Council Votes 3-2 to Delay AT&T Wireless Decision

The City Council asked city staff to analyze an alternative San Pablo Avenue site for an AT&T wireless facility prior to ruling on a current application for 1035 San Pablo. Click "Keep me posted" for updates on this topic.

voted Monday night to delay, by two more weeks, a decision about an application by AT&T to build wireless antennas on the roof of a building at 1035 San Pablo Ave.

The matter was set to appear before the City Council after AT&T appealed a  earlier this year to deny the application, which has been in the works for roughly four years. 

AT&T says it has no antenna sites in Albany, which has led to widespread gaps in coverage throughout town. 

The planning commission voted in May to deny the application, indicating that it did not comply with the city code. Specifically, the rooftop on which AT&T hopes to build the antennas, argue some, is already too cluttered by other structures and an existing Sprint antenna to allow for additional construction.

Proponents of AT&T's plans, as well as company representatives, have said officials could interpret the code in a different way such that the plans would, in fact, conform with Albany rules.

Under the current application, much of the AT&T equipment would be placed inside a penthouse on the roof, with the antennas themselves mounted on a separate pedestal behind what has been described as a 10-foot-tall, 20-square-foot screened enclosure. (Click here to see what this could look like. The , as well as the for Monday's meeting, .)

The council voted 3-2 on Monday night to ask for more information about another site on San Pablo Avenue that city staff said might possibly better comply with the city code.

Vice Mayor  and opposed the motion, by . Atkinson and Lieber appeared ready to vote to uphold the planning commission's denial of the AT&T application. 

Javandel said, before making that decision, he hoped to learn more about an alternative site suggested by city staff, at 979 San Pablo. 

One of AT&T's arguments is that there is no other viable site in Albany that would provide coverage to one of the key areas needing a better signal.

Javandel said the 979 San Pablo site would offer more space on which to build the wireless facility, but noted that the antenna structure would be more visible than at the 1035 San Pablo site. 

He asked city staff to work with AT&T to determine whether the 979 San Pablo site was a feasible alternative. 

"I don't want to be perceived as having the project chasing its tail," he said. "It's not just, 'throw another obstacle and wait for it to fail.' That's not the way I want to handle this."

AT&T spokesman Lane Kasselman said, after the meeting, that the communications company focused on 1035 San Pablo Ave. as the best possible site for several reasons; for one, there's an existing cell facility on its rooftop.

Albany's ordinance regarding cell phone facilities specifies that it's preferable, when possible, to "co-locate" antennas. But numerous residents who live nearby told the council that, even if the location is theoretically preferable, their neighborhood is not the place for cell phone antennas. 

The building is also one of the tallest in the area, and includes structures on its roof that Kasselman said would allow AT&T to disguise its antennas and allow them to blend in with their surroundings.

He said the company has already explored "all the options" for other possible antenna locations, and does not consider 979 San Pablo to be a viable alternative, but that AT&T will work with city staff "to figure out if there's a 'holy grail' solution." 

Kasselman said AT&T would also discuss, with the 1035 San Pablo property owner, whether it's possible to reconfigure the existing penthouse to reduce its footprint, which could leave room for AT&T's wireless antennas. (Javandel had suggested this as one possible solution.)

AT&T also may consider legal remedies, Kasselman noted. 

"Under the law it's very clear: If the applicant is following all the guidelines laid out for them, the city has to do their best to approve it," he said. "Just because the council wants to take four, or 10, years to sort this out, that doesn't mean the community wants to wait that long."

Nearly 20 members of the public, some representing a "responsible wireless" advocacy group and others representing the business community, spoke during the public comment period.

Approximately seven spoke against the application, with about 11 in favor of it. 

Attorney Robert Outis criticized the city's wireless ordinance, calling it unnecessarily complex, and "totally out-of-proportion" with land use regulations that appear elsewhere in the city code. He said the ordinance has been used by opponents of wireless antennas to halt their construction in much of Albany altogether.

"I'm not an AT&T fan," he told the council, "but I believe you're operating from a pretextural and dishonest ordinance to do what you're not allowed to do." The ordinance, he continued, is "about regulations that are designed to achieve a political result."

Those in favor of the AT&T application said the lack of coverage hurts local businesses, as well as the city's economy; is a safety risk for Albany youth who cannot reach their parents; and puts disabled residents and visitors, as well as people who find themselves needing emergency assistance, at particular risk. 

Others said the part of the wireless ordinance that limits rooftop coverage to 10 percent, which is the main obstacle to the AT&T proposal at this point, had been an arbitrary designation that could easily be increased to 20 or 30 percent without negative ramifications.

Many of those who spoke against the AT&T application said they live near the proposed site, and that they don't want their children growing up near more antennas. 

"It's not necessary for us to experience for everybody else to have their safety," said one Kains Avenue resident who called cell coverage "a choice," rather than "a right." She added: "I'm trying to stand up for the needs of my children, and the children in my neighborhood. And also the people that wanna live there and wanna raise their families, and not live in a ghetto."

Albany resident Ed Fields cautioned the council to be wary of what he said was a slew of misinformation provided by carriers about their so-called requirements for antenna sites. 

