City Council approves rooftop Verizon Wireless construction

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At its Tuesday regular meeting, Berkeley City Council approved the construction of a new Verizon Wireless telecommunications facility amid concerns raised by the community during public comment.

The project, originally passed by the Zoning Adjustments Board in June, will allow Verizon Wireless to establish a new facility on the rooftop of a penthouse at 2750 Dwight Way, which will include 12 antennas. Members of the public at the meeting, however, questioned the project’s potential impact on seismic safety as well as public health safety because of its emission of radio waves.

Verizon lawyer Paul Albritton said at the meeting that the three-story residential building was the best option out of 11 possible buildings surveyed in the area. According to Albritton, Verizon’s process of choosing the location aligned with Berkeley’s “rigorous” city code. He added that Verizon has made efforts to design the facility so that it blends into the environment.

“I think we need to get a better idea … are there other locations that are less intrusive?” said Councilmember and Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguin at the meeting. “I am not prepared to vote for this tonight because I think that’s information I need.”

Molly Kales, an engineer for Verizon, referenced a text message campaign held in the south campus area, which asked residents about their support for the project. Kales said Verizon received 197 responses in support of the project and 13 in opposition.

Berkeley resident Gordon Fauth, who lives near the intended construction site, said he received and did not respond to the text, which he believes was skewed.

“It only asks for yeses,” Fauth said at the meeting. “The fact that they actually got dozens of nos is amazing.”

Members of the public also questioned Verizon’s review process and challenged that there were no available alternative locations.

“(Verizon) made more than a reasonable good-faith effort to look at more than the required number of alternative locations,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington at the meeting. “What right does the city of Berkeley have to tell a company to use an alternative system?”

The item passed with an amendment stipulating that Verizon fund an independent noise ordinance compliance check every two years.

The council also made moves to address the homelessness crisis by referring a plan addressing emergency homeless services to city staff.

The plan entailed allowing homeless people to live in accessory buildings, such as sheds or garages, rent-free with the permission of the unit’s owner. The agenda memo states that these buildings could provide temporary housing to help homeless residents off the streets.

The council also struck down an amendment that would have allowed for the use of campers and house cars as temporary dwellings.

Contact Edward Booth at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Edward_E_Booth.