News

Berkeley Hills residents may get new AT&T cell antennas

An AT&T flier from early this year on the 862 Regal Road proposal; more recent information about how this antenna might look was not available this week. This and other applications are still in negotiations. (Click the image to see the full flier and description.)

An AT&T flier from early this year on the 862 Regal Road proposal; more recent information about how this antenna might look was not available this week. This and other applications are still in negotiations. (Click the image to see the full flier and description.)

By Kate Darby Rauch and Emilie Raguso

A handful of neighbors on Regal Road want it. A bunch more on Grizzly Peak Boulevard don’t.

So read two differing Change.org petitions on AT&T proposals to build new cell antennas on power poles in the Berkeley Hills.

Applications for 12 AT&T cell nodes are winding their way through the city’s permitting process, with no final decisions yet. (See the map below for the proposed site locations and applications.)

All the proposed sites are on existing power lines, intended for what’s called a Distributed Antenna System (DAS), which uses more, smaller antennas to cover an area, rather than one larger, macro tower.

“A DAS also allows for more widespread coverage because several sites can be deployed to more effectively cover an area of varied topography and elevation. That makes it a good match for hilly areas,” said Alex Krasov, AT&T public affairs manager.


Click the markers to see the application associated with each address. Click here to view the map larger.

In pursuing the sites, a rolling process that started early this year, AT&T is hoping to fill coverage holes, as well as keep up with skyrocketing demands for wireless data, Krasov said.

“What we’re really trying to do is upgrade service in the hills. This doesn’t just mean filling coverage gaps, it means building a network that can sustain growth,” she said.

Power pole cell antenna applications are treated differently by the city than applications for sites outside the public right of way, such as on top of buildings.

These proposals are permitted by the city’s Public Works Department under a process for considering wireless communication infrastructure in the public right of way. Most building permits are for outside the right of way, and go through the Planning & Development Department’s review process.

The two processes are quite different, according to Jeff Egeberg, city engineer.

Proposals for the right of way must meet specific engineering and design criteria to gain approval, as established under Municipal Code 16.10, called Aesthetic Guidelines for Public Right of Way Permits.

The goal of the guidelines, adopted in 2011, is in part to “ensure that the design, operation and siting of the facilities will occur in a manner that protect and promotes public safety, community welfare, and the aesthetic quality of the city,” while recognizing that putting antennas on poles may sometimes be necessary, and allowing for “managed development of wireless telecommunications infrastructure in accordance with the Telecommunications Act of 1996.”

Unlike the planning department process, right of way applications don’t go through a formal public vetting process such as a public hearing, required of many applications. Nor is there an appeal process.

The utility company, in this case A&T, is charged with directly informing neighbors of their proposals, and tracking and responding to feedback, Egeberg said.

“The public notification process is between the public utility and the residents,” he said.  “The city makes sure that happens and facilitates it, but the petitions go through AT&T.”

For the Berkeley sites, this process is well under way. Early this year, AT&T conducted what’s called a “radius survey” of neighbors of 17 initial cell node proposals, mailing information to residents living within 500 feet of each location, and “fielding questions,” Krasov said.

(Click here to view a notice sent out by AT&T earlier this year for a proposed site on Regal Road.)

AT&T has read the Change.org petitions and takes them, and all public input, seriously, Krasov said.  “Whenever we’re working with a community we’re paying attention to whatever community members are saying.”

But there are limits to the regulatory teeth or influence of local jurisdictions such as cities when it comes to cell sites.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates wireless communications, prohibits local jurisdictions from prohibiting cell sites based on radio frequency emission concerns, including those relating to health. Radio frequency standards are set and maintained by the FCC.

Federal law also prohibits local jurisdictions from favoring some telecommunications companies over others, requiring competitive radio waves.


Existing wireless facilities in Berkeley separated by carrier. Click here to view a larger map.

In April, dozens of Berkeley Hills neighbors met on Fairlawn Drive to discuss the AT&T proposals and learn more about the antennas from AT&T representatives. Councilwoman Susan Wengraf organized this meeting, and several others, in response to neighborhood concerns.

Many attendees said they were worried about the perceived potential health impacts of the antennas, as well as the visual impact of the equipment and possible effects on home values. Of the 34 or so in attendance, only one spoke in favor of the applications, citing the need for better service both day to day and in case of emergencies.

The neighbors, who live near an antenna proposed at 862 Regal Road, asked AT&T to reconsider their plan.

“We’re looking to you to be reasonable,” said Jessica Williams. “These are not desirable locations.”

AT&T is pursuing similar power pole antenna sites in nearby communities including Orinda, El Cerrito and Kensington, and facing mixed response, according to published accounts.

Thus far, AT&T has submitted permit applications for 12 of the 17 initial Berkeley sites, Egeberg said this week.

“For all 17 locations, we are still negotiating the size of the pole-mounted equipment that AT&T wants to install,” he said.

Those with questions or who wish to submit feedback about the applications can reach out to AT&T’s permitting specialist Matt Yergovich at myergo@gmail.com or 415-596-3474.

Related:
3 new AT&T cell antenna sites approved in Berkeley (04.26.13)
AT&T antennas likely to go on Oaks Theatre despite glitch (11.09.12)
City tackles proliferation of cell phone equipment (12.10.10)

Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas is two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops, and a big party — all in downtown Berkeley in October. Read all about it, be part of it. Register on the Uncharted website.

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  • Guest

    I don’t like AT&T, but who cares?

