City Council to Review Antennas, Demolition of Historic Building

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday September 26, 2006

For neighbors of UC Storage at Ward Street and Shattuck Avenue, approval of placing 18 antennas atop the four-story building is the last straw. 

They say the business brings heavy traffic that clogs residential streets and blocks the sidewalks, and now it wants to add telecommunications devices which might affect the health of nearby neighbors. 

Tonight (Tuesday) the Berkeley City Council will address an appeal by the Ward Street Neighbors of the May Zoning Adjustments Board’s approval of the project at 2721 Shattuck Ave. 

The council will also look at an appeal of ZAB’s approval of a partial demolition at 2104 Sixth St. which neighbors have said is illegal, and will consider a request to fund a campus watch group. 

In addition to the 18 antennas, the ZAB approvals for UC Storage include an emergency backup generator and an air conditioner. There are two applicants for the antennas: Nextel and Verizon. 

Neighbors are calling for a public hearing to air the problem. 

“There’s no seismic analysis,” Ellen McGovern of Ward Street Neighbors told the Planet. “What if there’s an earthquake and an antenna falls off the roof?” 

And there’s been no study of the noise pollution it will generate, she said. 

Moreover, McGovern said, “They take Verizon’s and Nextel’s analysis of the ‘need’ to put the antennas up,” arguing that the city should hire an independent engineer to verify the need. 

Nextel, however, says the site fills a “hole” in its system. 

In a Sept. 18 response to McGovern’s request for review by a third party, Paul Albritton, attorney for Verizon, contends: “We do not believe the very high cost, estimated at approximately $7,000, of a third-party engineering review is supported under either the evidence presented, or under the code.” 

Further arguing in favor of the project, Albritton said in the Sept. 18 memo that Verizon had submitted coverage maps and reports “supporting the need for the improved coverage in the area surrounding the proposed site, for both business and home-coverage purposes.”  

He went on to point out the public benefit of the antennas, which he said would provide emergency 911 “pin-pointing” coverage for police and fire. 

The Federal Telecommunications Act precludes communities from using health concerns for turning down telecommunications devices. Still, at the May ZAB meeting, according to unofficial minutes, Pam Spike pointed to the “precautionary principle,” saying that if there’s the possibility that people can be harmed by the project, it should not be done.  

Councilmember Max Anderson, in whose district UC Storage sits, said this week that in such cases the precautionary principle should be applied. 

In addition to the antennas, Ward Street neighbors complain of trucks blocking the street and vehicles using the Ward Street entrance to the facility, adjacent to homes, rather than a Shattuck Avenue entrance on the commercial street. 

The council will also address: 

• An appeal of the Zoning Adjustments Board’s decision to accept a partial demolition of a historic building at 2104 Sixth St. The decision mandates that the remaining historic features of the building be preserved and that the historic features that the staff report says were “inadvertently removed” be reconstructed. 

• A request for $7,500 to add to the UC Berkeley fund for a Cal Campus Neighborhood Watch Program.  

• A request by Planning Department staff to send a project proposed for 2817 Eighth St. back to the Zoning Adjustments Board. In July ZAB approved a project that would demolish a single-family house and replace it with four condominiums, but did not address the requirement that the developer provide “inclusionary” (lower-income) units or an in-lieu fee. Staff wants the ZAB to reconsider the project in light of this requirement.