San Francisco challenges AT&T's plan to add service boxes 

While AT&T long ago upgraded its Internet infrastructure in other California cities, it bypassed San Francisco in 2008 when its plan met with resistance. Now the telecommunications giant is trying again, but this time after a lot more community outreach to soften the opposition.

The company wants to install 726 4-foot-tall boxes around San Francisco — down from 850 the first time around — to bring customers digital TV, high-speed Internet and digital home-phone service. Nonetheless, its proposal is causing a disconnect with some community groups.

The service upgrade hinges on a scheduled Tuesday vote by the Board of Supervisors on a proposal that would require the company to undergo an environmental review. That would be a major setback for AT&T. Such reviews, which can take months or even years, are required under state law whenever it’s determined that a project would have a significant impact.

Leading up to the vote, both sides are intensifying their lobbying efforts. Some residents are urging supervisors to support the project, praising the prospect of the new technology and competition with Comcast. Others are siding with San Francisco Beautiful and the Planning Association for the Richmond, the two groups that want the proposal to undergo environmental review.

While the Planning Department concluded that the cabinets “would have a negligible effect on public views and aesthetics,” the appellants see a much greater impact.

“The large boxes will impede pedestrian traffic, inconvenience property owners, act as graffiti magnets, invite vandalism, attract trash around and on top of them and detract from our efforts to create a more attractive and pleasant environment,” their appeal stated.

AT&T maintains that its proposal doesn’t require such a review, a position supported by the Planning Department. If the appeal is rejected, AT&T would then apply to the Department of Public Works for cabinet locations and notify surrounding property owners. The department would hold a hearing if there is opposition.

“We’re anxious to bring choice to the citizens of San Francisco,” AT&T spokesman Marc Blakeman said.

“Utility boxes are as a matter of public policy defined as blight” in San Francisco, SF Beautiful’s Milo Hanke said. He argues that they should be put underground or on private property: “Just get them the hell out of our way.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

 

What AT&T is proposing

  • 726: Number of cabinets to be installed in public right-of-ways.
  • Cabinet dimensions: 48 inches high, 51.7 inches wide, and 26 inches deep.
  • Cabinet color: A light tan or light green.
  • Aesthetic measures: Plant shrubs, trees. Use lattice screens, community signage, decorative bollards.

Source: AT&T

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