Verizon has applied to place a cell facility on top of Lawrence Moore Manor senior housing at 1909 Cedar St. Photo: Complete Wireless Consulting

Three years ago, a group of North Berkeley residents celebrated when plans for a Verizon cell site in their neighborhood were dropped.

They’d fought the application for an eight-antenna “wireless communication facility” on top of an apartment building, at 1615 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, from the time it first was proposed in 2014. Verizon abandoned the plan in 2017, after the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), rejected the application.

Today, many of the same people are back at it. Verizon has applied to the city for a use permit to place 12 antennas (a 4G small cell site) on top of the Lawrence Moore Manor, a senior residence at 1909 Cedar St., less than a block from its earlier attempt. The nonprofit Satellite Affordable Senior Homes (SAHA) runs the facility under a contract with the city.

“They’re proposing the same thing only bigger, only steps away from where we fought it,” said Yuko Fukami, who lives on Bonita Street near the proposed site.

The antennas would be placed inside wall panels in two locations on the building’s roof and require some height extension.

“In Berkeley, we are installing 4G LTE small cells to improve wireless coverage and add capacity to handle increased traffic,” confirmed Heidi Flato, a spokesperson from Verizon.

The application, filed in December 2019, mentions the failed earlier proposal, essentially saying the company is trying again because of “congestion” in Verizon’s cell network, particularly in North Berkeley. That congestion can “result in the inability for wireless devices to access the network and can also lead to poor call quality, timed out connections, handoff failures, and dropped calls,” reads the application cover letter.

“With a willing landlord and more architectural details on the rooftop that would help stealth Verizon’s proposed equipment, Verizon chose to move forward with the 1909 Cedar Street building to provide the coverage and capacity needed in the North Berkeley area,” it goes on.

Verizon is slated to hold a community meeting on its plans in mid-March.

Most neighbors’ concerns, now and with the earlier proposal, are about potential health impacts, aesthetics, noise and view blockage.

“Most of the reasons for opposing the tower at 1615 MLK are relevant at this new location, including, but not limited to, the fact that it is a residential neighborhood that is a few blocks away from a commercial area (Shattuck) that would be much better suited for this type of tower, the proximity to a preschool … and the negative impact on property values a tower such as this would have,” Elana Auerbach, who lives on Bonita Avenue, said in an email.

Cities have limited regulatory authority

However local jurisdictions, such as cities, have limited authority over wireless installation.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates telecommunications, including wireless technology infrastructure.

Local jurisdictions, such as cities, have limited authority over wireless installation.

Cities can’t base permit decisions on health or environmental impacts, can’t discriminate among providers, and can’t make decisions in a manner that effectively prohibits wireless service. They also must act on cell applications within specific time periods – called a shot clock.

Berkeley’s municipal code, however, regulates some aspects of wireless facilities on private property. This includes enforcing height limits, noise limits and requiring screening or camouflaging. Telecommunication companies must also document coverage gaps or the need for new equipment, and show they’ve explored alternative sites, and are choosing a location with the least negative impacts on the neighborhood.

The city also has wireless communication guidelines covering equipment in the city’s public right-of-way versus private property. Cities have even less authority for cell sites in utility right-of-ways such as on PG&E power poles.

With the earlier Verizon application, for 1615 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, the ZAB’s denial was based on parking, views, intensity of use and visual impacts. Verizon didn’t appeal.

The FCC issued new rules in 2018 further limiting the power of local jurisdictions to regulate wireless equipment. The rules, among other things, tighten the “shot clock,” or time cities have to respond to new applications, and limit the fees local governments can charge for applications.

Matthai Chakko, city of Berkeley spokesman, said the city is still evaluating these changes and plans to present information to the City Council on March 17.

“So many things are in flux,” Chakko said. “City staff is still in the process of analyzing these issues.”

Enter 5G, and associated health concerns

The new FCC rules are intended to make it easier for companies to upgrade their systems to 5G, or fifth-generation cellular wireless.

Rolling out in mainly major cities, 5G promises to be faster with greater capacity than 4G, though it’s too early to really know its full consumer impact. There are different versions of 5G, and much refinement and jockeying for customers is expected over the next few years.

