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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.

William Krahl July 03, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Ghetto? What in the world are you people talking about? And protecting the children. Were you planning on letting your children play on this roof? I am going to assume these people don't use cellphones, watch TV, use microwaves, or possibly go outside. Look, I know there are often times where big business causes harm to communities, but this is not one of them. The benefits outweigh the harm, which actually is almost non-existent. The only negative is that there will be a few more structures on this building. I actually live right near this building (looking at it now), and honestly it would not make much of difference with the plans I have seen. If for some reason this new location on San Pablo doesn't pan out, you will see a lawsuit, there is not a question about this. This will cost Albany a lot of money, and they will lose eventually. At&t has Federal law on their side. This is money that could go to a number of useful things, like schools for your children. All for what? To protect some imaginary sanctity?
Mike Duigou July 03, 2012 at 11:40 PM
I always ask three questions of those opposed to additional cell towers or even more mind boggling, wi-fi. So far I've found them to be uniformly ignorant FUD spreaders. If someone is opposed to a cell tower for "medical or scientific reasons" they should at least know; the amount of power a typical phone and tower broadcast at, the frequency ranges used and they should be able to explain the inverse square law. If they can't do that then their fears about cell towers interest me about as much as their fear of ghosts or other imaginary threats.
Winifred Owen July 03, 2012 at 11:43 PM
It's not called "junk science" for nothing! Pure, unscientific fear-mongering. Bring on the cell towers! I don't even care if they put one in my back yard, although in that case I would like it to be disguised as a tree.
Senior A. Titude July 04, 2012 at 12:50 AM
I'm tired of worrying about what would happen if I needed to make an emergency call when walking my dog or riding my bike. I'm tired of paying for a landline. I'm tired of worrying if my son will be able to reach me in an emergency. The so-called negative effects of a tower are severely diminished by the real effect of no service in an emergency.
nb July 04, 2012 at 05:50 AM
Could someone please answer these questions? Is the FCC ruling still in place that prevents communities from debating the health impacts of wireless technology? Is it cheaper for ATT to locate the antennas on 1035 SP rather than at a location where there are currently none? What is the benefit? Aren't wireless signals jumping all over right now? Do these concentrate in the pathways to the cell towers? I don't understand how this works. ________ Reception in Albany and Berkeley both is extremely poor in different parts of town, inside or outside. What resonated with me was that people with disabilities rely on their technology as an essential tool for independent living. At the same time, people have concerns with safety and livelihood. I completely agree. And--- What are the health impacts people are afraid of? Are they similar to breathing in car fumes and tire dust? Why is informed consent so difficult in this issue?
Tatter Salad July 04, 2012 at 06:11 AM
As I understand it, the Federal Law remains in place. Previously, when the City Council voted down the towers, -which was shortly after a plea from a Walnut Creek woman which told how her husband died of brain cancer, no doubt from his use of a cell phone, the good ladies of the council had to do something... it was long past their bed time. The next day, the City Attorney reminded them of the Federal Law, -you know, a Federal Scientific Investigative body -having found cell phones to be very safe regarding magnetic radiaton emissions, (MUCH safer than the most smoke detectors as far as radiation); a group that had to hold forth because they knew the science-I.Q. of most city councils was, well, less than that of a Albany High School graduate... so with the Federal Law grasped, the Council quickly back peddled on one the towers... and here we are.
Emilie Raguso July 04, 2012 at 11:06 AM
I added the video clip related to the "ghetto" (and "ghettify"?) public comment.
Robert Marshall July 04, 2012 at 03:30 PM
I was trying to come up with some cutesy response to this, but couldn't. Anybody who throws around terms like ghetto, or made up slang verbs like ghettify, when referring to a handful of small cell phone antennas should be ashamed. Taking one look at the actual word definition shows how far off their intentions are from reality, not to mention a trip to east Oakland or north Richmond, might help. Merriam-Webster definition: "...part of a city predominantly occupied by a particular group, especially because of social or economic issues, or because they have been forced to live there (e.g. the Jewish Ghettos in Europe). "...The term ghetto now refers to an overcrowded urban area often associated with specific ethnic or racial populations living below the poverty line. Crime rates in ghettoes are typically higher than in other parts of the city." -----
Robert Marshall July 04, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Reminds me of an Albany Journal Letter to the Editor which bemoaned how Albany would be turned into a Mob run, drug infested gambling den if a card room were OK'd at Golden Gate Fields. Am I A proponent of the currently proposed site? Not necessarily. But, I wonder allowed about the new site proposed for examination by the City Council. Have the building owners said they want to entertain having a cell installation on their roof, or is this just spaghetti thrown against a wall to see if it sticks? nb: The rules are still in place forbidding a community ruling based on health concerns. It doesn't preclude public comment.
nb July 04, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Is that going to further discussion Emilie? Do you think that it is possible to stay on topic?
