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Planners to revisit disputed city issues

By Hank Sims Daily Planet staff
Wednesday November 14, 2001

The Planning Commission will make recommendations on two long-standing, controversial city issues tonight – rules for new cellular phone antennae and a moratorium on the conversion of factory space into offices in parts of West Berkeley. 

Both matters have come before the commission and City Council but have not been resolved for almost one year. 

The commission will meet at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. The public hearings on these issues have been closed, but interested parties may address the commission during its regular public comment period. 

If approved at the Planning Commission level, both items will be sent to the City Council.  

The commission will also receive a status report on the Southside Plan, which has been in development for more than three years. The University of California has expressed disapproval over changes to the draft Southside plan, which were added as a result of citizen comment.  



The commission is set to adopt guidelines to regulate applications for new base antennae for cell phone and other wireless communications services.  

Two different drafts of a possible new regulations have been circulated, one prepared by city staff and the other by citizens. 

The citizens’ version is much more restrictive: It wouldn’t allow new antennae near residences or schools, imposes penalties for antenna radiation in excess of the federal limit and demand that antennae be no higher than the maximum building height in each district. 

The authors of the citizens’ proposal admit that under their ordinance, “every provider may not be able to provide coverage to every square inch of the city,” but say that their version is more sensitive to the concerns of residents. 

The commission will likely approve some compromise between the two versions. 

The issue came to light last year, when the Zoning Adjustments Board denied an appeal by neighbors of the Solano Theater. They had sought to overturn an administrative permit given to Nextel Communications, a cell-phone and wireless services provider, to install an antenna on the theater. 

The neighbors, who feared that radiation from the antenna might be dangerous, then appealed to the City Council in December.  

The council responded by instituting a 45-day ban on new cell phone antennae while regulations could be developed. The ban was extended for six months in January and for another five in July.  

Federal law states that cities may only regulate new antennae based on aesthetic grounds, not for fear of possible adverse public health effects. 


MU-LI moratorium 

A subcommittee of the commission formed to study a moratorium on office conversions in the West Berkeley mixed-use/light industrial district has presented its report to the commission. 

The subcommittee recommends that the commission approve the moratorium, which it says will give city officials time to study the effects of office development in the area.  

The district, which comprises between one-third and one-half of Berkeley west of San Pablo Avenue, was designated in the West Berkeley Plan as being an area for light industry and artists.  

During the last year, residents have complained that an influx of office space in the area is causing rents to increase, bringing in undue amounts of traffic and, because of conversions, reducing the city’s stock of building space that can be used by artists and light industry. 

The subcommittee’s position is different than that of city staffers, who, in their report, advise the commission not to approve the moratorium. The staff report holds that there is no “quantifiable information” that shows that office development in the district has negatively impacted the area. 

The moratorium, as it is currently written, would only apply to conversions of 5,000 square feet or greater, and would remain in effect for one year. 

The commission passed a version of the moratorium in January, but the City Council sent the issue back to the commission after the City Attorney’s Office said that the community had not been properly notified about the issue.