5G is highly controversial, mainly because of fears of the health effects of electromagnetic radiation. It uses higher frequency bandwidths (as well as lower and mid-level) across the radio frequency spectrum.

Groups opposing 5G are organizing in local communities to block installation, including in the Bay Area. Mill Valley and Sebastopol are among local cities trying to block 5G, at least until there is more research. The EMF Safety Network is one organization leading grassroots opposition. While some laud its work, others criticize it as scientifically shaky.

Activists in Berkeley are also organizing to restrict 5G. Joel Moskowitz, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, is a common name in international efforts to curb 5G, and an advisor to EMF Scientist, an organization of electromagnetic radiation scientists calling on the United Nations and other bodies to reassess exposure limits. Berkeley council members Ben Bartlett and Cheryl Davila held a 5G workshop in January.

Scientists are split on the risks.

The FCC and the World Health Organization (WHO) maintain that exposure to radio frequency at currently allowed levels is safe, including from 5G networks. The WHO is involved in ongoing research on the issue.

The City Council will discuss 5G at its March 17 meeting, especially in light of the FCC’s evolving rules, said Chakko.

“It changes the landscape, which is part of what we’re responding to,” he said

Verizon has not announced plans to launch 5G in Berkeley, said Flato, the company spokeswoman. “I’ll be sure to let you know when we have news to share,” she said

At the same time, in her email she wrote: “Verizon’s 4G LTE small cell (densification) strategy across the nation we began implementing years ago is paving the way for adding 5G small cells in metro areas.”  Small cell equipment is also used for 5G.

Berkeleyside asked Flato to send a list showing Verizon wants to add small cells in Berkeley, but had not received anything at publication time.

A perusal of city zoning applications shows several other Verizon cell site applications in the works. This includes applications for rooftop small cell facilities at 2607 Ellsworth St. (Feb. 2, 2020 — pending) and 2398 Bancroft Way (Dec. 20, 2018 — approved).

Last summer, the Zoning Adjustments Board denied a permit for a 50-ft. Verizon cell tower at Berryman Reservoir on Euclid – another hugely controversial proposal. Verizon appealed, but then requested a postponement of the appeal hearing.

Some opposing the new proposal for Lawrence Moore Manor said it’s a matter of social justice.

“The proposed towers would also destroy the residents’ peaceful and quiet enjoyment of their abode,” Phoebe Sorgen wrote in an email. Sorgen, active in the Unitarian Church near the proposed site, helped fight the earlier application.

This is also a question of social justice,” Sorgen said.

“They currently enjoy a lovely rooftop garden where one can watch the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge. Why put the antennas on HUD housing where only seniors live and where there are disabled people who cannot afford to move? … Why not, instead, put them on the roof of English speaking rich people’s condos?  Because the rich people would hire an attorney and more effectively fight it?!  That’s not fair!”

Kate Darby Rauch

Catherine "Kate" Rauch has been contributing to Berkeleyside for several years, and also happens to live in Berkeley, near downtown. Her work as a journalist has encompassed everything from 10 years as...

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95 Comments

  1. When the ignorance is palpable, it’s foolish not to point it out. Learn about 5G before you bash it, fearmonger.

  2. Right, you just do indirect measures like blocking towers based on pseudoscience and fear mongering.

  3. Where do you get the idea the 5G would have lower power? I think you are confusing it with your home WiFi’s 5G.

    Officially, the base stations would be set at maximum allowable wattage. However, as you note 5G is quickly absorbed by intervening matter and thus has a short range. In response base stations would need to be spaced much closer than 4G. I believe base station spacing would be on the order of every 1,000 ft to 2,000 feet, each one set to the maximum allowable. That means everyone will be closer to a base station set to maximum, thus exposed to higher levels. Now that would be for one provider. As every provider sets up their own network that divide those distances by the number of cell providers to get an average spacing. On top of that the cell companies are trying to increase the allowable power levels to reduce the number of base stations.

    There is also the aspect that the energy level of a photon of EMF radiation goes up as the wavelength gets shorter. The 5G band is the EHF band, the shortest wavelength of microwave. The next band above is infrared.

