Mock Antennae Annoy Neighbors In North Berkeley

Friday July 04, 2003

A North Berkeley resident who wants to stop the city’s plan to install cell phone antenna on the roof of Starbucks Cafe is badgering the city to take down the mock antennae that have been erected on top of the building. 

Shahram Shahruz, one of a dozen residents who successfully pressured the city in April to hold off on the deal with Sprint Wireless until a public hearing could be held on the matter, first noticed what appeared to be antennae on top of the North Shattuck building on June 22. He promptly shot off an e-mail to Mayor Tom Bates, councilmembers and some planning department officers demanding to know what was going on. 

Phil Kamlarz, interim planning director, responded via e-mail that city planning staff had said that the structures were “mock antenna” and were not transmitting. The structures, which resemble two chimneys, are located on top of 1600 Shattuck Avenue. When the Daily Planet inquired about the mock antenna, land use manager Mark Rhoades said putting up mock structures is pretty common practice. 

“The zoning board and the council have had a consistent practice of asking for the applicant to put up a mock-up of the project,” he said. “In most instances this takes the form of story poles for residential additions. The city believes it’s a good idea for the decision-making process for the council members and the public to see what this will look like and to determine whether or not that aspect of it is consistent with the city’s telecommunications ordinance.” 

But Shahruz, who lives 100 feet from the proposed site of the new antenna, said he doesn’t buy the city’s line. He said he believes the city put the mock antennae up as a way to undercut the neighbors’ potential challenges to the plan. “One reason to deny the permit is to say it is a visible blight or eyesore,” Shahruz told the Planet. “If the city puts it up there and if no one complains then they can say ‘look, no one is complaining—it’s not an eyesore.’” 

Shahruz and other nearby residents say they are concerned that the real antennae Sprint plans to install will emit harmful radiation. But, since the city has said it cannot reject an antenna installation application based on health reasons due to federal law, Shahruz and other opponents will attempt to fight the plan based on claims that the antennae will impede views. They will also challenge Sprint’s claims that more cell phone service is needed in that area. The hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16. 

“I tend to believe the city has set its mind to grant a permit to Sprint,” Shahruz wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Planet. “The whole hearing will be a sham.” 

Shahruz says he wants more answers from the city to prove that the mock structure is legal and is, in fact, not real antennae. “How do we know they are really mock antenna?” he said. “How do we know they’re not transmitting?” In a June 23 e-mail to Kalmarz and city attorney Manuela Albuquerque, Shahruz asked the city to point to a city law that specifies the definition and purpose of a mock structure. He also asked why such a structure would not require a permit. “Can we erect a ‘mock’ Eiffel Tower as tall as the real one, made out of cardboard without permit in our backyard? It appears that the city allows ‘mock’ structures without permit,” he said. 

Calls to Rhoades requesting answers to the same questions were not returned.