S.F. board signals antenna oversight

The City is cracking down on the installation of so-called microcell antennas after residents complained that they have popped up around The City with no public review.

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee sent to the full board two pieces of legislation that would provide residents as well as The City with more say about where and how these microcell antennas are installed.

The legislation was criticized by telecommunications companies who said the controls could result in poor cell phone service or higher rates for cell phone users.

There are six cell phone providers in San Francisco and firms typically use the microcell antennas to fill in pocket areas that have sketchy service. There are about 530 sites in The City with wireless telecommunications antennas.

North Beach resident Robert Hinish has complained that three microcell antennas were placed on his apartment rooftop without any notification and the wiring created a safety hazard.

The wiring, he said, could impede fire fighters. Others cited concerns about health, claiming that the antennas emit frequencies (which are allowable under federal guidelines) that could cause health risks.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin introduced legislation that would require notification of the installation of antennas and allow residents to have a public review of the installation, which would be handled at the Planning Commission and Board of Appeals level.

Proponents of the legislation, however, wanted tougher legislation, such as requiring a conditional use permit, which comes with a more extensive public notification and also allows an appeal to the Board of Supervisors.

“It is my belief this is a big step in the right direction,” Peskin said. “I think this is the appropriate step at this time.”

The Departmentof Public Works introduced legislation that establishes a permitting and notification process for microcell antennas on The City’s public rights of way, such as light and telephone poles.

Under the legislation, an antenna would require a permit from DPW and three other city departments, including the Recreation and Park Department. Each department would charge a permit fee ranging from $75 to $155 per antenna.

Permit issuance would be based on a number of factors, including whether it would impact a “valued scenic” view.

“Obviously, the people want good [cell phone] service and this makes it extremely difficult for carriers to provide it in a way that it should be provided,” said Paul Albritton, an attorney representing wireless companies in San Francisco. Albritton said the process would be burdensome and expensive, which could result in poor service or higher cell phone rates.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on both pieces of legislation Aug. 14.

jsabatini@examiner.com


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