  4. Try to follow: 5G uses lower transmit power from both base site and handset, both of which are adjusted to lowest satisfactory levels for each user connection. That unquestionably lowers handset radiation exposure. Your argument against overlapping radiation from multiple, smaller sources is as misplaced as saying it makes more sense to light a classroom from one huge 2,000 watt bulb instead of 15-20 bulbs of 100-150 watts each. The single source has to overpower part of the field to cover it all while the smaller sources don’t. 5G is actually safer both ways, but folks ignorant of science can’t understand that and prefer to fearmonger instead.

  5. Ms. Sorgen is a little confused. It has nothing to do with race or speaking English. The condominium owners association’s board of trustees, who are elected by their fellow owners, would vote on whether to have the cell tower. If owners disagreed, they could take action per their association’s rules and possibly litigate. People renting condos would have little recourse..The landlord at Lawrence Moore Manor has chosen to take away an amenity. If they haven’t, the tenants can organize a tenants association, like they have at Strawberry Creek Lodge. Many of the residents at Lawrence Moore Manor are lifelong activists. They should be able to advocate for themselves and have lots of community support. They should be able to keep their garden.

  6. Why should low income seniors lose their roof garden? Why is their management doing this to them? Why don’t the tenants have a say?

  7. Ah, the illusion of choice. ‘Dirty electricity’ is endemic. Besides appealing to corporates to do the right thing by the people (good luck with that), judicious siting of communications equipment in the home and use of EMF filters are also options.

  8. Not sure where you got that idea from. Hundreds of experts in (i.e. a large proportion of) what is quite a small field have recognised the raw data that shows, in thousands of studies, that the threshold for biological effects is orders of magnitude lower than ‘international guidelines’, as used by our (severely compromised) five eyes nations.

    Not sure what you mean by websites resulting in lower transmissions. If you mean more numerous, lower powered small cell transmitters then where you are dealing with a solitary transmitter it’s possible that the emissions from it will be considerably lower than an earlier generation main site; however, factor in his little friends roundabouts and you have multiple emissions sites converging on spaces within that array or matrix. Not good news for electromagnetic beings (all life) within range.

    The adverse effects of near-field handset irradiance is clearer still. There really is no way for denialists to spin this and retain credibility. Radiofrequency radiation significantly above natural baseline, and especially pulse modulated, is a known biohazard that has no place in civilised society. Period.

  9. Sorry to hear that Gies, but really no need to force any individual consumer to do anything. Corporations and ‘public’ bodies, on the other hand, will need to be reined in on this issue if we’re to avoid the worst population level effects (sadly already widely presenting).

  10. Folks can use whatever terms they like, within the law. Using stigmatising language (e.g. which speaks to relative ignorance and insensitivity) is unlikely to advance discourse (or humanity), however.

  11. I’ll bet a bunch of them just don’t want their sight-lines ruined, and are willing to take any advantage they can to prevent it.

  12. The general consensus of nuclear power is that it IS safe, and it has a better track record than other sources.

  13. You always will find some odd ball with a PhD who supports you. Just because someone has a degree does not make it true or better.

  14. like always the concerned citizens are the loud ones. Bored old hippies who benefit from us paying their bills (Prop 13, pensions, etcc) but the majority who has to work for living cant go to those things because we have lives and work to do.

  15. I think thee people should immediate give up their cell phones. If they have cell phones themselves they are nothing more than hypocrites.

    its the concerned citizen type who are responsible for making every simple project so expensive for the rest of us. Thank you guys for making everyone pay for your activity yet again.

    And as always the opposing party will yell super loud and show up at the meeting and the silent majority who has jobs and life’s to go on cant show up. And as always Berkeley is great in listening to the few noise makers instead of following what is best for the community.

  16. Gotta love Berkeley. It’s all about health and unsightliness. But they’d be fine with the health and other issues if they’d put the antennas on a building occupied by rich English speakers. You just can’t make this stuff up.

  17. ATT tech told me the company is letting the hard wires rot. Whether you like it or not! I presume they are just going to let the signals deteriorate to the point where everybody “chooses” to go wireless.

