Courtesy of the San Francisco Planning Department

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In a decision that prohibits the installation of five Internet switch antennas in Bernal Heights, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to repeal the conditional use permit given in July to Clearwire, an Internet service provider in which Sprint has a 54 percent ownership stake.

The vote was a clear victory for the anti-antenna movement, and a setback for Clearwire and others trying to install new antennas throughout the city.

The proposed dish antennas would have provided better coverage to the laptops and phones of Clearwire customers in five neighborhoods including the Mission,  Mission Dolores, the Excelsior and Silver Terrace.

Two of the antennas would have connected with two dishes on buildings on Alabama and Valencia streets.  Without them, the sites will continue to be disconnected.  The connections would have improved Clearwire’s service.

The Board of Supervisors voted against the conditional use permit because the American Tower Corporation – the owner of the American Tower where the proposed antennas would have been attached – failed to meet the standards of a permit granted last year.

That conditional use permit granted to T-Mobile in 2009 required American Tower to maintain and T-Mobile to legalize the older antennas on the American Tower.  The latter is a 50-foot poll with antennas from three other companies and the City. T-mobile has yet to legalize all of the old antennas, but the company has a three-year window to do so.

Neighbors alleged – and the supervisors agreed – that American Tower had failed to meet the maintenance requirements laid out in the 2009 T-mobile conditional use permit.  Those included landscaping, keeping the tower graffiti-free and adding proper fencing.

“If you look at the site, a lot of things American Tower promised it would make happen did not happen,” Supervisor David Campos said. “If they haven’t been able to comply with something that they should have complied with over a year ago, I think that is problematic.”

Representatives from Clearwire, based in Washington, and American Tower, based in Massachusetts,  declined to comment about the decision.

A spokesperson with Clearwire said on Monday that they are still on schedule to roll out their 4G network at the end of the year.

The supervisors decision is the latest in a series of clashes between some San Francisco residents who are concerned with the health risk of antennas and service providers moving towards updating their networks.

Currently the Board cannot take health risk associated with antennas because the FCC sets the standards. The Clearwire antennas met the FCC standards.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi asked for a plan in dealing with these kinds of appeals in the future.

“With greater frequency, we are seeing a number of these requests and appeals that is taking a considerable amount of time, and rightfully so, to deal with what the federal government handicaps us from being able to deal with,” Mirkarimi said. “For me, I would like us to figure out the master plan…that allows us to consolidate what latitude we have to influence the decisions.”

Tara Sullivan of the Planning Department said that the department and the Board did indeed come up with basic criteria in the 1990s. They set criteria for where the antennas would be allowed and the type of designs, but the technology and upgrade requirements move fast.

“For example AT&T comes to us, they get all the permits and install them, by the time they’re done they’re coming back to us to upgrade.” Sullivan said. “We have some master plan for the city, but we don’t have a comprehensive updated one.”

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Rigoberto Hernandez

Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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  1. Thank you, Supervisors!!! I can’t believe people are so attached to their phones and little gadgets that they’d prefer to put their own health at risk (yes, there are proven health risks to this, though the cell phone companies would love to have you think differently and try to counteract the proof every chance they get!)

    Glad our leaders had some sanity in this case to protect us. Cell phones are the new cigarettes!

  2. Dunno, i tried to sign up for a mailing list in my neighborhood, it must be owners-only or they require some sort of political view vetting in person because nobody ever got back to me. Sigh.

  3. They deny a permit here, yet marijuana clubs can open anywhere, near schools, etc and there is no public outcry about the health consequences of second hand smoke from these places.

  4. @gregory

    I’m a Bernal resident, and this was debated quite a bit on the neighborhood mailing lists. The anti-tower people always expressed their concern in terms of supposed health risks, and no amount of facts would dissuade them from their anxieties. Indeed, they routinely dismissed facts about the technology as “mere opinion.” Supervisor David Campos embraced this anti-scientific BS, but in the end it seems he latched on to a procedural glitch to kill the project.

  5. “wait a second — where does the luddite assumption come from? it seems pretty simple: the company said they would do maintenance etc”

    Sure, that’s true. It’s also true this is the excuse the supposedly-educated tinfoil hat-wearing crystal-strokers use to justify crippling a utility that is only slightly less important than water, power, and sewer.

  6. wait a second — where does the luddite assumption come from? it seems pretty simple: the company said they would do maintenance etc, and they didn’t, so the supes are giving them (and others no doubt) a little more incentive. Surely the company should be held to what they already agreed to do, no?

  7. That’s it. I am now, officially, planning to campaign actively against and give money to prevent the re-election of David Campos. This is the last straw. He is clearly part of the problem.