Verizon Protest at UC Storage Building Saturday

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday September 14, 2007

The Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union plans to protest this Saturday the lawsuit by Verizon Wireless against the City of Berkeley, an attempt to overturn the city’s protective ordinance regarding cell phone antennas. 

The group will hold a demonstration in front of UC Storage at 2721 Shattuck Ave. from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. and urge residents to boycott Verizon. 

Verizon sued Berkeley in federal court in August, alleging that the city was in violation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The cell phone giant asked the court to declare Berkeley’s ordinance regarding cell phone antennas illegal and to allow the cell phone company to install antennas at three locations, including the UC Storage building. 

The Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) voted 5-4 in July to reject a use permit application by Verizon Wireless and Nextel Communications for 11 cell phone antennas atop UC storage. 

The Telecommunications Act requires cities to grant cell phone companies a permit within a reasonable period of time and allows the carrier to sue for unnecessary delay. In a confidential memo to ZAB, City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque had warned that a rejection of the Verizon application would be a violation of state and federal law.  

“The fact that they are going after the city’s ordinance means other neighborhoods will be affected as well,” said Laurie Baumgarten, a resident of South Berkeley. 

Baumgarten added that even though the federal law prevents cities from acting on cell phone radiation health issues, the community was concerned about the risk.  

“We have children in the neighborhood and a childcare center across the street. We as a neighborhood do not want these antennas dumped on us. We need to have a citywide discussion about the future of this technology and whether we want to put our health at risk.” 

At the last ZAB meeting, Verizon land use attorney Paul Albritton had said that minutes of cell phone use had increased between 2005 and 2006. “There really is hard evidence which shows that down the line cell phone lines will not work when there is congestion,” he said.