  18. I cannot seem to find a “consensus” about what actual policy to implement though. The carbon tax with the rebate? So they can have a master record of you? Bernie got the Mexicans in Las Vegas to vote for him but he sure did not say anything about raising the gas tax. LIke doubling it, not going to be popular with an SUV and pickup-driving clientele.

    I always suggest taxing Chinese imports to account for what their production is doing to our weather but no one seems enthused about it.

  19. I heard a realtor currently running for Board of Supervisors in Tulare county speak on “affordable” housing issues, he cited projects in Fresno county with vertical triplexes that cost out to $700K/unit– but the planners cannot fathom why people would buy a separate house for half that or less in neighboring Madera.(The dramatic cost differential is due to the “government” input of the “affordable” projects.)

  20. I know a tech guy back east who convinced his managers that having 5G in their home base of a big metal building was a bad idea, if only to escape potential liability should a female claim damage to their newborn (there is research to that effect as it usually is the case that the most vulnerable include these cases). So they told the telcom provider they specifically did NOT want 5G delivering cable modems. They installed them anyway.

    The last I talked to him he was confronting the telcom company with results from an EMF meter. They were kicking it upstairs. If you have an Xfinity cable modem w/wifi it’s probably putting out 5G already whether they told you or not (go ahead and ask a BomBast CSR if you want but it probably will not be terribly informative or reassuring).

    You can get a Netgear CM500 or better and rely on hardwire inputs only. Staples had them on sale last week but internet prices are about the same. Comcast is supposed to have to let you do this and you can save the rental fee it pays if back in about 6 months.

    One thing the alarmists will remind you is that Apple Iphone docs say (indirectly) not to touch it to your skin.

  21. You are seriously out of touch, the youths today may be quavering in their sandals over Climate Doom but they can’t live without their Devices. Get between them and that screen and the most pacifistic Greta-worshipper will dismember you with their bare hands.

  22. What irritates me about the “climate consensus” is how Hansen published in 1975 and 20 years later Greenhouse Gore and Shill Clinton were fronting for their “free trade” scheme that made China into the biggest emitter in the world (and the fastest-growing). Do not recall any scientists protesting at the time.

    Whatever the arguments about long-term effects, China is messing up weather patterns in North America now. Or so say some scientists, this was published 6 years ago but nobody touched it except NatGeo and DemocraticUnderground.

    https://today.tamu.edu/2014/01/21/asian-air-pollution-affecting-worlds-weather/

    https://www.futurity.org/chinas-polluted-air-changing-weather/

    I always found it ironic how A&M’s team was mostly…Chinese. Gosh it went even farther back

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070306101319.htm

  23. Once there was broad consensus that nuclear power was safe and the Chairman of the AEC said electricity was going to be “too cheap to meter”.

    There is research. Dr. Pall has data supporting reduction in fertility with a threshold effect beyond which it does not recover.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780531/
    https://www.radiationresearch.org/research/dr-martin-palls-latest-compilation-of-emf-medical-research-literature/

    I think maybe Madman Musk is going to get African fertility down by blasting the whole planet with his swarm of satellites. Did your hear about the astronomers who are a little sore about this?

    https://www.zdnet.com/article/elon-musks-spacex-warned-your-internet-beaming-satellites-disrupt-astronomy/

  24. Oh they resolved it. Both parties rolled over for a “federal uber alles” scheme that deprived the locals from any discretion, though as I understand it Mill Valley has come up with some scheme to segregate the 5G mini-dishes in commercial districts only. Next move will be if the telecoms want to fight them in court I suppose. Watch out some of these judges can be kind of persnickety it appears.

  25. and, a Verizon representative gave a short speech at the City Council meeting on Tuesday February 25, 2020…. a puppet of Verizon for sure!

  26. “certainly more than one scientist questions” the climate change consensus. 99% of, say, ten thousand still leaves you with a hundred cranks you can selectively quote and cherry-pick to drum up any kind of controversy.

    i swear, innumeracy will be the death of mankind.

  27. Indignant! I’m indignant! And incensed! How dare these people think of their own health! Who do they think they are??

