Activists Rally for EIR: No Free Ride for AT&T Utility Boxes

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Politics

Published on May 24, 2011 with 1 Comment

Activists and representatives from community and neighborhood groups held a rally on the steps of San Francisco City Hall yesterday calling on the Board of Supervisors to authorize an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before allowing AT&T to install up to 726 utility boxes on city sidewalks. Photos by Luke Thomas.

From Coalition For Open Sidewalks

May 24, 2011

On the eve of an important vote at the Board of Supervisors, community activists held a rally to request that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be conducted before AT&T is permitted to install 726 utility boxes on the sidewalks of San Francisco.

At the Board of Supervisors meeting today, it will be decided whether to allow AT&T to use public sidewalk space for its refrigerator-sized utility boxes. The vote was originally scheduled for April 26, but was continued by Supervisor Scott Wiener for vote at today’s meeting.

Advocates from a wide variety of community and neighborhood groups spoke about the need for an EIR. Milo Hanke of San Francisco Beautiful, stated “Our coalition has no reason to accept any ‘deal’ now floating around City Hall, all of which would have us drop the EIR appeal.”

SF Beautiful Executive Director Milo Hanke.

Rumors of a deal were circulating all day at City Hall where AT&T operatives were busy trying to sure up support.

Representatives from Walk SF, Sierra Club, and the Duboce Neighborhood Association spoke of the need for an EIR. At the center of the debate is a key decision related to how we use our public sidewalks—a topic several speakers emphasized. As background, voters approved a Sit/Lie measure in the November 2010 election that makes it illegal for individuals to sit or lie on public sidewalks in certain commercial corridors in San Francisco.

The lack of modernization and technology associated by these metal utility boxes was also questioned by the activists. Neighborhood leader Julian Davis made this point clear, asking the crowd, “why would you plunk down 726 giant Buicks all over the city when you have a perfectly good underground high speed rail?”

Ironically, before he was Mayor, Ed Lee authored regulations governing utility box installation in 2004-2005. As Director of the Department of Public Works at the time, Lee’s order requires that equipment must be placed on private property or underground. Advocates pointed out that allotting sidewalk space is a last resort for any particular location if the two mandated alternatives prove infeasible (see DPW Order 175,566).

As Milo Hanke of San Francisco Beautiful recalled, “the same DPW order acknowledges the quick evolution of high technology, and so it requires the city conduct annual meetings to review the latest equipment and best practices that would mitigate utility box blight. The City has not held those required meetings in five years, and an EIR would go far to make up for lost time and to help pierce the prevailing information vacuum.”

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on this item in its meeting today.