The Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union (BNAFU) filed a lawsuit in the Alameda County Superior Court last week to stop the installation of 11 cell phone antennas on top of UC Storage at 2721 Shattuck Ave.
According to BNAFU member Michael Barglow, the suit charges Patrick Kennedy—who owns the five-story UC Storage building—with violating the city’s zoning ordinance and the use permit process by eliminating parking spaces and breaking off-street parking rules, among other factors.
The suit asks the court to order Kennedy, Verizon and Sprint to suspend work on the project immediately.
BNAFU members rallied outside City Hall Friday afternoon, carrying “No Cell Phone Antennas” posters.
“We will continue to make our presence known,” said Barglow, who has been protesting the antennas for the past two years and four months.
“We have to put these antennas where they are not shining on people’s homes,” he said. “Our neighborhood believes that people, including many children in our neighborhood, have the right not to be used as guinea pigs exposed 24/7 to microwave frequency radiation, particularly when cell phone service in South Berkeley is excellent.”
In the past, BNAFU has lobbied residents, picketed Mayor Tom Bates’ residence and rallied at Berkeley City Council meetings to protest the cell phone installations in their neighborhood.
Verizon Wireless filed a lawsuit against the City of Berkeley in Federal Court in Oakland last August for allegedly being in violation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, after the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board and the city council denied them permits to install antennas on top of 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 November, the City Council decided to allow Verizon to install the antennas, stating that federal law prohibits cities from denying use permits to telecom companies based on health reasons.
The council also recognized the neighborhood concerns about the placement of the cell phone towers and the inadequacies of the current ordinance.
Fighting the lawsuit would have cost the city more than a million dollars in legal fees.
“It’s total abuse of power by the city,” said Jim Hultman, a member of BNAFU.
The lawsuit charges the city with “abusing its discretion and failing to act in the manner required by law in approving the permit for the project.”
On Tuesday, Bates and councilmembers Dona Spring and Max Anderson will request the city manager to establish a moratorium on further antenna installations in Berkeley until the city has an ordinance which protects residential neighborhoods by monitoring microwave radiation emitted by cell phone antennas.
If approved, the city would purchase RF radiation measurement equipment to measure radiation levels prior to the installation of the antennas and every six months thereafter.
City staff would also be trained to operate the equipment.