Faced with some 60 neighbors opposing telecommunications antennas proposed for a building at Ward Street and Shattuck Avenue—and armed with signs calling for the recall of the mayor and stating “Don’t Sell Us Out”—the Berkeley City Council split Tuesday over whether to uphold the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) decision to deny permits for the antennas at 2721 Shattuck Ave.
Nextel Communications and Verizon Communications have appealed the June zoning board decision, the second time ZAB has voted to deny Nextel and Verizon permits for the antennas atop the five-story UC Storage building. They have also filed lawsuits, saying the city’s denial violates the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
The split vote on upholding the zoning board—with councilmembers Max Anderson, Dona Spring and Mayor Tom Bates in support of the ZAB decision, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak in opposition and Councilmembers Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Betty Olds and Kriss Worthington abstaining—with no position having mustered the five required votes, buys the council 30 days to uphold or deny the telecommunications companies’ appeal.
If no five-vote position for or against the appeal emerges at the council’s Nov. 6 meeting—and, if before the 30-day period is up, there is no special council meeting at which the ZAB denial is reversed—the zoning board decision will stand.
The council addressed the lawsuit in closed sessions before and after the Oct. 23 meeting, but took no vote on whether to go forward with the suit, according to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. The closed-door session was continued to Thursday at 5 p.m.
“This is the first time the council has asked good questions,” the community group’s spokesperson Michael Barglow told the council, speaking for a second time at the end of the hearing. “The only reason we’re being taken seriously is because of the Verizon lawsuit,” he added.
At the opening of the public hearing, Cory Alvin, speaking for Nextel, told the council that the company had reduced the number of antennas from 12 to six and noted that “a third-party review had determined that [the antennas] were necessary for coverage needs.”
Alvin also underscored that the antennas were planned for a “commercial corridor,” as the city could deny them in a residential area.
Community members, however, are quick to point out that UC Storage, owned by Piedmont resident Patrick Kennedy, abuts a residential neighborhood. Community speakers called on the city to locate the antennas away from the neighborhood, such as on the fire station on the west side of Shattuck Avenue at Derby Street.
But Paul Albritton, attorney for Verizon, told the council: “There are no nearby sites for co-location.” He went on to ask the council to “look beyond the emotional appeals” of the community.
Barglow, who lives near the proposed antenna site, spoke on behalf of the neighborhood. “Stand up and lead,” he told the council.
Addressing the lawsuit, Barglow called on the city to spend the funds necessary to fight the telecommunications companies. He noted that while some city staff believe the lawsuit would cost about $250,000, the community thinks the cost would be less.
Barglow added the campaign to recall Bates to the mix. The mayor, who was strongly supported by his neighbors in the last election, lives close to the proposed project. His house was picketed Monday night by about 25 of his neighbors.
“Some of us are doing the hard work of recalling the mayor,” Barglow said.
While city insiders asking for anonymity have said Bates supports settlement of the Nextel/Verizon lawsuit, the mayor voted in favor of denying the appeal.
Another neighbor of the proposed antennas, Christopher Restivo, addressing the council, pointed out that the antennas proposed atop UC Storage were not likely to serve the South Berkeley neighborhood. “If folks in the hills are using cell phones, what antennas are they using?” he asked.
While allegations of adverse health effects from radiation emitted by the antennas cannot be included in criteria for approval or disapproval of the antennas, according the Telecommunications Act, it was on the minds of both council and community.
“Could you put aluminum foil to shield their houses?” asked Wozniak, the only councilmember to vote against the ZAB denial of the antennas.
“Metal blinds would block [the radiation],” Anthony Tricoci, the city’s consultant on telecommunications responded.
Anderson, a registered nurse, who represents the area and made the motion to uphold the zoning board decision, targeted the federal Telecommunications Act’s prohibitions against addressing the health questions.
“This issue strikes at the heart of our role in the federal government,” he said. “We’re told we have no right to speak out about our health—we’re told to shut up and go away. Nextel and Verizon are not in this city to promote public health.”
We cannot “leave the important aspects of our lives to those who do it for profit,” Anderson said.