A Report from Christopher Beaver on the July 20, 1998 meeting

Date: Tue, 20 Jul 1999 23:11:58 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Christopher Beaver"

Subject: Sutro Tower Victory in San Francisco (Beaver)

I won't attempt a complete report on the city hearing that took place earlier today concerning Sutro Tower [July 20, 1999, the Public Utilities & Deregulation Committee] except to say that our supervisors rose to the occasion and continued their honest pursuit of Sutro Tower, Inc.... the Sutro Tower mouthpiece, Deborah Stein... and their own planning commission and permit licensing department. It was like seeing the Watergate hearings all over again! Our darkest fears were correct and elected officials rose to the occasion.

Nearly one hundred citizens attended the meeting. Supervisors Leland Yee and Tom Ammiano led the way. From information developed during the hearing, it turns out that there are 118 (or perhaps 119 or perhaps 120) antennas that have been added to the Sutro Tower television broadcast array without proper permits.

High points of the meeting:

1. Leland Yee asking planning department staff for their report on how many antennas have been added to the tower, what kind, owners, etc. Yee specifically requested separate findings from the department staff and from Sutro Tower, Inc. The staff handed him their written report and the hearing went on to other business.

As Yee looked over the report off to the side, he discovered that the so-called city report that he'd been handed in fact was written by Sutro Tower, Inc. In other words, the planning officials misrepresented the document they handed Yee and passed off an industry report as their independent assessment. One shame-faced planning department representative then said, he'd wanted to mention that fact earlier but the meeting went on to other things. (Reminds me of the commander's line about wanting reasons, not excuses.)

2. Tower lobbyist Deborah Stein then asserted that no permits were required since the FCC regulates and has sole authority over all broadcast transmitters. She asserted that the city only requested permits beginning in October of 1998 and that, although the city could not legally demand permits, Sutro Tower, Inc. was willing to comply voluntarily. Furthermore, she said, no new antennas have been added to the structure since October of 1998.

Christine Linnenbach, the attorney representing the neighbors who live near Sutro Tower, then produced written evidence that the city in fact demanded building permits for every extra antenna dating back to the late 1960s and continuing up to the present day. In other words, the Sutro Tower attorney was not telling the truth. And the planning department ignored its own requirements to boot.

Linnenbach then used photographs to document a series of Sutro Tower violations of the original conditional use permit that permitted the Tower's construction in the first place: New antennas, new buildings, and a set of storage tanks for diesel fuel. All constructed without a permit.

3. And finally, president of the board of supervisors, Tom Ammiano, telling Deborah Stein that he and the other supervisors would not be "buffaloed" by Ms. Stein's excuses and attempted legalisms. The health and safety of the citizens of San Francisco would always come first, he stated

Of course, much of this discussion was over the structural integrity of the tower and its additional antennas rather than the electromagnetic radiation. Residents near the Tower have legitimate concerns about the Tower collapsing or its Christmas ornament antennas breaking free from the main structure and crashing on their homes in the event of an earthquake. Some of the "small" antennas weigh 500 lbs. and more. But neighbors have also pursued this line of attack due to the perceived federal pre-emption of local environmental zoning and other controls.

I raised the radiation issue during a period of brief public comments and was gratified when supervisor Alicia Becerril closed the meeting by observing that she felt we were really discussing the health effects of the antennas in the guise of the current discussion and that health effects should be the subject of a later hearing.

It may not mark a turning point in the struggle, it may not last forever, but here, today, in San Francisco the good guys won. The pro-Tower lobbyists suddenly seemed shabby and out of date, as if the city had left them behind. Some of the residents near Sutro have been fighting the antennas for nearly twenty years, both on seismic and radiation grounds. Imagine how they must have felt.

The current mayor, Willie Brown, may yet come to grief because of his inability to manage our transit system, public or private. But he is also known as a long-time protector of corporations, having earlier lobbied on behalf of big tobaccoand when elected mayor, by throwing a bread and circus party for his inaguration with money from the telecommunications industry. The subtext of his replacement, however, (perhaps by one of the supervisors from today's hearing, Yee or Ammiano) might be Brown's ill-fated dereliction of duty, by choosing profits over people. That choice may teach one how to make a buck or get elected but it does not teach anybody how to govern a city.

As you can tell, the story here is far from over. We have a good fight going and much more information to get out.

The logical next step: remove the antennas and dedicate the crowning Twin Peaks of San Francisco as an environmental preserve for California grasslands, the endangered mission blue butterfly, and all the rest of us!

All for now,

Christopher Beaver

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