Dozens of Neighbors Speak Out Against Bay Guardian Cellular Antennas

Categories: Government, Media
brugmann cell tower.jpg
Dozens of Potrero Hill residents are lending their voices to a campaign opposing efforts by the owners of the San Francisco Bay Guardian to erect cell-phone antennas atop the newspaper's offices at 135 Mississippi Street

The newspaper's neighbors tell SF Weekly that they have collected as many as 50 signatures on a petition opposing the project, in which Guardian Publisher Bruce Brugmann hopes to lease out space on the building's roof to T-Mobile for a cluster of cellular antenna panels. The petition urges the San Francisco Planning Commission -- scheduled to vote on the application from Brugmann and T-Mobile on Thursday -- to reject the plan, asserting that the antennas are unnecessary and should be sited in a less residential area.

The neighbors say they are also concerned about what they view as the secrecy surrounding the project. Yvonne Gavre, who is helping spearhead the drive to gather signatures, did not learn about the upcoming commission meeting until late Friday afternoon, after Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey mailed a letter to the Guardian's neighbors and other city residents informing them of the proposal and meeting. (Village Voice Media is the parent company of SF Weekly.) "Everybody we spoke to was very upset," Gavre said. "They didn't know about it."
 
Gavre said she plans to go to the commission meeting to protest the project, but is not sure whether many of her working neighbors will be able to attend because of the short notice. She plans to present letters and a petition -- Gavre said she has collected 34 signatures so far in opposition to the project -- to commissioners to demonstrate neighborhood unrest over the antennas.

Kepa Askenasy, who said she has collected 15 signatures on the petition against the project, said the planning commission should delay its consideration of the application because of the lack of neighborhood awareness. "None of us got notified," she said. She also complained about the decision to place the permit on the commission's "consent calendar" -- typically reserved for uncontroversial projects that don't require public input -- despite a record of opposition to the antennas.

"This item should not be on the consent calendar," Askenasy said. "That's just how they ram things through." Planner Diego Sanchez, who scheduled the application on the consent calendar, has said it could be removed and immediately set for a full hearing if any members of the public so request at the opening of the commission meeting Thursday.

While Gavre and Askenasy are concerned about potential health problems caused by radiation from the antennas, they said they plan to argue against the project on the grounds that it isn't necessary, since T-Mobile subscribers in the area (several of whom Gavre and Askenasy said they have talked to) already have adequate cellular service.

According to Doug Loranger of the San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union, this is a more successful strategy than arguing against the antennas based on their health impact, since local governments are prohibited by federal law from considering potential health problems caused by electromagnetic radiation as a factor in approving cell-phone towers, so long as the radiation meets federal standards. (The Guardian project does, according to documents submitted with its application.)

Today, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors is considering a resolution urging the federal government to revisit and tighten those standards. In 2002, the Guardian itself ran a story publicizing a study that linked cell-phone antenna radiation to cancer.

Askenasy said neighbors will also argue that the antennas should be erected, if at all, in a more industrial region of the city. While the neighborhood occupied by the Guardian was once such a place, Askenasy said that zoning changes for the area approved last year call for substantial increases in residential units.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the project at its meeting beginning 1:30 p.m. Thursday, March 25, in Room 400 of City Hall. Those with concerns about the antennas can call city planner Diego Sanchez at (415) 575-9082 or e-mail him at diego.sanchez@sfgov.org.

Illustration   |   Fred Noland 

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