Two Peninsula cities are standing up to some of the world’s largest telecommunications companies in a fight to control the installation of cellphone antennas.
On Tuesday, Burlingame’s City Council unanimously suspended antenna construction through Oct. 21. And tonight, the Daly City Council will reconsider its earlier rejection of six new antennas.
Both cities have been contacted by industry officials objecting to their regulatory efforts. The disputes highlight the uncertainty cities face as they exert influence over a realm partly regulated by federal officials. Objections to cellular towers typically concern health effects, which are difficult to prove, but also aesthetics, which more clearly falls within city authority.
“We are still trying to understand the extent of power a city has over this type of institution,” Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel said. “It’s very complex.”
Burlingame’s moratorium seeks to give officials time to craft rules governing antennas. After Verizon Wireless complained that the moratorium would block maintenance of existing antennas, the council added an amendment permitting such upgrades, Nagel said.
Meanwhile, in Daly City, Verizon’s proposal to add six new antennas to a tower disguised as a pine tree near Westmoor High School has generated opposition. Following complaints, the City Council voted 3-2 last month against the proposal, Councilman David Canepa said.
But in an Aug. 15 letter to the city, lawyers representing Verizon argued that the action violated the 1996 Telecommunications Act because the city had no proof that the antennas were unsafe. In fact, a study commissioned by Verizon said the final tower would, at most, expose people to just 2.4 percent of the legal limit for radio frequency emissions. Although Canepa said the council denied Verizon’s permit on aesthetic grounds, Verizon also dismissed those complaints.
“Generalized concerns or opinions about aesthetics are insufficient to constitute substantial evidence upon which a local government could deny a permit,” the lawyers warned, threatening a lawsuit.
The lawyers said the city must approve the antenna since the project meets legal criteria laid out in the federal act, including filling a coverage gap and being situated in the “least intrusive” area available.
Daly City City Attorney Rose Zimmerman said she didn’t know whether the city can stop Verizon and needs to review the relevant law.
Westmoor’s antennas raise about $30,000 a year for the school district. Superintendent Tom Minshew said the new antennas would add another $12,000.