Information & Research

Permitting Process for Antenna Siting in San Francisco

    1. To site antennas, a wireless carrier must, according to the City's WTS Facilities Siting Guidelines, apply for a Conditional Use permit with the Planning Department of San Francisco. This does not, however, apply to all antennas. The City currently exempts certain small, so-called "microcell" antennas from the Conditional Use process, effectively rubber-stamping their approval and denying public notification and input regarding their siting and installation (look for "baseball bat" shaped antennas hanging from flagpoles and lightposts). In addition, unlicensed, so called 'Wi-Fi' (wireless fidelity) antennas are also present in stores like Starbucks, McDonald's and Borders, as well as in hotels, airports, offices and homes throughout San Francisco.Since 1996 the City has issued permits for at least 2,500 antennas in San Francisco; this doesn't include microcell antennas and may not account for antennas not officially under the City's jurisdiction.

    2. For those antennas that do require a conditional use permit, the wireless carrier must notify residents – currenly within a 500-ft radius of the proposed antenna site. SNAFU has pressured the Industry to send out notification in more than one language, and at present notification materials are typically tri-lingual (English, Spanish and Cantonese).

    3. The wireless carrier conducts one or more meetings with members of the local community. The City does not require that any independently gathered scientific evidence be presented or that a third party of any kind attend. In fact, as part of the permitting process, the City makes little independent corroboration of the wireless carrier's need for new antennas or their compliance with federal safety regulations.

    4. The wireless carrier must present its application before the San Francisco Planning Commission. It is at this time that those objecting to the application may publicly voice their opposition. This is made difficult by the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 – which says in part that a local municipality may not restrict the siting of wireless antennas on the basis of health and environmental effects of radiofrequency radiation, so long as these emissions meet Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

    5. The Planning Commission will then render a decision on whether to approve the Conditional Use permit. Until June 2003, the Planning Commission had never denied such a permit for an antenna installation in San Francisco. Due to increasing resident organizing and mobilization, and an increased awareness among Planning Commissioners of their authority to do so, the Planning Commission has on rare occasions denied permits to carriers since July 2003.

    6. If the Planning Commission should approve the Conditional Use permit, residents opposed to an antenna facility have one final recourse: an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Neighbors have 30 days from the date of the Planning Commission’s decision to file such an appeal. An appeal requires either the signatures of 20% of the property owners within 300 ft. of the approved antenna facility or the sponsorship of 5 Supervisors. Due in part to the adoption of district elections in 2000, some neighborhoods have met with success in appealing the siting of wireless antennas in their area.
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