Joel Jacobs and his neighbors on Peralta Street know that if they want to make it to the superhighway, they need the big green, often graffiti-covered pedestals that house telecommunication lines.
But they’re tired of suffering through the torn up streets, the odd work hours and the general disruption the usightly boxes and their cables cause.
Holding signs showing their support for the city manager’s recommendation to declare a moratorium on the installation of the telecommunications pedestals and the ripping up of roads and sidewalks to install the conduits, Jacobs and a dozen or so of his neighbors came to Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to speak out about their concerns.
“If you’re going to put in a big ugly box in a neighborhood that people are going to graffiti, there should be some public (input) about that,” Jacobs said at the meeting.
The recommendation to draft an ordinance declaring a moratorium on telecommunications infrastructure work, and in the meantime cease issuing permits to companies that install the pedestals or excavate to install telecommunications equipment in the city, passed 7-1, with Councilmember Kriss Worthington voting in opposition and Councilmember Diane Woolley absent.
“I think the moratorium is a great idea,” Jacobs said. “It’s a way of saying, ‘why don’t we sit down to think about the best locations (for the pedestals) instead of throwing them up in a haphazard fashion.’”
Last year, a Task Force on Telecommunications was appointed by the City Council to address the issue of growing telecommunications deployment in the city.
Chris Mead, the city’s Director of Information Technology, said the taskforce was concerned that the equipment was being indiscriminately set up. Neighborhood complaints led to the recommendation for the moratorium.
“If you look around the Bay Area, you’ll see that there is an awful lot more of this equipment going up in Berkeley, especially (equipment) that involves road excavation,” Mead said.
He said that the moratorium is necessary to create a new environment and regulations for the growing list of companies operating telecommunications equipment in the city.
The moratorium does not affect installation of telecommunications infrastructure for emergency services or for companies whose business depends on the installation.
Mead said that the city is in the process of hiring outside attorneys who specialize in the telecommunications field to assist with the writing of the regulations and the ordinance declaring the moratorium itself.
Presently, telecommunications companies are only charged a permit fee that is calculated to cover the cost of a planning engineer, hired from the city’s Planning Department.
Mead said that cost doesn’t account for any damage to roads, or any disruption of traffic or business.
Included in the thinking behind the moratorium and the eventual telecommunications ordinance is the idea that the city ought to be compensated for these damages.
In addition to being an eyesore, neighbors say the above-ground pedestals can be noisy. Some of them have generators, cooling fans and air-conditioners that kick on and off around the clock. And other disturbances are caused when technicians come to service the pedestals.
Jacobs said the pedestal at 801 Peralta Street was installed around 11:00 p.m. without prior warning.
Worthington said he voted against the moratorium because of several questions he felt were left unanswered.
Though he agrees with the principle, Worthington said that there may be an unfair impact on smaller companies that hope to install telecommunications in the city, but do not have existing infrastructure. In essence, that would punish them while rewarding the larger companies, like Pacific Bell and AT&T, which already have thousands of feet of cable around the city, he said.
One such company, Metromedia Fiber Network Systems, is currently in the process of building a fiber optic ring around the Bay Area, with Berkeley as the final link.
In a letter to City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, MSN’s attorneys say that Federal Law preempts the city from imposing a moratorium on telecommunications work. It says that the city is in violation of the Federal Telecommunications Act and the California Public Utilities Code.
The company cites a California Public Utilities Commission ruling which says that telecommunications companies can build what is necessary as long as the work doesn’t “incommode the public use of the road or highway or interrupt the navigation of waters.”
MSN claims that it hasn’t been or will not be part of the problem that the city is experiencing.
MSN’s attorneys say that the moratorium will keep them from completing the necessary construction to link up the fiber optic ring. The letter says that they have reduced the amount of construction for the Berkeley ring by 75 percent, but it still requires up to 10,000 feet of excavation, and will not include any above ground structure. The Berkeley ring must be connected to the rest of the ring for it to work.