Public Comment

Commentary: Verizon Wireless vs. the City of Berkeley: The Final Act

By Michael Barglow
Friday October 19, 2007

The bell for the final round of “Verizon vs the City of Berkeley” will ring this Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. at the final public hearing, Old City Hall, 2134 MLK Jr. Way in Berkeley.  

Berkeley has not completed its administrative decision-making process regarding Verizon’s application to install antennas at UC Storage at 2721 Shattuck Ave. Yet Verizon is already suing the city in federal court. This suit asks the court to mandate the installation of the antennas at the South Shattuck location and also at two other flatlands locations: 1540 Shattuck (French Hotel) and 2002 Acton St. Beyond these requests, Verizon is demanding the elimination of our city ordinance governing the installation of cell phone antennas throughout the city. This ordinance was passed by a 7-1 City Council vote two years ago. It simply seeks to protect Berkeley citizens from unnecessary radio frequency radiation. 

The Berkeley City Council Public Hearing on Oct. 23 will be the last public meeting on the Verizon application to install antennas at 2721 Shattuck Ave. Verizon must get five votes in its favor at this meeting to overturn the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board, which has twice ruled in our favor.  

No one knows if continuous radiation emitted from cell phone antennas is safe. There are scientific indications that it is not. Yet, in 1996 the cell phone industry was able to make it illegal for any city to challenge cell phone antennas on the basis of its citizens’ health concerns. If there is any substantial chance at all that this radiation might be harmful, is it right for Verizon to impose this gamble on all Berkeley residents without their consent? 

Apart from health concerns, South Berkeley does not need nor want more cell antennas, particularly not at 2721 Shattuck Ave. To date, hundreds of residents in Berkeley who use Verizon and other cell phone companies have signed petitions attesting to the fact that their service in South Berkeley is excellent. Managers and employees of both Verizon and Nextel have shown us color coded maps of Berkeley indicating that customers in South Berkeley receive these companies’ highest ratings for excellent cell phone service.  

We ask for fair and equitable distribution of antennas sufficient to ensure telephone voice conversations. We in South Berkeley note that the high-impact image- and other data-processing that the telecommunications industry plans to bring to the public, going far beyond standard voice-carrier services, entails increasingly dense and polluting levels of radiation. We do not need nor want exposure to these endlessly increasing levels of radiation. We believe that it is unfair and undemocratic to expose Berkeley’s residents to these increases without our consent.  

We continue to ask these questions:  

1. South Berkeley currently has 14 antenna locations, North Berkeley has two, while the Berkeley Hills have none. Why does our part of town have seven times as many antenna locations as North Berkeley? We do not have anywhere near seven times the population, nor seven times the number of cell phone users. 

2. Why do the Berkeley Hills have no antenna locations? How do they ensure reception? 

Could it be because cell phone users in North Berkeley and the hills are able to use antennas already in place in South Berkeley?  

Please put Oct. 23 on your calendar. A big turnout at this meeting is crucial to encourage our city council members to stand up to Verizon. We will ask the City Council to insist on its right to local control over siting of RF antennas. We request that our government support the precautionary principle and the right of citizens to protect their health and safety. We request funding for further investigation of the health risks associated with wireless technology.