By Kate Darby Rauch and Emilie Raguso
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-596-3474.
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)
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