Originally from Twin Peaks Improvement Association and Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association (information from 2005)
- What is Sutro Tower and why is it important to the San Francisco Bay Area?
[Note: Editorial emphasis in italics.] Sutro Tower transmits television and radio signals to the Bay Area. It is also an essential telecommunications facility responsible for transmitting the emergency broadcast system to the Bay Area in times of disaster. Contrary to popular belief, Sutro Tower is not City-owned, but rather owned by privately held multimedia corporations. Its location and construction were the subject of heated controversy. New facilities and antennae at Sutro Tower will provide Digital Television (DTV) transmission. Although its central location permits excellent TV transmission to the Bay Area, it has been hotly debated wither Mt. Sutro is the only location in the Bay Area that could provide Digital Television (DTV) transmission. Furthermore, the hills and mountains of the Bay Area make TV reception difficult, and the majority of homes utilize cable rather than receiving broadcasts directly from Sutro Tower.
- Where is Sutro Tower?
Unlike most transmission towers, which are located in isolated areas, Sutro Tower, a 977 foot structure, is located in the middle of hundreds of dwellings in a residential neighborhood in the center of San Francisco, and sits 250 feet from the closest home...less that one city block. Saying that it "sits" 250 feet away is almost laughable - it "towers 977 feet over" the nearest homes.
- Why did TPIA file the lawsuit?
Board Members of Twin Peaks Improvement Association and Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association filed this lawsuit for two primary reasons: First, to protect the life, safety, and welfare of our community; Second, Board members determined that they had a civic duty to the 8 million residents of the Bay Area who rely on the tower's emergency transmissions.
- Are the Twin Peaks Improvement Association and Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association opposed to digital television?
No. We are extremely concerned about the structural and seismic integrity of Sutro Tower, its ability to withstand the stresses associated with hoisting a 12 ton antenna upon its 25 year old steel frame structure, and the ability of the tower to withstand the strong forces associated with ground shaking during an earthquake.
- I heard that the 10 ton antenna is only 1% of the total weight of the tower. Why should that present a problem?
Numerous seismic experts and structural engineers have repeatedly explained that the placement of any weight on this structure at or near the top of the tower will be subjected to tremendous vibration during a major earthquake. This could then destabilize or even dislodge the antenna and possibly cause serious damage to the tower itself. These experts have repeatedly advised the City of San Francisco that prior to placing the antenna on the structure, a full dynamic analysis, independently peer reviewed, should be completed prior to hoisting the antenna so that these concerns can be addressed.
- I heard that Sutro Tower meets the minimum building standards of the 1995 Building Code. Isn't that good enough?
No. After the earthquake disasters of Kobe, Japan, and Northridge, California, seismic experts repeatedly warned that meeting minimal building code standards was not enough as numerous code-compliant structures failed or collapsed. Moreover, Sutro Tower is an irregularly shaped structure which was allowed to rust and corrode for a period of 20 years. In 1992, Sutro Tower admitted that "continued neglect" of the tower structure would lead to even more serious problems in the future. The Building Code does not address these concerns: a full dynamic analysis and field tests do address these concerns.
- Why are the Associations asking the City to do this study? Doesn't the City already have a program in place to maintain the tower just as we do for the bridges?
No. Sutro Tower is a private facility. Unlike the bridges, there are no public inspections relating to the painting, inspection, and maintenance of this structure.
- How many members are there in the Twin Peaks Improvement Association and Midtown Terrace Homeowners Associations?
Twin Peaks Improvement Association represents approximately 200 homes. Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association represents approximately 800 homes. However, our concern extends to those 8 million residents of the Bay Area who receive the Emergency Broadcast signal from Sutro Tower in the event of disaster. If the tower goes, then all communications will be severely impacted.
- Must Digital Television broadcast from Sutro Tower?
No. According to the independent report submitted to the Planning Department by the operators of the towers in San Bruno, the viewing radius for HDTV from Sutro Tower and from Mount San Bruno is identical. While our current analog transmission, due to its different technological nature, must be located on Sutro tower, digital technology can provide the same clear HDTV signal to the exact same audience from Mount San Bruno, where those towers are located on acres of open space.
- Doesn't the tower already meet building code requirements? What's the big deal?
The tower was completed in 1971 and built according to 1969 building code requirements. Special exceptions to the Code, called variances, were given to the tower in exchange for a strict yearly maintenance program. No records of this maintenance for the first 15 years are available. The reports begin in 1993. Because of the devastating earthquakes since 1989, particularly Northridge, California and Kobe, Japan, seismic experts have radically reevaluated the safety of many steel structures. A new building code, based on those findings and approved in 1997, is in existence, but has yet to be adopted by the City and County of San Francisco.
- What are these 118 antennae that the Supervisors were talking about in recent hearings?
Over the years Sutro Tower, Inc. has apparently installed as many as 118 additional antennae, reflectors, cameras and other appurtinances on the tower itself, without permits from the Department of Building Inspection or the Department of City Planning, and without discretionary review, which neighbors claim was required by the terms of the original building permit for the tower. All owners of property within the City of San Francisco are required to adhere to those rules. Nobody is exempt.