Carriers set roof antennas without residents' OK 

Residents are demanding a say in where and how cell phone carriers are installing so-called microcell antennas that are popping up all over The City without public review. There are six cell phone providers in San Francisco; firms typically use the microcell antennas to fill in pockets of areas that have sketchy service, according to city senior planner Jonas Ionin. These antennas range in height from 18 to 30 inches and often blend into the architecture of the buildings, he added.

Residents are complaining that they only find out about the antennas after they are installed. The antennas can go up with just a building permit, which does not require neighborhood notification or a public hearing. Residents say the antennas not only create an eyesore of equipment on buildings but also heighten worries about their health.

After hearing from a number of residents, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin drafted legislation that would enact a 45-day moratorium on the installation of microcell equipment. "We have cases of people putting these up in the middle of the night, of wires blocking fire escapes. What’s going on is not OK," Peskin said.

Other cell phone antennas, which are typically larger and send out stronger signals, have to undergo a conditional-use process, which requires neighborhood notification and a public hearing.

While the antennas meet the federal guidelines for radio frequency emission levels, a number of residents still question if they are safe and want more public and city scrutiny where they are being installed.

"They’re going to have the antennas. So let’s place them intelligently. Putting them in commercial areas is not great, but putting them in residential neighborhoods is worse," said resident David Tornheim, who wants more say in the installation process.

Robert Hinish has complained about the installation of a microcell antenna on the rooftop of a building he lives in along Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Hinish said the wiring runs over a fire escape, making it dangerous for emergency workers. "Because there is no oversight, they go up there and do what they want," Hinish said.

Erica Zweig, who fought the installation of microcell equipment at St. Paul’s Church at 43rd Avenue and Judah Street, worries about possible health risks. "We want to at least have a voice. That’s what we’re asking for so we can try to not have these," Zweig said.

There are 530 sites in The City with wireless telecommunications antennas and 368 more sites are marked for antennas, according to Ionin.

"A number of cell provider companies have really pushed the limits," said Peskin, who wants the installation of microcell equipment to undergo a conditional-use hearing, as "normal" cell antennas are required to. "Cell companies have really been just very aggressive and they are now locating them in residential neighborhoods throughout The City, and every member of the board have their phones ringing off the hook from people upset about them relative to their appearance, relative to interference with television signals, [and] some folks have health concerns about low-frequency radiation," Peskin said.

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