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Planners Won’t Approve Cell Tower Revisions

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday November 26, 2008 - 10:30:00 AM

Planning commissioners have refused to endorse a staff-prepared set of amendments to the city statutes governing placement of cell phone antennas. 

A motion made by David Stoloff at their Nov. 19 meeting to recommend that the City Council should adopt a 13-page revised ordinance died for lack of a second. 

Stoloff, Mayor Tom Bates’ appointee to the commission, then voted with an 8-1 majority to approve commission Chair James Samuel’s motion for the commission simply to forward the document to the council, with the recommendation that when they finish their examination, they should send it back to the commission for further work. 

Only Roia Ferrazares voted in opposition. 

The proposed revisions were drafted by Deputy Planning Director Wendy Cosin and acting City Attorney Zack Cowan. 

Cosin said she is obliged to present amendments to the city’s Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Ordinance to the City Council so that they can consider them by Jan. 20. 

That date was imposed in a so-called “secret settlement agreement” reached in May that ended a Verizon Wireless lawsuit against the city filed by cell phone carriers after the city rejected applications to install more of the controversial facilities on three sites on Shattuck Avenue. 

Commissioners Patti Dacey and Gene Poschman had pushed for disclosure of the document, which dealt mostly with the three cell tower sites and only devoted two lines to the agreement that the council would “consider” revisions. 

Much of the Wednesday night hearing was devoted to testimony from neighbors who have been critical of concentrating cell phone antennas on single sites, such as those located at the UC Storage building and planned for the French Hotel on opposite ends of Shattuck Avenue. 

“We had a long discussion, and we concluded that, in terms of the amount of time already spent and the knowledge of detail already developed, the Planning Commission was the knowledgeable place to examine the proposal,” said Poschman. “The 8-1 decision was a good outcome.” 

Cosin had cited the settlement agreement and a district court decision as key reasons for adopting a proposal before sending it to the council, but the language of the agreement once it had been produced as well as a subsequent federal appeals court ruling overturning the decision she had cited apparently convinced the commission majority to rejection Stoloff’s motion. 

One of the key provisions of a San Diego cell phone law upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals but rejected by the lower court allows city government to decide on antenna placement. 

That decision upholds one of the key issues raised by neighbors and the Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union, which has sued the city seeking to overturn the decision that allowed placement of 11 antennas atop the UC Storage building. 

That lawsuit continues in Alameda County Superior Court.