Cole Valley Cell Tower Authorization Approved By Planning Commission

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Today's adventure in participatory civic governance: at a public hearing in City Hall, I was the sole commenter for (4 were against) a cell tower at Carl & Cole. The San Francisco Planning Commission rejected others' objections and unanimously approved the Request for a Conditional Use Authorization for a proposed wireless telecommunication service facility operated by AT&T mobility (AKA a cell tower).


I arrived at City Hall early, plenty of time to get through the metal detectors and up to the fourth floor to room 400 for the scheduled noon meeting start time. Many minutes later officials arrived to open the doors to get started. The meeting finally commenced at 12:14.

The 901 Cole Street item was 12th out of 14 on the agenda. I listened carefully to the discussion of other planning commission items, how various participants addressed the council, how they worded their statements etc.

Item F 12. 2011.1396C 901 Cole street

When the time for issue 12 came, first a planning commission representative provided an overview of the issue, and then a spokesperson from AT&T made a brief statement.

The commission invited members of the public that wanted to comment on item 12 to line-up. I watched as a few others lined up along the wall to take their turns giving commentary, first among them, an older woman who had claimed to be the source of fearmongering flyers on top of the public hearing announcement.

The woman testified that she had spoken to store owners, merchants, residents, and others about the "growing public concern about EM radiation" (red flag 1: generalization of EM radiation, which includes visible light, microwaves, power lines etc.). She then cited a World Health Organization (WHO) classification of some radiation as a carcinogen (red flag 2: out of context quote. And no kidding, like perhaps the radiation from Chernobyl). She took the longest of all the opponents.

After her, another older woman testified worrying about the proximity to a school. (red flag 3: won't someone think of the children?) The last two opponents were an older man and woman, apparent 36 and 37 year long residents of Cole Valley who basically agreed with the previous commenters and said they had a petition with signatures (presumably based upon the aforementioned misleading flyer).

I decided to first see what others said and tailor my statement accordingly. Oxford Debate 101, it's to your advantage to go last.

Addressing them with "Good afternoon commissioners", I introduced myself by name, as a 12 year resident of the neighborhood who also works in San Francisco, and in contrast to the previous commenters, offered my full support of the conditional use authorization at 901 Cole Street.

I stated that as a former AT&T customer I could testify to the problematic service, with phone calls, data, text messages etc. in the area (decided to omit the "When it comes to AT&T, the Haight is a dead zone, no pun intended." expression).

I also noted that the aforementioned WHO statement was taken out of context, and that the research quoted/cited by the first woman was about cell phones, not cell towers. I closed by encouraging the commission to check the citations for themselves, and thanked them for their time.

Total statement completed in three minutes (apparently there is a default allowance of five minutes for an individual public statement).

I sat down, another woman stood up to comment, and noted that according to her research on PubMed, that there was no research in this country on cell towers, only overseas. But somehow she used that apparent lack of domestic research to oppose the cell tower as well, whereas her statement only served to undermine the supposed evidence presented by the first commenter.

After a final call for public comments, Commissioner Antonini made a statement that there's no question there's a need, he's seen greatly increased usage in the area of smart phones, tablets, laptops. He also noted that electromagnetic radiation levels "fall off precipitously with distance, actually geometrically". It was great to hear the commissioner relaying elementary physics to the crowd.

San Francisco Planning Commissioners

Upon commissioner Cindy Wu's request, the AT&T representative explicitly offered to do additional EM measurements within 25 feet or nearby the site upon request. Based on the project falling well within FCC limits, the need for service in the area, and the exploration/exhaustion of other nearby potential sites, the commissioner stated that she saw no reason to turn down this application.

Commissioner Antonini initiated a motion for approval, commissioner Sugaya seconded. The motion passed unanimously. Here's to looking forward to the deployment of a much needed cell tower at the top of 901 Cole street.

Progress:1, pseudo-scientific fear-mongering:0.

Today was a good day for reason and participatory government.