Public Comment

Let Sun Shine On Cell Antenna Dilemma

By Laurie Baumgarten
Friday May 04, 2007

The issue of cell phone antennas and how the city of Berkeley deals with them is a perfect illustration of what Becky O’Malley was referring to in her article, “We’ll Have to Make Our Own Sunshine”( Daily Planet, April 27). In it, she advocates transparency in government. I first heard about Patrick Kennedy’s application for a permit to put up potentially dangerous cell-phone antennas in my neighborhood about eight months ago from a neighbor. I received no notification or warning from city staff, which was, and is aware of the many studies that indicate potential harm from the RF radiation that they emit, and I live in the immediate block. If there were a posting on the door of Kennedy’s Storage building, where he wants to put these antennas, it was small and not noticeable to the neighborhood. Essen-tially, we found out about the application for a permit by accident from one of the workers who was installing equipment for the cell-phone antennas before any legal permit for them had been issued. What hubris! 

The neighborhood started educating itself about RF radiation, and decided it was not an acceptable pollutant in our neighborhood. Then, we discovered to our horror that there were already 14 other antenna locations within a half mile. While the planning department sent us a map of where these antennas are located, it still has been unable or unwilling to tell us how many antennas are at each location. Are there three or 33 at each location? Do the numbers at each location keep growing, due to the ill conceived notion that allows for placement of new antennas at a site once there is even one placed on a building? Who is checking emission levels to test whether they are still within FCC limits (already 100 times less protective than Switzer-land’s). Who is monitoring these legally required inspections? To my knowledge, the city has never conducted an independent check on the emission levels to be sure cell companies were being honest. I want to scream, “Where is my tax dollar going if not to protect my health and safety?” 

But, Blessed Be. Last January, the Zoning Adjustments Board did the right thing and voted to reject a use permit on the basis that South Berkeley does not need any more of these antennas. Now Kennedy, Verizon and Nextel are appealing their decision to the City Council. There is so much smoke and mirrors when dealing with the city that it is easy to get discouraged. Kennedy has suggested that he wouldn’t be able to get out of his lease with the telecom companies even if he wanted to. What lease could possibly exist since there never has been a legal permit issued for these 12 antennas? Are these rumors floated to make us feel powerless and get us to give up? We are often advised by people to get ourselves a lawyer. Isn’t the city legal staff our lawyers, paid by our tax dollars to defend us, the people of this city, against unfair encroachment on our lives, even if that encroachment is from big and powerful corporations? 

The appeal will be heard by City Council Members this Tuesday, May 8. We will see whether they have the courage to uphold the decision of its Zoning Board. 


Laurie Baumgarten is a Berkeley resident.