OAKLAND -- Residents met with AT&T on Sunday at Joaquin Miller Elementary School to discuss the rollout of 30 cellphone installations throughout the hills.
The meeting was hosted by District 4 Councilwoman Libby Schaaf and District 1 Councilman Dan Kalb.
AT&T had a panel of experts on hand to provide information in order to address residents' concerns, ranging from the blockage of views, to noise, fire and earthquake safety of the installations and potential health risks.
The proliferation in the use of smartphones and tablets has resulted in the increase in demand for high speed wireless Internet data services. The hilly topography of the area makes it a challenging area to obtain good coverage, explained Barbara Leslie, AT&T director of external affairs.
The installation proposed for the hills is called a Distributed Antennae System (DAS), and while diminutive compared to the macro installations that provide a more powerful signal, DAS is more appropriate for neighborhoods, where a larger installation would often be too conspicuous.
The system requires the mounting of additional equipment to existing utility poles, including a radio mounted about 13 feet up the pole, and a battery backup unit at 17 feet. The pole is extended some 7 feet -- although pole extensions can run anywhere between 15 to 50 feet -- to which a 2-foot antenna is attached, explained Matthew Yergovich, a site acquisition consultant for ATT.
The poles are located in the right of way. However, when it comes to the hills, this becomes tricky because the right of way is not always clearly defined by sidewalks, Leslie said.
The city's power to challenge these installations is limited. The 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act prohibits municipalities from rejecting installations on the basis of health concerns from radiation emitted from the installations, if levels are within FCC limits.
Gerald Sterns, a resident of Mendoza Drive, expressed concern about the cumulative effects of radiation over time.
"The World Health Organization cites cell radiation as a potential carcinogen," Sterns said. "They don't know what the long-term effects are of radiation exposure, so they should err on the side of caution and not turn them on."
William Hammett, of Hammett and Edison Inc., a consulting engineering group, said that the radiation emitted from these types of devices is well below the limits set by the FCC. The distance is far enough and the signal is diffused and directed upward, thereby further limiting residents potential exposure to radiation.
"We cannot do anything about emissions concerns," said Aubrey Rose, a planner for the city of Oakland Planning and Zoning Division. "The good news is that we are working with AT&T to get the installations relocated before they go to the Planning Commission."
Municipalities have been able to acquire greater control over the design and placement of cell towers since the ruling of the California Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 2008 in Sprint vs. San Diego County.
Merete Aiyer, a resident of Mendoza Drive, was concerned about noise.
"If I can't sleep with the windows open (on a hot night), that would be bad," Aiyer said.
Judy Rowland, manager of construction and real estate for AT&T, confirmed that the installations are equipped with fans that are heat activated. Sound levels will be tested to comply with local sound ordinances.
"While I support reasonable efforts to improve coverage in the hills, there are so many existing installations. You (AT&T) are only a piece of the puzzle," said Robert Meyers, a representative for the Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association.
Meyers asked that the city conduct a comprehensive study on existing installations in the area.
"There is nothing we can do to compel every carrier to give that information now, but going forward (the city) could ask the carrier to provide a comprehensive map of what they already have," Schaaf said.
Schaaf added: "The current process doesn't create that opportunity for the community to see the full plan. I would like to explore if we could amend the laws to allow for a master plan process, we could incentive carriers to bring full plan."
"My concern is that the industry works hand-in-hand with government to intimidate the cities from opposing their projects," said Helen Kozoriz Shoemaker from Piedmont Pines.
"One hand doesn't know what the other is doing," Kozoriz Shoemaker said. "It's like a Pandora's box, allowing these systems into our neighborhoods. I ask the Oakland City Council to stand up to industry.
"I understand that people want to use technology, but at what cost," she continued. "Our society is changing. Are we going to be willing to risk cancer to be in contact 24 hours a day?"