow Waterworks customers to opt-out. It’s not a perfect system but it does give people a choice, and it keeps the expenses related to that choice with those who choose it.
As we move forward exploring our options I encourage all inspired citizens to help conduct research or help move things forward in whatever way they can. For those who lack the time or interest to get involved but are still concerned about the meters I encourage you to gather all available facts and make your own decision about what’s best for you. Basing one’s concerns on “something simply does not feel right about it” or making inflammatory comments like “the City should be listening to the people, rather than to industry promotional points” aren’t conducive to actually moving this process towards a happy conclusion. Your city officials are interested in helping people, not harming them. Working with us rather than against us will ensure the best possible result.
Michael Halley is a member of the Fairfield City Council, 4th Ward.