Neighborhood Action

Broadway & Van Ness

Neighbors Convince Wireless Carrier to Withdraw from Proposed Antenna Site

by Mark Longwood

In the Spring of 2000, some of the people residing within 300 feet of the corner of Broadway Street and Van Ness Avenue were notified of an application to the City Planning Commission to install three powerful microwave antennas on the roof of the Broadway Manor Motel to provide cell phone service to a 64-block area. One of the proposed antennas would have beamed microwave radiation 24-hours-a-day directly at St. Brigid School from across the street half a block away.

Local residents, concerned for the safety of the children attending St. Brigid School, the elderly residing at Notre Dame Apartments directly across Van Ness, and the students living in the Academy of Arts College dormitory – each of the three facilities directly in the sights of each of the three respective antennas – formed PCS-NO!, Parents and Children for a Safe Neighborhood. With the assistance of Supervisor Gavin Newsom, PCS-NO! forced the wireless carrier making the application to twice request continuance of its hearing before the Planning Commission. Finally, after a substantial city-wide neighborhood demonstration on October 15, 2000 covered by all local TV networks, KCBS and KPFA radio, and the San Francisco Examiner, which featured speeches by eight sitting or candidate Supervisors, including Tom Ammiano – a mother of two St. Brigid School students spoke to the crowd as well – the carrier withdrew from the proposed site.

In the Spring of 2001, however, the carrier re-filed its application with the Planning Commission despite its agreement the previous year to Supervisor Gavin Newsom's requirement that it look for alternative sites and not put the antennas near a school, senior residence center or college dormitory. The timing of the carrier's community meeting coincided this time, just as it did during its previous application, with the end of the school year, so that the parents of children attending St. Brigid School would be harder to reach and less likely to attend the meeting. Since St. Brigid is a Catholic school and its students live throughout the city, only in the unlikely event that a parent happened to reside within 300 feet of the proposed site was he or she notified of this meeting by the carrier, even though his or her children would be among those most affected by the microwave radiation emitted from the proposed antennas.

In addition, letters of notification about the community meeting and Planning Commission hearing to follow did not go to each of the 50 student residents of the Academy of Arts College dormitory, all of whom live within 300 feet of the proposed site. The approximately 239 elderly residents of the Notre Dame Apartments did receive notification, but the print on the notices was so small many could not read it. In addition, no Russian language translation was provided for the many sole Russian speakers among the senior residents at Notre Dame.

In an attempt to assuage community concern about inadequate community notification time for antenna siting applications, a representative of the carrier had earlier claimed that it provided six-week advance notification of its required community meetings, which would then be scheduled two to four weeks ahead of any Planning Commission hearing of its application. In this case, after having made its claim, the carrier provided less than two-weeks advance notification of its community presentation. With the Planning Commission hearing scheduled for two weeks later, this gave the community less than four weeks to organize, research the matter and prepare a response to the Planning Commission, instead of the eight to ten weeks earlier claimed by the carrier. Concerned citizens regarded this as another act of bad faith on the carrier’s behalf.

Since the initial application to place antennas at this location the previous year, local residents had meanwhile observed the installation of five additional antennas kitty-corner from the proposed site. Their first concern again was for the health of local residents, all the more so due to the prospect of cumulative radiation and hotspots. Because no independent, comprehensive study of potential hotspots where intersecting radiation beams converge and exceed federal safety standards from the now thousands of antennas in San Francisco has been carried out, citizens remain in the dark as to just what they are being exposed to.

By mobilizing all of the members of the community mentioned above – the over 300 parents and children of St. Brigid School, the senior residents of the Notre Dame Apartments, and the students at the Academy of Art College dormitory – as well as local organizations like the Russian Hill Neighborhood Association and the Polk Street Merchants Association, the neighborhood ultimately achieved some cumulative effects of its own. On the eve of the June 7 Planning Commission hearing, residents learned that the carrier had bowed to the enormous community pressure brought to bear up both it and Supervisor Newsom’s office. It had withdrawn its application, this time on a permanent basis.

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