ALBANY -- After a contentious hearing, a split City Council on Tuesday approved plans to install AT&T wireless antennas on a cafe at 1495 Solano Ave.
The 3-2 vote came a week after AT&T, in an effort to preserve its statutory rights, sued the city for violating the Federal Communications Commission's "shot clock" rules regarding the plans.
The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the plans by a 4-0 vote in June. However, Councilwoman Marge Atkinson asked for a council review of the approval.
Tuesday's meeting was the first time the council could hear an appeal, after taking August off. That meant the council could not hear the appeal before the end of the shot clock on July 31.
The FCC shot clock rules require communities to rule in favor or against applications within 90 days for "co-located" sites and 150 days for other sites. Federal law requires companies to sue within 30 days of a violation of the shot clock rules. The AT&T proposal was a new facility and subject to the 150-day timeline.
The fact that AT&T sued rankled several opponents of the proposal, including former Councilman Robert Lieber.
"AT&T is a notorious corporation which is spying on our citizens and now is threatening you with a lawsuit," Lieber told the council. "If you approve this application, it's just another example of no government at all, at least at this level."
A majority of those who spoke at the meeting objected to the project. Several objected to AT&T's refusal to deal with city wireless consultant Peter Gruchawaka.
Company representatives said the telecommunications giant wanted a nondisclosure agreement and would only work with a licensed engineer regarding its claims of a coverage gap in the area. Gruchawaka is a licensed contractor.
The city eventually hired RCC, a consulting firm with a licensed engineer on staff, Robert Lopez. AT&T agreed to provide RCC with the information, but because of the agreement, the specifics could not be disclosed.
In addition to the lack of disclosure, many speakers complained that RCC had done previous work for AT&T and was therefore biased.
A handful of speakers brought up health concerns, which federal law dictates cannot be used to deny permits.
Many other people spoke in favor of the proposal, noting that coverage is spotty in Albany and pointing out that the city has been sued several times for denying permits.
"Local courts have essentially accepted what the wireless providers have provided as coverage gaps," Caryl O'Keefe said. "Pretty much all the rest of this is irrelevant. You have no choice but to affirm (the planning) decision. I am really upset that this review has created legal exposure to the city. Please devote extra time to modifying our ordinance so we don't do this over and over again."
Atkinson and Joanne Wile voted against the project, with Michael Barnes, Peter Maass and Peggy Thomsen in favor. The approval should render AT&T's lawsuit moot, according to city staff.