This "photo simulation" shows AT&T's proposed wireless antenna sites, along with several existing T-Mobile sites. (The antennas are concealed within ...) Image: City of Berkeley
This “photo simulation” shows AT&T’s proposed wireless antenna sites, along with several existing T-Mobile sites, at 2095 Rose St. (The antennas are “concealed” within “faux mechanical vents.”) City staff and an AT&T representative said the vents will actually be set back 6 additional feet from the roofline, making them less visible to passers-by than they appear in this image. Photo simulation: AT&T

Three new AT&T wireless sites, made up of 36 antennas, were approved nearly unanimously Thursday night by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board.

An AT&T representative said all three sites are needed to fill coverage gaps around Berkeley, and that all three comply with the municipal code and federal guidelines. The Design Review Committee approved the sites last week.

A handful of residents spoke against the applications, primarily citing health concerns, while several other speakers asked the city to approve the applications to improve cell coverage in Berkeley for residents, businesses and the disabled community. (Municipal governments are not allowed to consider potential health concerns due to existing federal law, as long as companies follow radio frequency emission rules.)

AT&T said it needs these sites to improve coverage for nearby residential and commercial customers. Image: Google Maps

The three antenna sites approved Thursday night include 2095 Rose St., 2517 Sacramento St. and 1632 University Ave.

The Rose Street site is a two-story office building surrounded by a mixture of uses, “including food service, office uses and large retailers (Safeway and CVS) and smaller boutiques,” according to a city staff report. Residential neighborhoods are located to the north and one block east. The building already includes a T-Mobile wireless facility, and is now set to include 12 new antennas, which will be “concealed inside faux mechanical vents and architecturally integrated with the building design.”

AT&T decided, based on requests AT&T said came up last week at Design Review, to move the “vents” 6 feet farther back from the roofline to make them less visible from the street, and to shift the requisite equipment cabinets into the building’s basement to decrease noise and visual impact. (Materials showing what this would actually look like were not submitted, however.)

Speakers during the public comment period for this site who were in favor of the application noted the high numbers of people, many of whom are below the poverty line, who have only cellphones — and no additional landline — for communication. An AT&T representative said she had signatures of support from nearly 100 people related to the application.

But one man, who said he represented Earthly Nutrition, nearby at 1400 Shattuck Ave., said all the store’s employees oppose the application due to the “scientific evidence” regarding the negative health impacts of cell facilities. (The FCC says no negative health impacts have been conclusively linked to cellphones, but notes that “some consumers” remain skeptical of this finding.)

Michael Katz, who lives in the neighborhood, told the board he takes issue with the project because it would negatively impact Bay views, and said he isn’t convinced that no viable alternative site exists. Katz also said he believes that cell technology hasn’t been around long enough for researchers to know how it might be linked to cancer, which can have a long latency period.

This AT&T site at 2517 Sacramento St. was approved for the roof of a 40-unit below-market-rate senior housing property. Photo simulation: AT&T
A new AT&T site at 2517 Sacramento St. was approved for the roof of a 40-unit below-market-rate senior housing complex. The four-story mixed-use building is also the site of Mo Joe Cafe. The wireless facility planned for the building was described as 12 “panel antennas mounted within a screened, rooftop enclosure and six associated equipment cabinets in a rooftop lease space.” Photo simulation: AT&T

Other than George Williams, who abstained from the vote, the board was unanimous in its approval of the application. (Commissioner Deborah Matthews was not present.)

The other two applications were approved relatively quickly, with minimal public comment, though several speakers did step up to note their health concerns about the applications, and expressed frustration that the city could not base decisions on those concerns. Commissioner Sophie Hahn abstained from the Sacramento Street application, saying she had unanswered questions about it, and Commissioner Igor Tregub abstained from the University Avenue application. Otherwise the votes for both were unanimous in their approval.

AT&T won approval Thursday night for 12 "antennas concealed within Radio Frequency Transparent screens on the rooftop of a three story mixed-use building" at 1632 University Ave. Photo simulation: AT&T
AT&T won approval Thursday night for 12 “antennas concealed within Radio Frequency Transparent screens on the rooftop of a three story mixed-use building” at 1632 University Ave. Photo simulation: AT&T

During presentations about all three of the sites, AT&T representative Thomas McIver, of On Air, LLC, said AT&T had considered alternative sites but found none of them appropriate or available.

There’s a 14-day appeal period during which anyone who opposes any of the applications can file for a City Council review. Appeals by non-applicants cost $95.

AT&T antennas likely to go on Oaks Theatre despite glitch [11.09.12]
Application materials (City of Berkeley)
2010 wireless facility map (City of Berkeley; outdated but scheduled to be updated)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...