Richmond District

Board of Supes Rejects AT&T’s Bid to Install Cell Towers on Second Avenue

By Thomas K. Pendergast 

For now, only one area of the Richmond District is officially without AT&T coverage, after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors pulled the plug on putting cellphone antennae onto a rooftop at Second Avenue and Balboa Street. 

The Board unanimously upheld an appeal by neighbors near that intersection, who challenged the San Francisco Planning Department’s approval of AT&T setting up the antennas on top of a four-story building on the northeast corner at 590 Second Ave.  

Between the Planning Department and the Board of Supervisors, this issue has been delayed for months, while locals gathered signatures opposing it and AT&T made adjustments to try and get the deal done because, they claim, there are simply no other viable options in that particular location.  

In the end, it came down to Richmond District Supervisor Connie Chan simply not agreeing that AT&T has nowhere else to go. At the appeal hearing she said although she had reservations about the project, she came to the meeting with an open mind, willing to listen to all sides.  

“After hearing both the appellant and our Planning Department, as well as the project sponsor … having the appellant identify alternative sites … my impression is that there seems to be that options are out there,” Chan said. “I know that AT&T mentioned they’ve been trying to explore (options). Frankly, even the appellant, it took them quite an effort during the pandemic to gather signatures for this appeal.” 

She then made a motion to uphold the appeal and reject the project, which was seconded by District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin.  

“I don’t believe AT&T has proven necessity,” Peskin said. “The notion that there are significant gaps in coverage has not been proven or independently verified by the applicant.”            

AT&T argued that its radio frequency engineers identified a significant gap in service coverage in an area roughly bordered by Anza Street to the north, Arguello Boulevard to the east, Cabrillo Street to the south and Third Avenue to the west.  

They also stated that there are no industrial, commercial, or mixed-use properties among the 72 properties within AT&T’s search ring for the proposed facility. They identified 17 potentially feasible properties, including Rossi Playground and 16 residential buildings. 

When they approached the Recreation and Park Department about Rossi Playground, however, they were turned down because that facility is currently undergoing renovations. 

Furthermore, the owners of 13 properties in the area did not respond to AT&T. One owner did express interest, but then declined. Another did not have sufficient space for the equipment.  

“The search ring that we were trying to address is at Second and Balboa … the blocks surrounding that,” AT&T spokesperson Cammy Blackstone said. “Going out to Geary (Boulevard) would not address it. It is this little area. It’s just a challenge because it’s all residential.” 

She also said they have not yet decided on a response.  

“We’re looking at all our options right now,” Blackstone said. “So, nothing has been decided. It’s all open.” 

Meanwhile, some of the neighbors who orchestrated the opposition are pleasantly surprised by the outcome. 

“Yes, surprised but pleased,” said Ann Green, who lives with her husband, David next door to the proposed Second Avenue installation site. 

“We did feel that we had the opportunity, and the neighbors here, to really voice our concern and be heard. And that was a real positive aspect of the whole appeal. We were grateful that they really listened to us. It was a happy surprise.” 

In order to get their appeal heard, they had to get 20% of property owners (not tenants) within a 300-foot radius of the building to sign a petition. 

“We were able to obtain 34% of owners. And of the owners we were able to contact, we had 100% of those owners sign the petition,” Green said. “We stopped when we thought we had enough. 

“The neighborhood was very involved in this and very concerned and really made an effort of support,” she said.  

“We are not opposed to mobile phone networks,” David Green told the Board at the hearing. “We use cell phones ourselves and recognize that cell phones are a part of life at this time and serve the public interest.”

He claimed the cell antenna site at that location is more visible and intrusive to neighbors than others in San Francisco and the screens will significantly reduce the sunlight they receive on their backyard patio during the fall and spring. 

Green also said the site violates the Federal Telecommunications Act which requires the least-obstructive means to be used, and violates the Planning Department guidelines, which require the aesthetic, visual and use impacts on adjacent residential areas to be minimized. 

AT&T argues that, because they have demonstrated a coverage gap and have made unsuccessful good-faith efforts to find an alternative site, San Francisco is pre-empted by the Telecommunications Act and has no authority to disapprove the project.  

“We argue … that AT&T is required to use the least intrusive means and we submit they have not,” Green said.  

Another limitation is that the decision cannot effectively prohibit coverage.  

“We disagree with AT&T’s argument that disapproval of their failed good-faith effort effectively prohibits coverage,” Green continued. “They identified 14 potential sites where they have not yet been able to get a response from owners. There could be other sites not yet identified. I wonder what AT&T would have done had the owner of 590 Second Ave. declined their offer. They would have found another solution.” 

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