AT&T utility boxes receive heat from some SF residents

While the installation of hundreds of AT&T utility boxes on sidewalks throughout San Francisco has been a source of frustration for some residents, a majority of projects have been approved.

Despite 2,000 appeals by residents to specific locations last year, 185 permits were granted and only nine were rejected, with many more applications under review.

Although AT&T’s boxes offer customers a competitive service, they have hit a nerve with a number of residents who see them as eyesores attracting refuse, graffiti and crime, as well as compromising pedestrian safety.

To date, the Department of Public Works, which oversees sidewalk permits, has approved 185 installations of cabinets that house telecommunication equipment. The cabinets are 4 feet tall, 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep. There are an additional 180 locations at some point in the permitting process.

AT&T has appealed three of the cases where permits were denied. Department of Public Works official Lynn Fong said the department gauges whether the location is the “least impactful site” and must approve it if no other alternative site is found. The company has the right under state law to install the boxes in the public right of way, she said. Each box serves about 400 to 500 customers, said AT&T’s Marc Blakeman, noting that opposition to any one box hasn’t come close to those numbers.

For more than three hours, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee held a hearing on the installations as residents lined up to complain about the boxes and the process that allows them to oppose a proposed location. AT&T conducts so-called “box walks” to address resident concerns, but some argued that the process was done only during business hours.

Blakeman said the overall response to box installations has been mixed.

“We try to accommodate people as best that we can.” He noted that when it comes to placing the boxes, “there aren’t many alternatives” given the existing infrastructure and guidelines for their placement.

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