Caryl O'Keefe July 05, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Robert – yes, per AT&T’s Alternatives Analysis (required by our ordinance), at http://www.albanyca.org/modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=20616, the 979 owner is willing to lease roof for a facility. It would be a new facility not a co-located one like 1035, and it would look more obtrusive than 1035’s would look, and it would not provide as good of signal coverage if its height met City code. But AT&T’s appeal said there was no alternative to 1035, so to answer the City needed an alternative, and it chose 979. Mayor Javandel asked Council if it was willing to support 979 despite its shortcomings, which is a very good question. If Council says yes, it sacrifices co-location, aesthetics, and better service for more people, in return for an arbitrary 10% rooftop rule that was exceeded *before* AT&T applied…and has not harmed anyone in all these years.
Robert Marshall July 05, 2012 at 03:22 AM
It's one thing to have exceeded a ruling, and have something approved because it was in the same non-conforming condition. However, it's quite another thing to increase the exception, which I think is what AT&T's plans are going to do...right? On the flip side, if AT&T is willing to explore the 979 location would they not have to go back through new engineering plans and proposals since it's not really the same building? If so, how many months is that going to delay some type of resolution to this whole manner? Of course, those are mostly rhetorical questions which depend on what happens a few weeks down the road.
William Krahl July 05, 2012 at 04:10 AM
uh, nb, this is relevant, what are you talking about?
Caryl O'Keefe July 05, 2012 at 05:42 AM
Robert, I don't know if it's right that AT&T's plans will "increase the exception". Monday nite AT&T's attorney disputed P&Z's decision to count a 432 sq ft habitable finished-space penthouse at 1035 towards "roof-top coverage," saying the penthouse was unlike the 10% max structures in Albany's code (20.24.080C): "..towers, spires, cupolas, chimneys, elevator penthouses, water tanks, monuments, flagpoles, theatre scenery storage structures, fire towers,and similar structures.." Staff excluded the penthouse from rooftop coverage calculations until P&Z disagreed Feb 28, 2012...about 4 months ago. If the penthouse is not counted as rooftop coverage, then after adding AT&T equipment, total rooftop coverage is less than the city's 10% rule. From P&Z meeting April 24, 2012, staff report 6a: http://www.albanyca.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=19591
Peter Bernhardt July 05, 2012 at 02:45 PM
The solution is easy, Mr. Marshall. Contact AT&T and invite them to put their antennas on your roof. Win-win.
Don Ford July 05, 2012 at 04:32 PM
It's time to start taking notes on how folks on the council have voted regarding this issue. Albany needs to join the 21st century and those opposed will need to explain themselves next election...this includes the folks responsible for the current P&Z appointment s too.
Damon Lisch July 05, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Actually, I think it would be really useful for all of us to have a complete record of the voting history of all of the council members. I'm ashamed to say that I have not paid nearly enough attention to city politics over the past few years, but it's pretty clear to me now that I should have been. Emilie, do you know if that is available? Does the city have that information in an easily digestible formate?
Michael Barnes July 05, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Don, I agree in principle. Problem is the only current city council member up for re-election is Peggy Thomsen.The person she appointmented to P&Z was Phillip Moss, the only P&Z member to argue for and vote in favor of AT&T proposal (David Arkin of P&Z recused himself because he lives nearby the proposed site at 1035 San Pablo.) Lieber and Javendel are termed out, and Wile and Atkinson are not running but will be termed out in two years. I do think this is a critical election for our city, and we need to find some good candidates to fill the Lieber and Javendel positions. And maybe the Thomsen position, if Peggy decides not to run again.
Emilie Raguso July 05, 2012 at 07:04 PM
This is a great question but they do vote on quite a lot of things. I'm not sure if a complete history of voting by council members is readily available but I could perhaps request a history of specific items. What sorts of things would you be interested to know more about?
Michael Barnes July 05, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I think Peter Bernhardt's comment was posted in the wrong place, so I pasted it here so I could reply. Hereis the original post: "The solution is easy, Mr. Marshall. Contact AT&T and invite them to put their antennas on your roof. Win-win." I can tell from Peter's comment that he is new to this topic, so here goes: 1) Personally, I would love to have a cell base station in my neighborhood, and especially one on my roof, since the provider would pay me about $20K in rental income. But cell base stations cannot be placed in residential neighborhoods in Albany. This due to the poorly-written cell ordinance supported by ARROW in 2005. 2) Since cell providers basically cannot move east of San Pablo (except for portions of Solano Ave). They are required to stack them up along the eastern edge of San Pablo Ave, in Peter's neighborhood, which is just behind San Pablo Ave. It would make more sense to move them further east, away from Peter's neighborhood, but the provider's aren't allowed to do that. Who is responsible for that? ARROW. Remember who your friends are, Peter. 3) Actually, cell base stations are like lighthouses--they beam their energy out to the horizon. So there is actually very little RF exposure directly below a cell base station. For details Peter could should have read the Hammett Edison report in the P&Z package, which explains this in detail. The maximum ground strike of the RF beam is often a few hundred yards from the tower. (more below)
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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