Public Comment

Commentary: South Berkeley Cell Phone Antenna Net

By Michael Barglow
Tuesday June 26, 2007

Our community, in particular, South Berkeley, is experiencing a gnawing anxiety about the apparently unstoppable will of Verizon/Nextel to install throughout South Berkeley a cell phone antenna net. This is an expression used in the cell phone industry and now also part of the accepted and incorporated lingo of our city planning department staff.  

Most recently these companies’ corporate reps, attorneys and sub-contractors have focused their energies on forcing upon the city yet another multiple antenna site in our neighborhood As many readers now know full well, South Berkeley has 14 cell phone antenna locations, North Berkeley only has two, and the Berkeley hills currently have none. Thus, for obvious reasons, South Berkeley gets Verizon/Nextel’s top ratings for excellent cell phone service and coverage. The result is a very inequitable distribution of antenna sites in the city.  

Verizon/Nextel’s latest potential future big money-maker (from anticipated, ever-increasing cell phone usage, video/photo transmittal and internet accessing “needs”) is the UC Storage Building at Shattuck Avenue and Ward Streets. Here Verizon/Nextel intend to install multiple antennas high up on the north and east-facing walls. These antennas, once installed, open the door for future multiple antennas from multiple cell phone companies at the same site. Before you know it, we might be the fortunate recipients of a virtual cell phone antenna heaven at 2721 Shattuck Ave., right in our own backyard.  

To protect public safety on the north side, Verizon/Nextel foresees the construction of a tall wall to separate their proposed antenna installation from a proposed five-story condominium development due north of UC Storage. Verizon/Nextel engineers predict that such a wall would reduce, ten-fold, the amount of RF radiation exposure to neighbors near the north side of the building. However these companies have no plans to reduce the amount of RF radiation exposure to the residents living near the east wall, nor any ideas for protecting residents to the northeast of UC Storage.  

RF radiation exposure for the many residences who share the block with UC Storage can now quite accurately be scientifically calculated, in advance of the proposed installation. This task can be accomplished by using know calculation formulas or by measuring the current amount of radiation coming from already installed antennas throughout south Berkeley. Engineers conduct these measurements all the time.  

Many of us believe that we, close neighbors, as potential “guinea pigs,” deserve to review this data before the city agrees to allow the antennas to be installed. We who live close to the intended antennas would, in fact, feel greatly relieved to know that our radiation exposure would be minimal, and nothing to worry about.  

So far, Verizon/Nextel installation application has been stymied through the determined effort of the Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union (BNAFU). In fact, our City Council was clear at its meetings on both May 8 and May 22, that it wished to schedule a September public hearing on the matter of the Verizon/Nextel application.  

While the city appears to want to make a well-considered decision on the matter by hearing from all sides and experts on this issue, Verizon/Nextel has threatened the Berkeley City Council that it is prepared to slap a very expensive lawsuit on the city if the city causes any further delay in processing the Verizon/Nextel application. These companies, as a standard intimidation tactic, routinely and effectively threaten to sue both large and small cities all across the country.  

Verizon, alone, claims to have 60 million customers. The income generated by this customer base pays for an army of attorneys on call to do battle for Verizon and its legal “rights” all over the world. The last thing Verizon/Nextel will allow is for the City of Berkeley to prevail in this matter. After all, as many of us know, the telecommunications industry paid Congress for the 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act, which, among many other odious restrictions, made it illegal for any municipalities to use concerns about RF radiation as a reason for denying use permit applications.  

On both May 8 and 22, the City withstood the challenge from Verizon/Nextel and ended up sending the matter back to the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB). But now there is pressure being applied to ZAB members to reverse their 6-3 vote to deny the Verizon/Nextel application.  

Please consider attending the ZAB meeting this Thursday evening at Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Find out if the ZAB will have the courage to uphold BNAFU’s position that this installation intrudes upon the neighborhood, is not needed, and restrains the rights of free speech of our council members. For more information, e-mail BNAFU at: 


Michael Barglow is a South Berkeley resident.