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Appeal on South Shattuck Antennas Comes to Council

By Judith Scherr
Friday May 11, 2007

Nextel and Verizon representatives at Tuesday’s council meeting squared off with irate neighbors of UC Storage at 2721 Shattuck Ave., with the communications companies getting what they wanted—the promise of a public hearing to review a zoning board decision which denied the powerful companies permits to install their antennas atop the Shattuck Avenue building. 

In other council actions, the body voted to reappoint Library Trustee Susan Kupfer, called on a developer and neighbors to come to an agreement over disputed height of a proposed south Shattuck condominium building, asked the city manager to explore adding sex-change operations to the city’s employee benefits and more. 

At the council meeting, both sides of the telecommunications question laid out their cases. Paul Albritton, an attorney representing Verizon, cited the need for the antennas. Berkeley’s use of cell phones has increased 94 percent between years 2005 and 2006, he said, adding, “Data use has tripled in Berkeley.” 

Nearby residents argued that the council has significant evidence that there is no need for additional coverage and that south Berkeley has got the highest rating for service.  

But the argument that seemed to convince the council majority that a hearing was in order was city staff’s recommendation to set aside the zoning board decision: “The board did not make a finding relating [to] the primary need for the facility, which is capacity,” a staff report said. 

The vote to support the zoning board decision was 3-5-1, with Councilmembers Max Anderson, Darryl Moore and Kriss Worthington voting in favor of the decision and Councilmember Dona Spring abstaining. The date of the hearing will be set at the May 22 meeting. 


Neighbors call for lower building 

People in the same neighborhood also came to the meeting to contest the zoning board’s approval of a five-story 24-unit condominium development planned for 2401 Shattuck Ave. Neighbors were calling for developer Gordon Choyce to construct a structure whose height would not interfere with their access to sunlight. The council made no decision, but asked Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Max Anderson to mediate between the neighbors and developers. They will come back to the council July 10. 


Kupfer reappointed 

While fellow trustee Terry Powell called on the council Tuesday night to renew the appointment of trustee and Board Chair Susan Kupfer for “leading the library through difficult times,” a number of citizens asked the council not to rubberstamp the reappointment and to have an open and democratic process.  

The council vote went in favor of the reappointment 6-2-1, with Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring opposing and Councilmember Max Anderson abstaining.  

At issue in the trustee reappointment is the constitution of the board of trustees. Unlike most city commissions, where the mayor and council each appoint a commissioner, and the rent and school boards, where members are elected by the community, the library trustees select new trustees and renew four-year appointments automatically. (The trustees have a two-term limit.) The City Council then affirms the trustees’ decision, generally approving the candidate without discussion. 

But because of increasing conflict at the library over the last few years, with members of the public opposing the decision to use Radio Frequency Identification Devices and conflict between staff and the former director, the public has increasingly called for more transparency in the actions of the library directors. Some have called for putting an end to self-selection among the trustees and handing the job over to the city council. 

Addressing the council, Berkeley resident Leona Wilson called the selection process “undemocratic” and asked, “Where is the public in the public library?” 

The council voted unanimously to: 

• increase the salary of the energy program manager to a range of $7,000 to $8,300 per month; 

• conduct a refuse rate survey, which will likely result in an increase in garbage rates; 

• ask the city manager to look at the cost of adding sex reassignment surgery to city staff benefits; 

• ask the city manager to report on the possibility of implementing community involved policing for Telegraph Avenue and other districts in the city.