The City Council extended a moratorium on the installation of wireless telecommunication antennas in Berkeley until the end of the year by unanimously approving a recommendation by the Planning and Development Department Tuesday.
The moratorium was originally imposed in December 2000 and extended for six months last January to allow Planning Commission public hearings on the impact that the installation of such antennas would have on both the community and on revisions of current zoning regulations.
A number of residents had expressed concern about the health risk the antenna’s radioactive emissions could present. They appealed the city’s antennae installation approval based on Berkeley’s “Wireless Telecommunications Antenna Guide.” This guide prevents antennae from being placed in residential areas.
The new five-month moratorium extension will allow the Planning Commission to continue hearings and write an interim
ordinance that would provide more time
“The Federal regulation prohibits to regulate on the basis of health consideration,” said Vivian Kahn, Planning and Development Department acting deputy director. “But we can look at other issues that we look into when doing a land use decision.”
Among them is aesthetics, safety or impact on habitat.
A draft of the ordinance is still being worked on, but it states that the moratorium is necessary because, “the city has not comprehensively evaluated [its zoning] regulations to determine whether they are adequate to prevent visual blight, protect environmental resources, and preserve the character of Berkeley’s neighborhoods.”
It also states that the city’s regulations are too vague when it comes to protecting the community from antennae.
Earl Nicholas Selby, an attorney representing Nextel Communications, a telecommunication company that wants to affix antennae to the Solano Avenue’s Oaks Theater, spoke at Tuesday’s hearing. He said his client would agree on any reasonable restrictions, such as limitations based on aesthetics or view blocking.
“You don’t want to put an elephant in a parlor, but there is a proper place for elephants, “ he said.
But residents fear that there is still a long way to go before reaching an agreement that pleases everyone. A five-month moratorium, they say, is too short.
“I’m concerned because of the slowness with which the city carries out its work,” said Leonard Schwartzburd, a member of the Planning Commission’s sub-committee of interested residents and industry representatives. “We have five months but unless the city keeps moving on and providing information, there is nothing we can do.” Schwartzburd believes the current draft of the ordinance is inadequate, he said, “because it continues to lack clear standards and ... attempts to limit the citizen’s right to have input on the decision.”
Residents are asking that the zoning maps for the installation of wireless antennae show 300-foot buffers around all the residential areas, but said they would be willing to compromise if this proves to be practically unfeasible.
According to Schwartzburd, Kahn currently has maps showing 100- to 300-foot buffers that she should make public at a meeting within the end of the month.
Despite residents’ skepticism, Kahn said she is confident the ordinance will be ready by the end of the moratorium.
“We should be able to get it to the Council well before then,” she said.