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Planning Commission Votes to Deny AT&T Antenna Plans

The vote won't be final until the May 8 meeting, after city staff prepare written findings to support the denial. Click the "Keep me posted" button below this story for updates on cell phone issues in Albany.

After a drawn-out discussion on whether to approve AT&T plans for new wireless antennas to be located at 1035 San Pablo Ave., planning commissioners voted Tuesday night to deny the application. 

Commissioners said the constraints of Albany's municipal code would not allow them to approve either of the two options presented by staff related to the antenna application.

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The were unanimous in their decision; Commissioner David Arkin recused himself from the discussion because he lives near the project area. 

The denial won't be final until the , when commissioners will review written findings prepared by city staff to support their decision. 

Staff suggested three possible routes of action for commissioners Tuesday night. There was no staff recommendation about which might be the preferred avenue.

The first involved approving the project as it was proposed, and including a condition to move the majority of the antenna equipment into a penthouse on the roof of 1035 San Pablo. 

The second involved approving the project as it was proposed and including a condition that would ensure all AT&T equipment on the roof stood less than six feet tall.

Each option would be approved under a different part of the municipal code, and would have different requirements about how much of the rooftop could be occupied by equipment. (Both codes limit the amount of rooftop development that is allowed.)

The main sticking point was a 10-foot-tall enclosure covering about 20 square feet that would house three antennas.

Commissioners said Tuesday that, in the first case, the enclosure wouldn't be allowable because it would lead to too much rooftop coverage. In the second case, the enclosure would be considered too tall. 

City staff said after the April 24 meeting that they had been under the impression following commissioner guidance given in the that one or both options for approval would be consistent with the municipal code.

Members of the public spoke passionately both for and against the application during the public comment period. 

At various points, Chairman Leo Panian had to call the crowd to order, and ask the public to reign it in.

"We know what the facts are," he said. "We've been sitting here for several years dealing with it."

Panian said, no matter what the commission decided, the ultimate verdict would likely come from .  

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.

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.

