SNAFU History

SNAFU Goes to City Hall

    In January of 2001, members of SNAFU were invited to speak on this issue before Mayor Willie Brown and members of various City departments and commissions that have jurisdiction over wireless antennas. At this meeting, SNAFU asked the Mayor to declare an immediate one-year moratorium on all new antennas until the City achieved three primary goals:

    1) Conducted a complete inventory of existing antenna facilities in San Francisco, including antennas under the jurisdiction of the Planning Department, Department of Public Works, Redevelopment Agency, Caltrans, Port Authority, Presidio Trust, and U.S. Military;

    2) Made an independent scientific determination whether each antenna facility and site is in compliance with existing FCC radiation emission standards; and

    3) Fully considered SNAFU's proposed revisions to antenna-siting guidelines in public hearings before the appropriate regulatory agencies and adopted these revisions to the fullest appropriate extent. SNAFU's proposed guidelines include keeping antennas away from schools, hospitals, senior centers, residences, and other areas where people potentially most vulnerable to microwave radiation gather and reside.

    At this meeting, the Mayor instructed the Director of the Planning Department, Gerald Green, to immediately begin compiling an inventory, but demurred from calling for a moratorium and instead directed SNAFU to approach the then-newly district-elected Board of Supervisors for such legislation.

    After several months of intensive lobbying efforts, and after several Board-sponsored meetings were conducted involving members of SNAFU and representatives of the wireless industry, on July 9, 2001 Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano introduced legislation calling for a six-month moratorium on new cell phone and other wireless antennas in residential neighborhoods throughout the City of San Francisco.

    Meanwhile, the antenna inventory, which was completed in June 2001, revealed that in operation in San Francisco there were approximately 2,400 individual antennas – a figure that was very likely an underestimation.

    On December 13, 2001, the Board of Supervisors’ Housing, Transportation and Land Use Committee, under intense pressure from industry lobbyists, continued a vote on a moratorium pending the Board’s consideration of proposed interim changes to the City’s antenna-siting guidelines. As neighborhood appeals of proposed antenna sites to the Board of Supervisors continued, this legislation lay dormant until a newly-appointed Planning Commission took office under Commission President Shelley Bradford Bell, who led an attempt to revise the WTS Guidelines in early 2003.

    Despite the Planning Commission’s unanimous vote on March 13, 2003 to consider Supervisor Ammiano’s draft legislation to re-write the WTS Guidelines in a joint hearing with the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee, such a hearing never took place. Meanwhile, the Planning Commission adopted several new requirements, including a 500-foot notification radius for all antenna Conditional Use permits, due to increasing popular pressure to do so.

    In March 2005, the City and its residents were handed a major victory by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in its decision MetroPCS v. City and County of San Francisco, 400 F.3d 715 (9th Cir. 2005). The case originated with a successful 2002 appeal to the Board of Supervisors of a MetroPCS antenna proposed for 17th Avenue & Geary Blvd. in the Richmond District. The MetroPCS case not only affirmed the City’s authority to deny the permit, but spelled out the criteria any local government in California and other states under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction may use to deny permits in similar situations. After the Ninth Circuit sent several remaining issues back to the Federal District Court for a trial, in June 2006 Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled in favor of the City on all issues and MetroPCS decided not to further appeal, resulting in a major victory for not only the residents near the proposed antenna but everyone with a concern about this issue.

Business As Usual

    In the absence of a moratorium and new, more protective antenna-siting guidelines to provide some relief for neighborhoods facing unwanted wireless antennas, City residents by necessity continue to battle proposed antennas on a case-by-case basis. Those who have the wherewithal to do so have met with significant success since SNAFU’s formation in 2000. In some cases, residents have convinced landlords who signed lease agreements with wireless carriers to break those contracts. In other cases, they have pressured wireless companies to withdraw from proposed antenna sites by conducting high-profile public demonstrations. In still other instances, they have successfully appealed Planning Commission approvals of antenna permits to the full Board of Supervisors. Of the 15 appeals brought by residents to the Board of Supervisors between 2001 and 2006, 12 have been successful.

    The number of San Franciscans concerned about this issue is telling: 2,800 Richmond District residents who signed a petition against an antenna site on Geary Blvd.; 2,000 Sunset District residents who objected to antennas proposed for a church; 800 residents who resisted antennas in Chinatown; 1,000 neighbors who protested a wireless facility in Noe Valley; 7,000 postal workers and supporters who opposed antennas proposed for post offices; and the list goes on. Also telling is the wireless industry's response: a relentless attempt to wear down community resistance. After filing a suit in federal court in response to a Board of Supervisors denial of an antenna permit where residents waited until 2:30 a.m. to win their case, one carrier voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit and then reapplied for antennas in the same location. At the carrier’s first community meeting on this re-application, they were met by 35 to 40 residents who let them know they would fight them again if necessary.

    In Congress, Senator Leahy of Vermont has prepared legislation that would overturn the health and safety preemption under the Telecommunications Act and fund U.S.-based research into the potential health effects of radiofrequency radiation. While this legislation was introduced with little fanfare in October 2002, it has not been re-introduced since.

    It will take continued, massive, grass-roots organizing and mobilization to get this bill introduced and passed by the U.S. Congress and to ensure that the concerns of San Francisco residents and others around the country become a legitimate part of the equation balancing the convenience of wireless technologies with the health and safety of ourselves and the environment.

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