  28. It’s hard to take seriously urban planners (and their supporters) who live in verdant SFRs and not in the UC dormitory squallor they promote.

  29. Aren’t you? Out there, in the darkness… pulsing… and… pulsing…

    I think EA Poe wrote a story about them. Didn’t he?

  30. I think neighbors are complaining because of the blight of the infrastructure. They may be saying something else, but it’s the visual impact that bothers people more than anything else. There’s consensus that there isn’t any health implication, but there still could be and likely is a perceived health implication, which could potentially result in loss of property values. I think if you look at the structures that have already been installed, there wouldn’t be any correlation between home sales and location of this infrastructure, however. I certainly wouldn’t want this garbage near my house because it looks terrible and has a nasty humming sound. Verizon is a leech.

  31. Your understanding is not correct. 5G is lower power and just has way more base stations. It is in all relevant aspects WiFi as infrastructure.

  32. That photo of the mast right in the middle of ones view and on a level line of sight, makes one wonder about how many of those will be in the works for 5G.

    As I understand 5G, each installation has a shorter coverage area than 2.4 GHz 4G, and requires a higher wattage to achieve that. As each network will need its own overlapping network of installations, the current networks will each need more installations. It sounds like a city should be able to limit the number of networks and know how installations a network would need at what density instead of blindly reviewing one at a time.

  33. I repeat there is BROAD CONSENSUS in the scientific community that 5G poses NO threat to our health or wellbeing.

    If you choose to focus on a few outliers to justify your fears that is your personal thing. But the scientific case is clear and rational human beings should base their position on that knowledge. Hence, I expect more from Berkeleyside. FUD from the sidelines along the lines of “scientists are split” is not helpful in fostering an informed dialogue or spreading information. Science is not split. Science is clear. And scientists have spoken. If certain individuals chose to ignore that, that is squarely on them. Berkeleyside should have no part in it.

  34. YOU say the levels at the point of origin are too high, but the scientists don’t. You’re also ignoring that 5G and smaller, more numerous, websites result in lower transmissions from BOTH the cellsite AND that handset half an inch from your brain. (Yes, your handset varies its transmission power to the minimum level neccessary — it’s a key part of extending battery charge.)

  35. If it were only boomers, it’d be different, but these are also millennials who skipped all those pesky STEM classes in high school & college.

  36. And “certainly more than one scientist questions” the effects of greenhouse gasses and climate change. But that isn’t stopping the efforts to leave carbon in the ground. At some point, we need to dismiss the unfounded fears of those who are ignorant of the science and choose to find imaginary bogeymen they can fear.

  37. I showed up at a similar meeting in Albany to argue in favor of a cell tower on top of an office building on San Pablo. I was the only member of the general public on the “pro” side, and was booed and accused of being a shill for the cell phone company.

    I have better ways of spending my weeknights than arguing with people convinced they know more than scientists.

  38. Un-PC – love it! Does this mean that I can’t use the term “climate change denier” because its a microaggression?

  39. Sure, I could step back into the mid-90s, or I could use the phone that I already pay for. The fact that coverage is so spotty in this neighborhood, which is in the middle of a giant metro is wild. Now I know why – a small fraction of my neighbors have decided to complain very loudly about a harm that doesn’t exist .

  40. “certainly more than one scientist questions the health risks from 5G”

    How about we all “pretend” we understand basic statistics. So here’s my claim, **less than 1%** of scientists disagree that 5G is safe.

  41. I feel the same way about housing. We’re supposed to listen to the urban planners that tell us density reduces emissions and improves affordability. But when it comes to actual projects, every crackpot NIMBY is suddenly given a voice.

  42. Cornelius2, certainly more than one scientist questions the health risks from 5G. I understand you finding the statement dumb, but I think it’s accurate. This story wasn’t supposed to be about the science of electromagnetic exposure, or the scientists espousing their views. But I think this is totally worth getting into, and needed. For climate change, and certainly for wireless technology. Science gets at the truth, and communities deserve robust examination. That sentence could have been written differently: Some in the scientific community question the safety of 5G. Hard to quantify. But, point taken.