Julie Beck, speaking on behalf of Albany Residents for Responsible Oversight of Wireless, said AT&T has provided "no convincing evidence" that they had researched other areas for cell towers.

(AT&T has presented numerous reports showing that there is no other appropriate or available location, but critics have said the reports were not verified by an independent analyst.)

In a 10-minute presentation to the council, Beck said the application would not lead to better public safety, and suggested that AT&T could perhaps pursue a temporary mobile antenna site that could park at City Hall. 

Beck said she hoped the council would not be intimidated by AT&T.

"We are a democracy," she said. "Albany has the right under federal law to create ordinances that protect its citizens."

Click the "Keep me posted" button below this story for updates on cell phone issues in Albany. Read more on Albany Patch about the AT&T application here.

Read more about mobile phone issues in Albany. A video of the July 2 council meeting will be available here via KALB.

If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at albany@patch.com.

Michael Barnes July 05, 2012 at 09:01 PM
(from above) 4) I have walked Peter's neighborhood with my RF meters, and the RF levels are pretty low. I am not sure what these folks are worried about. RF exposure levels are higher at a place like Indian Rock, near and slightly above the horizon, and in line-of-sight of all sorts of RF antennas. 5) I would also not assume that cell base stations turn your neighborhood into a ghetto. St. Mary's High School, our town's private high school, is located in the most expensive neighborhood in Albany. St. Mary's hosts three different cell providers, and makes a lot of income doing it. This site was grandfathered under the cell ordinance. Sadly, Albany's public high school can't make money the same way, thanks to the 2005 cell ordinance. RF levels at St. Mary's are low, I've checked several times. 6) Medical and public health officials are worried about cell phones, not cell towers. Their concerns are with the radio transmitter that people (especially children) hold against the side of their head--an especially vulnerable spot. One of the best ways to keep cell phones safe is to text or otherwise keep them away from your head. Another good idea is to use them where you have adequate signal strength, like near a cell tower. The phone puts out less power when it is near a base station. The more bars you see on your cell phone, the safer it is to use it. That's assuming there is much risk at all, which as not been established. But precaution is good.
Charlie the Waiter July 12, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Lame Kasselman is a former politico wannabe hack that worked for gaffe'n newsom and is now prostituting himself as a gun-for-hire to att whose history of lies, deception of over-promising and under-delivering is notorious and well documented. Why do their competitors not suffer the same problems? If only att spend more time maintaining their networks and delivering the services their customers pay them with their hard-earned dollars we will all be much better off. Instead, we have to deal with an organization that tries to deal us a screw-job at every single turn.
Peter Bernhardt July 13, 2012 at 01:16 AM
No, Michael Barnes, I don't care at all about the perceived health risks or any of the other points you make. I care that the antennas look like shit and are a blight on the skyline. Isn't it enough that the 1000 block of Kains is plagued with butt ugly 60s-era stucco block apartment buildings and the crap people leave out on the sidewalk? Residents of Kains have taken more than enough hits for Team Albany. You want better cell phone reception? Switch to Verizon or Sprint or CREDO or Metro or whatever, Get a land line. Buy a megaphone or a bugle. I don't care what you do. You can install those damn antennas on a rooftop within sight of your home if you're that devoted to AT&T. But I've got enough crap to look at already outside my front door. I don't need more, And I don't need my City government to violate the law to accomodate it.
Damon Lisch July 13, 2012 at 05:55 AM
Hi Emilie, I understand that there are many votes, but it would seem that there are some votes that address hot button issues, like the cell towers, cycling, Safeway, OTF and so on. Since I've found many of the election materials to be so vague as to be useless in the past ("I am strongly in favor of apple pie, world peace and cycling to work.."), I'd very much like to get a sense as to how current or prospective council members have or would have voted on certain issues. Frankly, I have no idea how the logistics of this would work, but it would certainly help me make an informed decision in the future. I am not a single issue voter, but there is not way, for instance, that I would vote for someone who supported OTF in any way (obviously I'm biased), and I would have serious issues about someone who thinks that cell phone towers pose a health risk. In thinking back on past election materials, I'm not sure that the information I got was specific enough to tell what the candidates would do in these cases. Then again, perhaps I missed the loaded code phrases. Perhaps as a reporter you know best what issues have generated the most controversy and, before the next election, you could prepare a generic set of questions for the candidates, such as "how would you have voted on this particular issue". The specificity and honesty of the responses could be quite informative for voters.
Emilie Raguso July 13, 2012 at 06:08 AM
We'll definitely be doing what we did last time around, which was to identify key issues -- with the help of readers on the site -- and then pose questions to all the candidates about how they would address those issues. I heard from a lot of people last time around that they felt more informed than they had ever felt before about local issues -- so I think it will be really effective. We'll also be asking lots of questions about what you want to know and see from candidates. We are investigating whether it may be possible to host some kind of a forum, as well. Here's our 2010 guide if you're interested. http://albany.patch.com/articles/november-2010-election-update-candidate-qas-ballot-measures-and-voter-guides (Forgive the formatting with some of the pages that are linked to in the guide; there was a site overhaul at one point that messed up some of the formatting and I haven't had time to go back and fix it.)


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