City officials are considering dismantling the city’s 170-foot public safety communications tower at 2100 Martin Luther King Way and moving its communications components to the top of the nearby Civic Center. Neighbors say the tower is too big, too ugly and a possible health hazard.
The communications tower, built in 2000 and activated in February, supports radio communication for all of Berkeley’s emergency services. The new tower, behind the new Public Safety Building, was built to withstand a major earthquake after concerns arose about the strength of the old antenna at the same site.
The City Council voted Tuesday to increase funding from $50,000 to $93,000 to study two possible alternatives to the 170-foot, three-legged tower that neighbors have nicknamed the “oil rig.” If council elects to proceed with either alternative, city officials estimate the action could cost as much as $500,000.
One alternative is to disassemble the tower, which is festooned with 14 separate antennas, and move the antennas to the roof of the Civic Center. The second possibility is to split the tower into two, 110-foot “flag pole-style” towers.
According to the Director of Public Works Renee Cardinaux, if the 14 antennas are moved to the Civic Center’s roof each would likely be 20- to 30-feet tall.
Council voted 6-2-1 to increase funding to study the alternatives, with Councilmembers Polly Armstrong and Betty Olds voting against it and Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek abstaining.
Mayor Shirley Dean said she supports the study but is not yet convinced that moving the tower is a good idea.
“I voted to increase the money for the study but before the tower is moved, I will have to be sure the new design is as functional and secure as the existing one,” she said.
The feasibility study will be performed by Marco Corporation, which is scheduled to complete the study before the end of the year.
“The study will show if the alternatives make sense,” Cardinaux said. “The new tower has been in use for several months and it’s doing a great job. Everybody is happy with it.”
Cardinaux said the Civic Center’s roof may pose a problem because it is close to several tall buildings that could interfere with radio signals. The study will consideration this.
Councilmember Dona Spring, who represents the district in which the tower sits, said she is glad the city is looking at alternatives.
“I’m very pleased the city manager is now working with neighbors to try and find a resolution,” she said.
Councilmember Polly Armstrong, who voted against the tower study, said the money could be better spent on programs other than moving a tower that works.
“It’s a question of resources,” she said. “You could house three families in new apartments for that kind of money.”
Shortly after the tower was built in 2000, a six-member committee called Citizen’s Committee on the Public Safety Building Communications Tower was formed to work with city staff to address criticism of the tower.
The committee argued that the tower blocked views and blighted the Civic Center Park area. It also raised concerns about the electromagnetic waves the tower radiates, believing the emissions could be a health hazard.
According to city staff, the radio emissions are well below federal safety standards.