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Also See: Neighbors, Spring fight against tall radio towerPublic Safety Antenna

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff Tuesday January 22, 2002

 

City considers felling new communications tower

By John Geluardi Special to the Daily Planet

Friday July 26, 2002

 

City officials are considering dismantling the city’s 170-foot public safety communications tower at 2100 Martin Luther King Way and moving its communications components to the top of the nearby Civic Center. Neighbors say the tower is too big, too ugly and a possible health hazard. 

 

The communications tower, built in 2000 and activated in February, supports radio communication for all of Berkeley’s emergency services. The new tower, behind the new Public Safety Building, was built to withstand a major earthquake after concerns arose about the strength of the old antenna at the same site. 

 

The City Council voted Tuesday to increase funding from $50,000 to $93,000 to study two possible alternatives to the 170-foot, three-legged tower that neighbors have nicknamed the “oil rig.” If council elects to proceed with either alternative, city officials estimate the action could cost as much as $500,000. 

 

One alternative is to disassemble the tower, which is festooned with 14 separate antennas, and move the antennas to the roof of the Civic Center. The second possibility is to split the tower into two, 110-foot “flag pole-style” towers. 

 

According to the Director of Public Works Renee Cardinaux, if the 14 antennas are moved to the Civic Center’s roof each would likely be 20- to 30-feet tall. 

 

Council voted 6-2-1 to increase funding to study the alternatives, with Councilmembers Polly Armstrong and Betty Olds voting against it and Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek abstaining. 

 

Mayor Shirley Dean said she supports the study but is not yet convinced that moving the tower is a good idea.  

“I voted to increase the money for the study but before the tower is moved, I will have to be sure the new design is as functional and secure as the existing one,” she said.  

 

The feasibility study will be performed by Marco Corporation, which is scheduled to complete the study before the end of the year. 

 

Berkeley's Oil Derrick“The study will show if the alternatives make sense,” Cardinaux said. “The new tower has been in use for several months and it’s doing a great job. Everybody is happy with it.” 

 

Cardinaux said the Civic Center’s roof may pose a problem because it is close to several tall buildings that could interfere with radio signals. The study will consideration this. 

 

Councilmember Dona Spring, who represents the district in which the tower sits, said she is glad the city is looking at alternatives. 

 

“I’m very pleased the city manager is now working with neighbors to try and find a resolution,” she said. 

Councilmember Polly Armstrong, who voted against the tower study, said the money could be better spent on programs other than moving a tower that works.

 

“It’s a question of resources,” she said. “You could house three families in new apartments for that kind of money.”  

Shortly after the tower was built in 2000, a six-member committee called Citizen’s Committee on the Public Safety Building Communications Tower was formed to work with city staff to address criticism of the tower. 

 

The committee argued that the tower blocked views and blighted the Civic Center Park area. It also raised concerns about the electromagnetic waves the tower radiates, believing the emissions could be a health hazard. 

According to city staff, the radio emissions are well below federal safety standards.

 

Neighbors, Spring fight against tall radio tower

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff

Tuesday January 22, 2002

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Neighbors of Berkeley’s new Public Safety Building will get a chance to sound off tonight on the 170-foot emergency radio tower they say is not only an eyesore but was erected without proper public review. 

 

Neighbors, who are supported by Councilmember Dona Spring, say they will ask the City Council during tonight’s public hearing to reduce the tower’s visual impact by breaking it into two, smaller “flag pole” style towers. The tower is located behind the Public Safety Building at 2100 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. 

 

But they face opposition from the City Manager’s Office and the Department of Public Works, which are recommending the council leave the tower as is and activate it immediately to support police and fire department radio communication. 

The three-legged, five-story, steel structure, which neighbors compare to an “oil derrick,” was constructed in early 2000. The tower is designed to withstand a major seismic event and to continue providing critical communication during a major disaster response by multiple police, fire and medical agencies. 

 

City officials claim the tower, which has never been used, is located in position to best serve all sections of the city. It will also be valuable for daily emergency responses. 

 

“In an average calendar year, Berkeley police and fire departments each receive approximately 10,000 emergency calls,” a Department of Public Works report reads. “Wireless communication allows field personnel to effectively and efficiently respond to these incidents.” 

 

But neighbors say the tower is too large, and its design is inappropiate for its location next to a residential neighborhood and a historic district. Neighbors also charge that the tower was erected without the proper public review and permits. 

“This is Berkeley’s version of Tower Gate,” said Spring. “The process was a scandal, and it would be an assault to allow (the tower) to remain in place.” 

 

Spring said the tower should be broken into two or more parts and relocated atop the Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center. She also supports dismantling the existing tower and replacing it, in the same approximate location, with two “flag pole” styled antennas, which would be more visually appropriate for the neighborhood. 

 

MACRO Corporation studied the situation last year, which cost the city $50,000, and found the best alternative to the existing tower would be two towers, approximately 110 feet tall in the general area of the nearby, old Hall of Justice, its report said. The consultant estimated the cost of the redesign to be $300,000. There was no estimate of the cost to relocate the antennas on the roof of the Civic Center. 

 

Neighbors also claim the tower never went through the city’s normal approval process prior to construction.  

“This is a historical district and the tower is right next to Old City Hall, which is one of the finest examples of public architecture in the East Bay,” said Vito Lab, who lives across the street from the tower. “And this project never went to Design Review, never went to the Zoning Adjustments Board and never went to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.” 

 

But according to the Department of Public Works report, there was public input on the tower design. The report cites a design competition for the Public Safety Building, in which drawings were available for public viewing and a backyard presentation, which included computer-generated images, at PSB neighbor Deborah Green’s home. The report also says the tower was described in the PSB Environmental Impact Report. 

 

Lab said any description of the tower was lost in the overall presentation of the PSB plans and argues the public review process was clearly lacking. 

 

“I would say this tower is the second tallest structure in Berkeley and you don’t just trot out a plan in front of three or four people in Debbie Green’s backyard and say that’s a public review,” he said
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