Panhandle residents try to block cell phone tower

Panhandle residents concerned about their health are gearing up to prevent a new cell phone tower from being erected in the neighborhood.

A commercial building at 1801 Fulton St. is the proposed home of a T-Mobile micro cell tower. Some residents living on the block of the proposed site, which has a liquor store and a Laundromat on the ground floor with residential units on top, said they are concerned about studies conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the British government that suggest the radio frequency radiation used by cell phone towers may have a negative health effect on the reproductive function of humans and as well as cause damage to the environment.

The towers connect cell phone users to their service providers so they can make calls.

“It’s a matter of principle. It’s a concern for health,” said David Tornheim, who lives across the street from the site, adding that residents would like to see The City study the issues related to cell phone towers “instead of automatically approving these all over The City.”

But just how dangerous exposure to radio frequency waves can be is still debated. A 2004 study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration said street level exposure to the waves was thousands of times less than what is suggested as the safe exposure limits by experts. San Francisco does not allow cell phone towers to be installed on residential buildings and it prefers to have them placed on public buildings, such as firehouses, according to Aaron Starr of the Planning Department.

The Planning Department receives and approves applications for cell phone towers. Residents are allowed to appeal an application in order to have a public hearing before the Planning Commission. T-Mobile and the Planning Department agreed to extend a July 28 deadline to file a complaint by one week, according to Tornheim. Tornheim said residents hope to resolve the matter without filing an appeal. The City has not received any formal complaints about the tower yet.

There are more than 2,400 cell phone towers in San Francisco, according to a 2000 study by the San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union, a group of residents who work to prevent towers from being placed near public buildings.

Doug Loranger, a spokesman for the group, said City residents in the past have successfully prevented the installation of cell phone towers in their community.

“In general terms, in the past five years approximately 25 situations where antennas that were planned for a building did not go in because either neighbors successfully appealed them to property owners or landlords listened to concerns,” he said.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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