Public Comment

Commentary: The Movement Against Cell Antennas in South Berkeley: Grassroots Democratic Activism Versus Verizon-Style Domestic Imperialism

By Michael Barglow
Friday November 02, 2007

As we come down to the wire at the Berkeley City Council this coming Tuesday evening, we face a dilemna that one city council after another around the country regularly faces. The telecommunications industry is shoving cell antennas into neighborhood after neighborhood with a very powerful economic and legal fist to back it up. The fist need only be raised when a community dares to seriously question a telecommunications companies’ corporate plan. This plan aimed at profitk results in pollution of our airways with continuous radio frequency radiation. In Berkeley’s case, Verizon threatens to eliminate our entire ordinance governing the siting of cell phone antennas, that is unless we bow down to their current demand for antennas at three separate Berkeley locations. Is this a form of economic blackmail? 


This corporate control creeps and slithers throughout our cities, slowly increasing invisible radiation and other forms of electro-smog into less affluent urban neighborhoods. Meanwhile the U.S. war machine murders civilians and lays waste to their cities and towns in countries like Iraq. The connection between the two shows up in Verizon’s collusion with the U.S. government in voluntarily mining and then quietly transmitting data, gathered through monitoring our private phone conversations, to our national government.  


The 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act has had the consequence of stripping local governments of any significant power to determine placement of cell phone antennas. The act also makes it impossible for our representatives to protect their constituents because it states that antenna permits cannot be denied on the basis of health. This federal law must be changed. But in order to bring about that change, community after community must find the moral courage to stand up. City Councils like Berkeley’s must find the wherewithal to back their communities both politically and legally. The Civil Rights law of 1964 never would have passed without the grassroots work of civil rights activists.  


A week and a half ago, thirty neighbors demonstrated in front of Mayor Tom Bates’ house to ask him to stand up against Verizon. The following evening, sixty citizens from all over Berkeley also took the time to attend a three hour public hearing to implore our City Council to stand up and lead. Following a and informed passionate and passionate speech by Councilmember Max Anderson, both the mayor and Donna Spring backed the Zoning Board’s denial of the Verizon application. Two more votes are needed this coming Tuesday to oppose Verizon once and for all.  


We neighbors care about our environment; we care about our community. We care about our children in ways that Verizon never will, in ways that the Piedmont developer and owner of the proposed site, Patrick Kennedy won’t either, apparently. Yet because of their economic and legal clout, both Verizon and its local landlord beneficiary have more to say about what our neighborhood needs than we do. This is neither fair nor democratic.  


South Berkeley does not need more cell phone antennas. That has been thoroughly documented.  


Support the Berkeley Zoning Board’s decision to deny Verizon twelve more antennas on South Shattuck Avenue: 


1. Join our demonstration at the Berkeley Verizon store on University and San Pablo this Saturday, November 3, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.  


2. Attend next Tuesday’s last City Council meeting at which a decision will be made to reject Verizon or to bow down to its demands. The meeting will take place Tuesday, November 6, 7 p.m. at Old City Hall, 2134 MLK Jr. Way in Berkeley. There will be an opportunity for any of us to speak at the beginning of the meeting. For more information, contact the Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union at: