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SF Supervisors Delay Vote On AT&T Boxes

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AT&T Utility Box. (CBS)

AT&T Utility Box. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco residents hoping for an upgrade to AT&T’s network in the city will have to wait a little while longer.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors delayed a decision Tuesday that is vital to the company’s plan to upgrade its Internet, cable and landline phone service in the city.

The board agreed to delay for four weeks a decision on whether to require AT&T to undergo an environmental review process for its proposal to install up to 726 boxes around the city to house its “Lightspeed” high-speed data transmission technology.

San Francisco’s Planning Department in February gave the project an exemption from the usually lengthy environmental review process required by the California Environmental Quality Act, saying the upgrades did not have significant enough of an impact to require the review.

But opponents appealed the exemption to the board, saying the 4-foot-tall boxes would impede pedestrian traffic, inconvenience property owners, and reduce the aesthetic appeal of the city.

At the start of a nearly five-hour hearing on the issue at Tuesday’s board meeting, Susan Brandt-Hawley, the attorney representing the two groups appealing the plan—San Francisco Beautiful and the Planning Association of the Richmond—said the cumulative impact of the hundreds of boxes was enough to warrant the environmental review.

“If it was one or two or 10, that would be different,” Brandt-Hawley said. “You have to look at it all together.”

Lisa Gibson, of the city’s Planning Department, said the department was sticking with its conclusion that the project simply did not have a significant impact, comparing it to the installation of newspaper racks.

AT&T regional vice president Marc Blakeman said the company agreed with that determination, and pointed out that it will have to get a permit from the city’s Department of Public Works for each individual box, which can be appealed by residents in that neighborhood.

“At the end of the day, if the neighborhood doesn’t want it, we’ll move on,” Blakeman said. “We don’t want to irritate our potential customers.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener said that “there is broad agreement that we want this technology in San Francisco” and “also broad consensus that we don’t want blight on our sidewalks.”

Wiener proposed delaying the vote on the exemption so that the board can develop protocols that he said will be “strong enough that we don’t have to rely on AT&T’s word” on whether they will work with the individual neighborhoods.

The board voted 10-1 in favor of the four-week delay, with only Supervisor Sean Elsbernd saying he was ready to vote and would vote in favor of the exemption.

AT&T California President Ken McNeely said he was “disappointed that advanced technology deployed to the city is once again delayed.”

He said, “Our neighborhood outreach is sincere,” and said the company would work with supervisors who have issues with the project.

The board will pick up the issue again on May 24.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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