New Telecom Antennae Installations Before ZAB

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday May 23, 2006

A Catholic church and a moving and storage warehouse could be the latest recipients of wireless telecommunications facilities in Berkeley.  

Nextel Communications and Verizon Wireless want to erect multiple antennae and related equipment at UC Storage on Shattuck Avenue, while AT&T Wireless hopes to construct a telecommunications facility at St. Ambrose Catholic Church on Gilman Street. 

Each project will go before the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) for use permits at a regularly scheduled meeting Thursday. 

Nextel is proposing 12 standard antennae and a global positioning system (GPS) antenna at the four-story UC Storage building, formerly Shattuck Avenue Self Storage, at 2721 Shattuck Ave. between Ward and Derby streets. The project includes installation of an emergency backup generator, an air conditioner and additional equipment. Verizon would install similar equipment at the same site, though it would erect about half as many antennae.  

UC Storage is located on a commercial corridor that features shops like Any Mountain, Kirala and Berkeley Bowl. There are residential properties to the east. 

An additional proposal up for consideration Thursday would involve the installation of three regular antennae, a GPS antenna and other equipment at St. Ambrose Catholic Church, at 1145 Gilman St., between Stannage and Cornell avenues, a low- to medium-density residential area. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland owns the building. 

Providers say the new facilities would alleviate poor reception or overload on nearby towers. Both the church and the storage company receive payment for leasing their property, but how much is not clear because providers do not release that information. 

Neither UC Storage Manager Eddie Maciel nor Father George Alengadan of St. Ambrose was available for comment. 

Some Berkeley residents who insist that wireless technology could pose health hazards to humans and the environment oppose the projects.  

“There have not been enough studies to conclude the safety of wireless technology,” said Mary Wyand, a Stannage Avenue resident, and Paul Vellutini, in an e-mail to the city. “My family, my neighbors and I do not want to be lab rats.” 

The correspondence details how other countries, such as Switzerland and England, have taken steps to harness risks associated with wireless technologies.  

But in the United States, under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, local governments are precluded from regulating wireless services based on environmental effects of emissions. Because all three projects comply with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulations that stipulate maximum exposure limits, the city cannot deny proposed wireless development on health objections alone. 

Aesthetics is a further prominent community concern—one that ZAB is capable of regulating. To grant a use permit, ZAB must find that facilities are not readily visible or that it is impossible to incorporate additional measures to reduce visibility. 

The Design Review Committee (DRC) granted preliminary approval to plans for UC Storage on condition that providers reroute cables internally to minimize a potential eyesore. Nextel and Verizon say they cannot meet that requirement due to structural limitations. 

The committee did not consider St. Ambrose for review because design staff determined that the proposed facilities are not overly conspicuous. 

Community members have also raised questions about how much noise the equipment would generate. Studies conducted by Illingworth & Rodkin, Inc., a Petaluma-based acoustics and air quality engineering firm, found that sounds emitted at both sites would not exceed limits spelled out in the city’s Noise Ordinance. 

An additional concern exclusive to Shattuck Avenue residents is that a portion of the proposals—particularly equipment placement on the Ward Street frontage—may not be permitted for commercial use because permits for nearby stores, like Any Mountain and Kirala, do not allow for commercial use there. City staff insists that those use permits are not germane to the projects at hand.  

Other items on the agenda for Thursday’s ZAB meeting include: 

• continued discussion of a mixed-use housing and commercial project at 1885 University Ave. 

• an application to build a bell tower at the Jesuit School of Theology at 1735 LeRoy Ave. 

• expansion of a machining shop at 2735 San Pablo Ave. with a single-story addition to the rear of an existing two-story building. 

• a carryout food service and teller machine at Grove Market on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

ZAB meets Thursday at 7 p.m. at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.