OAKLAND -- Neighbors on Mendoza Drive have filed an appeal of a Planning Commission decision allowing AT&T to erect and extend utility poles holding telecommunications equipment to improve cellphone coverage in the hills.

Gerald Sterns, a Mendoza Drive resident, filed the appeal on April 15 on behalf of neighbors because they said they were concerned about potential health issues from radiation and the electromagnetic field; noise emitted by fans used to cool the equipment; the obstruction of views from some of the neighboring houses; as well as fire issues involving additional equipment in such close proximity to wooded environs.

In early March, Sterns noticed a flier posted on a utility pole that referred to the Planning Commission's approval "to install two four-foot horizontal extensions, with two, two- to three-inch-tall pane antennas attached beneath, to the middle from an existing 38-foot-tall wooden utility pole."

"There is an incredible need to expand systems supporting mobile devices. People want them to work all the time," said Lane Kasselman, director of communications with AT&T.

The types of installations common in Oakland are called "macro" installations which involve mounting additional antennae on existing structures such as utility poles, according to Kasselman.

"We need height. We do our best to hide them (antenna) with fake chimneys, signs, and even fake trees, but in residential areas there is often no place to hide," Kasselman said. There are 30 sites proposed for AT&T equipment installations throughout Districts 1 and 4, according to Kasselman.

According to a wireless communications fact sheet from District 4 Councilmember Libby Schaaf's office, "local governments cannot deny an application for a wireless telecommunications site because of perceived health risks, if the proposed site complies with federal radio frequency emissions standards. Similarly, local governments may not set their own emissions standards.

"The city is permitted to regulate the design, visual impact, site location, and zoning compliance of telecommunications installations," the statement continued.

The Planning Commission's staff report for the Mendoza Drive case determined that "the site does not directly front a significant view (for example, a bay view)."

Mendoza Drive resident Dahlia Ducker said that before the Planning Commission's approval on April 4, no one came to her home to verify that her view would remain unobstructed. Her home has a panoramic view encompassing San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge to the west and the San Rafael Bridge and Marin to the northwest. The proposed cell tower would be erected within some 15 feet of her deck, obstructing her northwest view.

Ducker said that when AT&T representatives did come after a complaint was filed, "they weren't impressed." "They said this wasn't serious enough," she said. "They were very dismissive and said that this was the best place. I don't feel like they were particularly open minded."

Ducker said the AT&T representatives told her that "the Planning Commission approved it and that they can do whatever they wanted."

The Duckers have owned their home for 35 years.

"This is a valuable asset for us," she said. "We hope to leave it to our children. We aren't Luddites, we understand technology."

Schaaf herself went out to Mendoza Drive.

"I met with neighbors this week," she said. "I went on decks and observed how close the proposed equipment would be. It was close. Often when people evaluate, they assume people are on ground. The unique topography of the area means that peoples' decks are at eye level with the equipment."

Kasselman said that "AT&T is moving along the normal city process and has followed the notifications and requirements to the T. We often don't know about problems until the government tells us."

Kasselman added: "We met with neighbors on April 11, and asked for input. We received approval from the Planning Commission. An appeal was filed. We will do more outreach to the community to see if we can reach a compromise."

"I think people may be as concerned about the speed and the process, as the equipment itself. I'd like to think that putting out information early and often would make this process easier," Schaaf said.

"The actual notice may not be enough," Schaaf said. "I want people to be able to see the larger picture, not just their own street. I want to explain what laws exist and where they come from. The city's power is limited, but I want people to understand how they can influence the process."

No date has been set on the Planning Commission appeal.

FYI
To learn more about AT&T's plans to expand wireless coverage and equipment installations throughout the hills, join councilmembers Libby Schaaf and Dan Kalb from 3 to 5 p.m. May 5 at Joaquin Miller Elementary School, 5525 Ascot Drive.