March 8, 1996
Page A19 ||© 1996 San Francisco Chronicle|
Turning aside a request for a moratorium by angry residents, the San Francisco Planning Commission yesterday approved Pacific Bell's application to install seven cellular transmitters on rooftops across the city.
At an emotional hearing lasting over five hours, the commissioners heard pleas from several mothers, a pregnant women, an HIV-positive man and neighbors living near the proposed sites, all of whom argued that the transmitters pose potential health dangers.
But, at the end of the hearing, the panel voted 5 to 1 to approve the transmitter permits and ordered the Planning Department to come up with a master plan to deal with the hundreds of similar requests expected from the cellular industry in the near future.
The commission majority said that they sympathize with the health concerns expressed by the speakers but that the federal Telecommunications Act, signed by President Clinton last month, tied their hands.
``We've been pre-empted by the feds on the health concerns,'' said commissioner Kelly Hayden.
Earlier, Deputy City Attorney Julia Freidlander told the commission that it could not legally block the transmitters if the devices complied with safety standards set by the Federal Communications Commission. Under the new federal law, she said, ``the city is not at liberty to set its own emission standards.''
The seven transmitters approved last night are part of Pacific Bell's plan to offer a new generation of digital cellular phone service by early next year. The network will require 35 transmitters on rooftops spaced evenly throughout the city -- nine are already installed on Pac Bell buildings. The company last year invested nearly $700 million to buy federal airwave licenses and is gearing up to compete with existing cellular firms with a system known as PCS, or personal communications services.
Pacific Bell plans to offer a new generation of digital cellular phone service by early next year that will require 35 transmitters on rooftops spaced evenly throughout the city. The company last year invested nearly $700 million to buy federal airwave licenses and is gearing up to compete with existing cellular firms with a system known as PCS, or personal communications services.
The company's representatives told the commission yesterday that the new digital technology is essential for San Francisco's economic growth and for keeping the city competitive nationally and globally.
They also insisted that the system is safe and that the emissions from the transmitters were a thousand times less than the limit under current FCC safety standards.
But opponents yesterday cited research claiming that the transmitters could have adverse health consequences. They asked the commission to declare a moratorium on the transmitters until further research is done.
Aware of the the federal law, the opponents also asked for a delay because they said the planning staff had come up with no information or any policy recommendations on how to handle the expected explosion in future transmitter requests from the cellular industry.
But the commissioners refused to delay Pacific Bell's permit requests, noting that the panel had already exceeded the state deadline in which they were required to act on the company's applications. Instead, several commissioners proposed that the planning staff return in three months with the comprehensive master plan to deal with future applications.
Commissioner Esther Marks, the only dissenting member, argued unsuccessfully that the commission should reject the Pac Bell permits until such a plan was complete. She added the commission had the legal authority to reject the permits on nonhealth grounds.
Voting to grant the permits were Hector Chinchilla, Beverly Mills, Jerry Levine, Kelly Hayden, Lawrence Martin. All were recently appointed by Mayor Willie Brown. Martin was first appointed by former Mayor Frank Jordan. Commission president Susan Lowenberg disqualified herself because she owns Pacific Bell stock.
After the vote, neighborhood activists vowed to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors. But they have to gather signatures from 20 percent of the property owners who live within 300 feet of one of the transmitters before they can appeal.
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