More cell phone towers in Berkeley? Maybe not. At least not as quickly as the telecoms want. On June 17, by a vote of 5-2, with one abstention and one recusal), the City Council voted to have City Attorney Zack Cowan draft a city-wide moratorium on installation of new cell antennas.
This council vote follows many months of petitioning by Berkeley citizens, led by those living close to proposed antenna locations in the flatlands, who are asking for more local control over antenna siting decisions.
Linda Maio recused herself, on this occasion, with no good reason. However, Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna Free Union (BNAFU) does believe that Ms. Maio should recuse herself from the council vote made last November. Her vote was needed to approve the UC Storage cell antenna application. However, her husband, Robert Browning, had been a longtime tenant of Patrick Kennedy, the owner of UC Storage. The council decision to approve Verizon’s antennas, made under the threat of a Verizon lawsuit, rejected the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board position and allowed the antenna application to go forward.
Verizon is still suing the City of Berkeley because the company believes our city ordinance is too strict. Under the threat of this suit, Verizon is engaging in settlement talks with the city in order to exempt all Verizon antenna applications from any moratorium if one should be enacted. Although the city attorney will draft a moratorium, his document will include various exemptions demanded by Verizon. The moratorium will appear on the City Council agenda at the end of July. Stay tuned.
In fact, South Berkeley is inundated by cell antenna installations while North Berkeley and the hills have very few. On Tuesday we learned that none of the existing antennas in Berkeley have been monitored at all for RF radiation emissions. This came as a shock to many and is contrary to the requirements of Berkeley’s own cell antenna ordinance.
Ironically, according to Verizon and Nextel themselves, cell phone service and reception in South Berkeley are already excellent. South Berkeley receives these companies’ highest performance ratings. Yet these companies demand more and more antennas. These antennas, which they rent to other telecoms as well, are highly profitable, however harmful they may be to our community.
Is it fair that we neighbors be involuntarily exposed to an additional 12,000 watts of radio frequency (RF) radiation, 24 hours a day, in addition to the visual blight of these antennas? These antennas will improve service to commuters driving along South Shattuck, on their way in and out of town, who talk on their cell phones while driving, thereby causing more accidents and endangering the lives of Berkeley pedestrians. Does this serve the interests of the community as a whole? Is it fair for these antennas to be used so that people living above the Claremont Hotel can get better cell phone reception because they won’t allow these antennas to be placed in the hills?
Unfortunately the telecoms wield a lot of power and have pushed into place federal legislation that prohibits any discussion of health considerations when it comes to antenna installations. The companies have tremendous leeway to put up antennas anywhere, even mega-antennas right next to people’s homes, as they plan to do at UC Storage on South Shattuck.
We need a lower wattage, more equitably distributed cell antenna system. Certainly, mega-antennas (1,200-1,400 watts) like those scheduled for UC Storage, should not be located near people’s homes or workplaces.
BNAFU is fighting this case legally. We now have a website, www.antennafree.com, and we hope to schedule benefits to defray our legal costs. Please help us by visiting our website, contacting us, and pitching in.
Michael Barglow is a member of Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna Free Union.