  43. “It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

  44. Those opposed will likely show up at the city meeting, I think that those in favor should also show up, for once.

  45. Assuming that emissions at point of origin are around about biologically active thresholds, your comment makes sense. Sadly, that assumption was disproven several generations ago and therein lies the problem. Inverse square law is your friend only in so long as guidelines are set at the right level from the get go. They haven’t been, and the FCC refuses to address the fact, which is staring us all in the face. Hence, legal actions now being brought. Meantime, millions suffer needlessly. Progress is a wonderful thing. Except when it ain’t (because nefarious profiteering off the back of corporate greed and psychopathy ain’t progress). Wise up.

  46. Cornelius2, certainly more than one scientist questions the health risks from 5G. I understand you finding the statement dumb, but I think it’s accurate. This story wasn’t supposed to be about the science of electromagnetic exposure, or the scientists espousing their views. But I think this is totally worth getting into, and needed. For climate change, and certainly for wireless technology. Science gets at the truth, and communities deserve robust examination. That sentence could have been written differently: Some in the scientific community question the safety of 5G. Hard to quantify. But, point taken.

  47. .

    Well, that nasty-looking tower obstructing the view is ripe for a metal-eating chainsaw, in my opinion.

    But the health-hazard part of the discussion; is this a valid concern? How many bogus scares have there been over the years? Thousands, I’d imagine.

    Data?

  48. The logical or necessary placement of cell phone towers is a topic that has never been resolved nationally or locally.
    If wireless connectivity is a universal social good, then providers should not have to fight to build infrastructure.
    If optimum wireless connectivity has not been determined to be the law of the land, then we end up with these local activist turf wars.
    On my list of things to worry about, cell phone towers are way down the list.

  49. 5G is highly controversial

    Climate change is about equally controversial.

    Scientists are split on the risks.

    This statement is just outright dumb. Just because there is one scientist out there screaming does not make it a controversial topic. There is broad consensus in the scientific community about non-ionizing radiation at low power. There have been countless studies on the topic and there is ample publication in premier peer-review journals. Not one shows evidence for an actual health hazard from 5G.

    Choosing to be distracted by the one screaming “scientist” in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is foolish and in no way better than what climate “deniers” or antivaxers attempt.

    Berkeleyside should strive to be better than that.

  50. Are these people still using landlines? It’s not 1965 anymore. We are modernized these days. The boomers will soon be gone. And we can all finally more on

  51. An awful lot of people were asleep in their high school physics class when the inverse square law was explained.

  52. It’s so funny that when it comes to climate change we are all supposed to listen to the science but when it comes to cell phone towers every crackpot tinfoil fearmongering nutcase is suddenly given credence

  53. This gives me a headache…

    Anywho, the article mentions “scientists are split about the risks”. Is that really true?

    One professor was mentioned, but a minority wouldn’t really be a split view.

  54. Wait until there is a catastrophic event like wildfire or earthquake; Then the same crowd will complain that they could not reach emergency services and others, due to poor cell reception!

  55. Short-term, voluntary high intensity near-field vs. long-term, low intensity involuntary far field.

    We know what we’d prefer, and there is nothing anti-science about our position/most of our movement.

    Wise up. Starting with the bulk of the scientific data, available e.g. from EMF Portal. The truth is out there.

  56. I’ll tell you what destroys the peaceful enjoyment of the “abode”: the gigantic color TV in the window of the Unitarian Church. That emits very high frequency electromagnetic radiation, way into the hundreds of terahertz, thousands of times higher frequency than a cell phone tower, at what must be 100 watts, far more than a 5g base station would emit. I call upon the BFUU to immediately halt their electromagnetic terrorism of Cedar Street, so that we can return to the quiet enjoyment of our abodes.

  57. It would be great if I could actually use my phone in my house in this neighborhood as opposed to the current status quo.

  58. The only joy I get out of these battles is knowing that the dearth of cell towers forces cellphones to pump out signals at higher levels of power.

    So every time an anti-science cellphone NIMBY wins, they still lose.

  59. It would be great if I could actually use my phone in my house in this neighborhood as opposed to the current status quo.