Neighbors try to stop Sutro Tower antennas

Twin Peaks residents are fighting the addition of new television antennas to The City’s iconic Sutro Tower and demanding an environmental review of the project.

The four television stations that own the 977-foot tower, which can be seen from around the Bay, want to replace four antennas, add another one and place four smaller ones on a nearby control building. The so-called “receive-only” antennas receive information but don’t broadcast information.

Proponents say the additions are necessary to comply with Homeland Security provisions to prepare in the event of an emergency. The FBI, California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service use the tower to broadcast communications, said Robert McCarthy, the attorney representing Sutro Tower Inc.

The proposed removal of four towers at about 657 feet would provide for their replacements of newer, heavier versions, McCarthy said. The new models would weigh between 185 and 245 pounds, up from the current 78 pounds, adding a total of about 790 pounds to the tower. They’re also slightly larger — nearly one foot taller than the current 4-foot-4-inch-high models.

Neighbors worry about the effects of the new antennas in addition to the approximately 185 antennas already on the 3.7 million-pound tower.

“The question is whether The City has adequately evaluated the project,” said Shawlin Chen of the Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association. “What is the cumulative impact to the neighborhood?”

Chen wonders if there is going to be an end to the placement of new equipment on the tower, hundreds of feet above residents’ homes.

“What about during a major seismic event or when there are high winds?” Chen said.

And there are unknown health-related concerns to contend with, Chen said.

No environmentalimpact report has been compiled to study the proposed additions.

The new tower antennas are needed to comply with federal regulations aimed at reducing possible interference with public safety communications, such as fire, police and other emergency responders, McCarthy said.

“Broadcasters have no choice,” McCarthy said. “It’s a pretty benign application. The federal government mandated it.”

On Thursday, the Planning Commission was to consider allowing an exemption from environmental review for the proposal. The matter was taken off the agenda after an appeals letter from a member of the Twin Peaks Improvement Association.

The Board of Supervisors will also consider Oct. 24 if an environmental review is necessary.

Exempting the antenna additions from the standard environmental review procedures is inappropriate because they will have cumulative and possibly significant effects, wrote Doris Linnenbach, a member of the association.

“We have been in a battle for 40 years” over this tower, Linnenbach said. “The frustration is that everything is a fait accompli. There are no pre-meetings. The neighborhood feels there’s not enough participation.”

City planner Rick Crawford said the neighbors’ concerns have legitimacy, adding that Sutro Tower issues are always contentious.

Eight years ago, Twin Peaks residents sued The City to block the addition of a 12-ton, 125-foot digital television antenna to Sutro Tower, just one of many conflicts between residents and tower owners since its construction 35 years ago.

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