Neighbors to Wear Tin Foil to Protest Verizon Suit

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday November 02, 2007

A group of South Berkeley neighbors will picket the Verizon Wireless store on 1109 University Ave. from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday to protest the company’s plans to install cell-phone antennas atop the UC Storage building at 2721 Shattuck Ave. 

The protesters said they will be wrapped in tin foil.  

“We are making costumes of aluminum because at the last council meeting, [Councilmember] Gordon Wozniak suggested that people could protect themselves from the antenna radiation with aluminum foil,” said Laurie Baumgarten, a member of Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union. 

The group will ask the cell-phone giant to withdraw its lawsuit against the City of Berkeley alleging that the city violated the Telecommunications Act prohibiting health concerns as a factor in weighing approval of wireless facilities. 

The Berkeley City Council had asked the Zoning Adjustments Board to make a decision on the antennas based on a third-party engineering review, parking concerns and illegal construction, instead of health issues.  

“The idea that neighbors should live with metal blinds drawn down all the time and not go out into the garden is absurd. It’s not acceptable that the neighborhood lives in fear,” Baumgarten said. “The city is obligated to protect the community from potential health hazards. We want the city to support the ZAB and fight this lawsuit.” ZAB’s decision stated that it was “unable to make the necessary finding based on substantial evidence that the towers were necessary to provide personal wireless service in the coverage area, since service is currently being provided and since no evidence has been presented that existing service is not at an adequate level.”  

The question of whether the antennas should be permitted on UC Storage has bounced back and forth between the council and ZAB a couple of times, with the council splitting its vote last week over whether to uphold an earlier ZAB rejection of the cell-phone antenna application. The council will vote again on the issue at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Verizon attorney Paul Albritton told the council that were no other suitable sites for locating the cell-phone antennas and asked them to “to look beyond emotional appeals” of the community.  

Although city staff have said that the lawsuit could cost around $250,000, community members contend that it could be fought for less.