Craig Westbrooke April 25, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Time to dig through the recycling bins for 2 cans and some string. The Flintstones would feel right at home in Albany these days.... Anything else we can do to move backwards?
William Krahl April 25, 2012 at 02:40 PM
This is indeed unfortunate. We better start looking at amending the code (specifically for wireless) before the lawyers come marching in, I don't think Albany has the money available for a long drawn out lawsuit which surely is impending once this thing is stamped dead by the city council.
Trevor Grayling April 25, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Yes, two things: 1. Keep electing council members who support the Sierra Club/CESP position on the waterfront. This will ensure that the 33-acre parking lot will continue to produce no revenue for the city during our lifetimes. 2. Keep nickeling and diming Safeway until they give up and go away.
Eugene Veklerov April 25, 2012 at 03:03 PM
The commissioners unanimously upheld a politically correct decision. The victims are thousands of residents of Albany who will continue suffering from the poor reception for the foreseeable future.
Dawn April 25, 2012 at 03:59 PM
I hope that some sort of plan can be implemented for AT&T users-that's got to be frustrating. I don't know how easy it is to change plans, but I have had Verizon for years and have never had a problem anywhere, including parts of Tilden Park.
Eugene Veklerov April 25, 2012 at 04:37 PM
I live on Pierce Street, behind the hill. There was a plan to alleviate our situation by building an antenna on the hill, but that plan was blocked by environmentalist zealots.
William Krahl April 25, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Maybe tree shaped antennae with bird-feeders?
Ron George April 25, 2012 at 06:14 PM
I have t-mobile and live near solano and talbot---very weak coverage around the whole area...
Heike Abeck April 25, 2012 at 06:25 PM
I have AT&T, coverage is fine for me in Albany. I also have a land line for emergencies. The commission followed their code, hence there should not be issues regarding law suits. AT&T if they want to put up 21 wireless antennas need to find a site that meets the code.
William Krahl April 25, 2012 at 08:11 PM
like I said earlier, its time to change the code to allow for more flexibility in these things. There is no logical reason why this should have not happened, except for code that is restrictive and does not allow room for modern communications systems. How is that there are absolutely no alternatives for this? I dare say its the code, this is not ruralville America.
Eugene Veklerov April 25, 2012 at 08:23 PM
I am happy to know that your coverage is fine. But I live in a condo that has almost 500 units, we make a sizable contribution to the city budget and our coverage is not fine. As for the legalistic issues, the question is whether the people are there for the rules, or the rules for the people.
Em Segmen April 25, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Eugene Veklerov puts it well. Thank you.
Michael Cabanatuan April 25, 2012 at 10:44 PM
The rules can be changed. There may be a long bureaucratic process but this has been a problem for years, and, as far as I can tell, the Planning and Zoning folks have done nothing to change the rules so that they reflect modern times and needs.
S. LIU April 26, 2012 at 02:43 AM
I have 2 cell phones, one thru AT&T and one thru Sprint and I live on the Hill. Both cell phones work great. It does seem like AT&T did something to boost that coverage a few years back because it used to be the case that I got no coverage on that particular cell phone in certain parts of my condo, but everything works great now!
Emilie Raguso April 26, 2012 at 07:16 AM
Via AT&T spokesman: "We appreciate that the Commission did not make a final decision. In the coming weeks we are going to continue working with the Commission to obtain their approval, and ultimately get this site built."
Eugene Veklerov April 26, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Something is wrong when the city government sides with a few environmentalist extremists and against 500 residential units on 555 Pierce Street on the issue of cell phones. I've just talked to one of the environments and her main argument was the uncertainty about whether cell phones cause cancer. But that is a global issue. There are probably millions of cell phone antennas world-wide and we cannot debate this issue again and again every time a new antenna is proposed. The antenna rejected by the Planning Commission this week would improve the coverage for many residents, but not for 555 Pierce Street. We need another antenna that would improve our reception. I hope the Planning Commission starts working on this issue right away.
Clay Larson April 26, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Eugene; As shown in AT&T’s analysis, the objective of the site at 1035 SPA is to provide “indoor 3G coverage in the southeast portion of the City of Albany, an area roughly bounded by Washington Avenue and Solano Avenue to the north; Harrison Street, Dartmouth Street and Posen Avenue to the south; Ventura Avenue to the east; and Polk Street, Taylor Street, Marin Avenue, and 8th Street to the west. “ The project would not be expected to affect cell phone reception at Gateview. A wireless facility in the CMX district (a preferred district) world provide service to your area. The P&Z Commission did not consider the health effects of wireless facilities in reaching its decision.
Michael Barnes April 27, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Eugene, Here is a coverage map that shows where towers are in Albany: http://albany.patch.com/articles/mapped-wireless-facilities-in-albany-and-cell-phone-poll There is an AT&T cell site at El Cerrito Plaza, but it can't shoot signal through Albany hill to reach you. Perhaps if AT&T could get done with the 1035 San Pablo application, they could focus on getting more cell sites up in the area. While Clay is technically correct in his statement, the reality is that a vocal groups of environmental activists did get a very restrictive anti-cell site ordinance passed in Albany in 2005, and other then a new installation at the racetrack, no cell sites have been built in Albany since. Verizon is suing the city over this ordinance (more or less, it's a little more complicated than that, but not much). The motivation for the restrictive nature of the 2005 ordinance was ill-founded health concerns about cell towers, even though the city pretended not to notice. Federal regulations don't allow local governments to impose restrictions above and beyond those of the FCC. So now we are paying our dues in the form of bad cell reception. Clay and I have been on different, if not quite opposite, sides of this issue for years. But I think we both agree, along with many others, that the cell ordinance needs to be revised.
Emilie Raguso April 27, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Also, I asked AT&T if they would consider a redesign along the lines of some suggestions made Tuesday. Here's the official response: "We’re analyzing the options discussed, but believe the site as currently designed should and can be built under the code. It’s imperative for our customers in Albany that we add this infrastructure, so we’re going to work with the city to ensure that happens."
Peter Bernhardt May 16, 2012 at 02:18 AM
How 'bout AT&T finds a proper site for their antennas?
Peter Bernhardt May 16, 2012 at 02:18 AM
The council actually upheld a lawful decision. Victims? You gotta be joking?
Peter Bernhardt May 16, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Mr. Krahl, there is nothing whatsoever preventing AT&T from finding a more suitable site for its antennas.
Peter Bernhardt May 16, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Mr. Veklerov, you should organize your 499 neighbors to invite AT&T to install its 29 antennas on the top of your condos. That's what's known as a win-win.
Peter Bernhardt May 16, 2012 at 02:24 AM
They haven't changed it because it is the right thing to do. And if you or anyone else try to change it, there will be those of us who care about the quality of life on the 1000 block of Kains Avenue fighting you every inch of the way.
Peter Bernhardt May 16, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Hey Michael Barnes, lets revise those ordinances so that AT&T and whoever else has cell phone services can place their antennas within 100 yards of your home. Deal?
Peter Bernhardt May 16, 2012 at 02:27 AM
C'mon, Emilie, AT&T has never been an honest partner in finding an equitable solution to this issue. Why should they start now?

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