The Board of Supervisors will vote today on an ordinance that will make it more difficult for wireless providers to install cell phone antennas in public spaces, and proposals on the table make it clear that this vote is just the beginning of a battle over more restrictive legislation for antennas.
In the coming months, Supervisor David Chiu is considering revising the city’s wireless siting guidelines for antenna installations. In addition, supervisors Eric Mar and John Avalos are considering introducing legislation that addresses concerns about the boxes falling during an earthquake or high winds.
The Avalos legislation to be voted on today would regulate antennas installed in the public’s right-of-way. These antennas are usually inside metal boxes of all sizes.
Earlier, the three members of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to recommend the legislation. It has five cosponsors.
If the ordinance is approved today, the smaller antenna boxes would be allowed to go through the application process easily, but larger ones — depending on the location — would require a permit from the planning or public works departments. The companies would also be required to post notices so that nearby residents could appeal. Currently, no postings are required.
“We are not trying to deny their permits,” said Frances Hsieh, a legislative aide to Avalos. The legislation is about transparency, Hsieh said, and to encourage cell phone providers to work with the neighbors who don’t want antennas near their houses.
“The lack of public notice and lack of community input into the process is outrageous,” Mar said. “We need stronger protections, not only [to] raise issue of safety, but also aesthetics and whether these boxes on utility poles are necessary and desirable…it is a process that should be a community one from the local level, in my opinion.”
If service providers and residents can’t agree, residents can take their complaints to the Board of Appeals. The Board has said it has sufficient staff to handle the expected increase in appeals, according to Hsieh.
The legislation would also affect those permits already obtained. When the older permits are up for renewal — usually every two years — the same guidelines will apply.
Hsieh said the legislation was introduced because many residents across the city have complained about the sudden appearance of these antennas. Cell phone providers have pushed aggressively to expand their networks and improve service over the past two years.
The legislation will likely pass because it has wide political support. At the Land Use and Economic Development committee meeting, dozens of people showed up to voice support for the legislation. Only a representative from the Chamber of Commerce and a lone community member opposed it. Both cited the need for communications in case of a natural disaster.
Representatives from T-Mobile and AT&T asked the Board to reconsider the legislation because the process would create more bureaucracy and limit their goal of improving service.
“The city is missing an opportunity to streamline the opportunity to attach equipment to utility poles in the right-of-way and provide significant service to residents and visitors to the city,” said Brad Cahoon, T-Mobile representative.
Residents said they are just concerned with their safety.
“We love our cell phone, but we harbor suspicion that they are dangerous,” said Joan Wood of North Beach. “The industry is concerned with competition; we are concerned with safety. “
Wendy Robinson took it a step further.
“For anyone here who has spoken in favor of the status quo, please give T-Mobile your address. If you work for them, please make sure that they have these boxes installed in front of your place before you come up here and testify for the status quo.”
“To the industry…you are always saying that you are pushed by the needs of the consumers and what consumers’ needs are — and the consumers’ needs are very important to you,” Supervisor Sophie Maxwell said. “I think you have heard today what consumers want.”
Mar is working with Avalos to introduce legislation next year that would address neighbors’ concerns about the damage these boxes could cause if they fall down in an earthquake or high winds.
Chiu will also introduce legislation next year that would revise the Wireless Telecommunications Services Facility Siting Guidelines, which set the standard for how the city considers cell phone antenna installations. Like the Avalos legislation, Chiu’s legislation would allow departments to scrutinize the installation of microcell antennas on private property, according to community organizers and Avalos’ office.
Judson True, Chiu’s legislative aide working on the legislation, did not return repeated calls requesting comment.