  • B2B

    People want service and the most up-to-date coverage, but don’t want the equipment in their neighborhoods, but you can’t have it both ways. If you want service in the hills, you have to ‘host’ the equipment there.

  • Hildah

    Verizon works just fine.

  • Leon

    Crawl back under your company funded rock. 99% of us in the hills don’t want whatever AT&T is peddling.

  • Mark

    At&t is just trying to enhance their ratings to the detriment of our community, and they are couching it in predictable rhetoric.

  • BHills

    AT&T literally is decades late to this game. We had to dump them years and years ago because their ‘service’ was so incredibly poor. As Hildah noted, that is not the case with Verizon.

    Recently AT&T proposed adding their Cell equipment to a pole on GPB that is part of an underground district and was just about to be removed……by AT&T.

    I say ‘Let them eat cake.’

  • ‘guest’

    Berkeleyside, what purpose is served by allowing us to see the addresses which have filed applications?

  • aamacdowell

    Good. Finally a reasonable proposal to help the dubious service in the hills. I note that DAS is greener providing service for less power than a large central antennae.

  • emraguso

    To let people know where the antennas will go. What issue do you see with it?

  • suckatash

    Cell service will be the first to go down in the case of a disaster/emergency. Keep your landline and and ignore the cell service boondoggle. Old Man Luddite has spoken.

  • B2B

    The addresses are on public record anyway, in case anyone wants to contest them. This is not private or privileged information.

  • B2B

    You are right, BHills. I worked for Verizon for a few years… AT&T is pretty much a joke (I switched when I contracted with Verizon and have stellar service now), much like T-Mobile. You want good service? Go with Verizon or Sprint.

    But, I happen to know that the new Manager for AT&T’s cell service is the same person who brought Verizon out of the ditch and made it the shining star it is today. So, if you’re with AT&T you will find your service improving greatly in the not so distant future. This guy is a whiz.

  • BHills

    if you’re with AT&T you will find your service improving greatly in the not so distant future.

    This sounds like good news for IPhone users.

  • guest

    A few years ago Comcast installed its wireless equipment, including large cables (covered by bright yellow cable sleeves sunk into the ground and up to poles) in the right-of-way between our house and our neighbors, without asking or telling anyone. This right-of-ways are regularly used by local utilities (e.g. P.G.&E.) for equipment. Why can’t our local wireless providers be required to use the same wireless equipment — this would be less expensive, more efficient, minimize the aesthetic challenges, and benefit customers? In the Berkeley hills not all wireless providers are able to provide competitive service for this reason. Perhaps Berkeleyside can address the position of regulators and legislators on this issue.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Completely different technology. You are comparing apples and oranges

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Well…it’s depends.

    If an earthquake takes out telephone poles (which it will) there will be areas where landline service gets knocked out. If the severity of the quake is large enough, it’s possible that the CO (central office) will sustain damage and take out a lot of landlines even if the poles remain standing and the wires are intact and undamaged.

    On the other side, a major weakness with mobile telecom towers is that they don’t have backup generators, so if the power is cut following a major disaster (as it was in NJ after hurricane Sandy) the backup battery powering the mobile telecom tower will eventually go dead and then mobile service will go dark.

    There are a lot of variables and “what if” situations in a major emergency (earthquake for example), but one thing is certain — there will be service disruptions for both mobile and landline phones. Also, remember that if a CO is damaged, that can also impact mobile phone service because mobile phone voice and data is eventually transferred to wired networks.

  • Paola Harris

    We have IPhones & use Verizon.

  • Chris

    Oh the humanity!!!

  • B2B

    Adding to your comment, West Bezerkeley, in the case of Verizon Wireless, in case of major emergencies, they bring in COW’s (Cells on Wheels) and huge generators to keep service up.

  • Ac

    My neighbors and I are pretty much uniformly opposed to this, so I don’t see any reason to let AT&T do this in our neighborhood.

  • guest

    The wireless service providers are competitors so of course they can’t share. We get the pay the price that you mention.

  • guest

    Yes. That was a more recent option. I have in the past had people with their fancy IPhones who could not have a conversation on them because at that time, AT&T was the only available provider.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Yes they can…provided they can get the COWs where they need them to be after the Hayward fault ruptures and leaves fissures across roadways, fallen power lines, fires, damaged bridges, etc.

    Remember the `89 Loma Prieta quake and what it did to roads in the Santa Cruz mountains?

    Since the Hayward fault runs through Berkeley, we should expect significant infrastructure damage that will make part or all of the Berkeley Hills inaccessible to vehicles. There will likely also be other parts of Berkeley that are difficult to get to due to gas line ruptures, etc.

    Verizon only has a limited number of COWs and a finite amount of fuel for those generators. You probably know as I do that companies planning for natural disaster typically have a 72 hr supply of diesel and a contract with fuel companies to supply them first. The problem is that when bridges are destroyed, there are fissures across roads & traffic around the bay seizes up, there’s no way to deliver fuel.

    Chances are good that Verizon & other carriers will triage after a quake to determine where to put the COWs based on population numbers & the immediate needs of emergency personnel. Rest assured, the COWs aren’t going to prevent significant telecom service outtages for mobile and land line users.

    I’m basing my comments on work conversations I’ve had with people over 13 years that run CO’s, Data Centers, & some of the top signaling experts from Verizon, AT&T, US Cellular, T-Mobile, and Sprint (and some of these people rode out Hurricane Sandy and told me how the infrastructure failed and stayed dark for a very long time).