Editorial - Antenna anarchy

San Francisco Bay Guardian, October 29, 1997
(quoted with permission)

IN AUGUST 1995, when Supervisor Sue Bierman's legislation to create a strong local Telecommunications Commission came up for a vote, the hearing room was packed with lobbyists and executives from every major media outlet and telecommunications company in town, from Viacom to AT&T to KQED. Then-supervisor Kevin Shelley, who had an eye on a state assembly seat and could not afford to alienate the heavies in the room, killed the legislation.

The man who united the industry that day was Robert McCarthy, the politically connected lawyer and lobbyist for such clients as Sutro Tower Inc. - owned by KRON, KPIX, KTVU, and KGO - as well as Cellular One and AirTouch, to name just a few.

With a regulatory vacuum at City Hall, McCarthy has been one of the busiest people in town, using his political clout to force dozens of antennae on neighborhoods that don't want them, as Matt Isaacs reports on page 23, and helping Sutro Tower skirt environmental regulations, as Savannah Blackwell reports on page 22.

A watered-down version of the Telecommunications Commission legislation eventually passed the following year. But thanks to pressure from McCarthy and his allies, Mayor Willie Brown has done everything in his power to stifle regulation of the industry. Brown took nearly a year to appoint commission members resulting in the delay of a comprehensive telecommunications general plan. Incredibly, more than a year later, the major has yet to hire a director or staff for the telecommunications department.

Supporters of the status quo say local governments are preempted by federal law from regulating the telecommunications industry. To a certain extent, that's true, since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was a historic giveaway written by and for the industry. But there are a few things the city can and should do.

For starters, the supervisors should enact a moratorium on new cellular antennae until the new commission has time to complete a telecommunications plan, as other cities have done. Meanwhile, the Planning Commission should deny Sutro Tower's application to add new antennae. Instead, it should start making plans to tear the monstrosity down.

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