A Neighborhood Call to Action

July 28, 2008
Sometimes it’s possible for really significant changes to slip past normal public planning channels almost unnoticed.  Bruce Willems and Carolyne Connor, two regular readers from the Inner Sunset, have alerted me to an the potential upcoming installation of some really large utility boxes in their neighborhood.  There is more info below, but suffice to say that if you want to keep AT&T from circumventing normal planning processes, it is important to take action before tomorrow (7/29) at 4pm.  The action that will be most effective is to call or email the board of supervisors and the mayor that you want AT&T to have to go through normal environmental review for this project.  Directions are below.  Remember, this will affect how AT&T is treated in other neighborhoods as well, so even if the Inner Sunset is not your ‘hood, I say go get ’em!
Begin forwarded message:



STOP AT&T From Installing Huge Telecommunications Boxes on Our Sidewalks


The Problem

AT&T has gotten permission from the San Francisco Planning Department to install up to 850 metal “Lightspeed” cabinets on public sidewalks around the city, and enlarge some of their existing electrical boxes.


The new cabinets are 4 feet high, 4 feet 2 inches wide, and 26 inches deep.  They would be installed within 150 feet of existing electrical boxes, some of which would be enlarged to be 4 feet 10 inches wide by 5 feet 5 inches high by 26 inches deep. This size has been compared to the bed of a flatbed truck.  These would completely block visibility to the other side of the street.


The boxes will be installed City-wide, but AT&T is implementing it neighborhood by neighborhood so many affected communities are still unaware of AT&T’s plans and the adverse impact it will have on their neighborhoods. Twenty of these new cabinets are planned for Irving Street and Kirkham Street, between 3rd and 18th.


Why Did This Happen So Quickly?

The San Francisco Planning Department gave AT&T an exemption from environmental review, which all such projects generally need to obtain.  The Planning Department based its exemption on the premise that the cabinets would not result in “a significant impact to public views and aesthetics” and by claiming that they are similar to other utility structures on the sidewalk, even though these are twice as large as many existing structures.


The Planning Department also found that there would be no cumulative environmental impact, even though AT&T plans to install up to 850 of these cabinets throughout the city, and in some neighborhoods (like the Inner Sunset) there may be one every block for several blocks.


What You Can Do About It

The Cole Valley Improvement Association has filed an appeal of the Planning Department’s decision to exempt AT&T from an environmental review.  The full Board of Supervisors will hear that appeal on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 4:00 p.m.


1)   Write, call or e-mail all of the members of the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor before July 29th, asking them to require that AT&T go through the normal, environmental review. Send a copy to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors. (See sample letter and contact information below.)


2)   Tell your neighbors, your neighborhood association and your merchant association and ask them to oppose AT&T’s plans by sending emails to the Supervisors and to the Mayor.  Almost all San Francisco neighborhoods will be impacted by AT&T’s proposal.


3)   Attend the Board of Supervisors hearing on Tuesday, July 29th to show your opposition:


Board Chambers, 2nd floor, Room 250

San Francisco City Hall

1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place

Estimated Time 4 PM



Sample Letter


RE:  San Francisco Planning Department Exemption from Environmental Review

Case Number 2007.1350E


Dear Supervisor (inset name)  /  Dear Mayor Newsom:


I wish to voice my strong opposition to the Planning Department’s decision to grant an exemption from environmental review to AT&T’s new utility boxes.  This matter will be before the Board of Supervisors at its meeting on July 29, 2008 (file number 080906).


  • The large boxes will act as graffiti magnets, are eyesores, attract vandalism, tend to collect trash around and on top of them and detract from our neighborhood’s attempt to create a more attractive and pleasant environment.


  • 850 new utility boxes throughout the City will dramatically affect the look and feel of San Francisco.  They will completely block visibility for pedestrians and cars trying to back out of our driveways.


  • The new boxes that AT&T has already installed have already attracted graffiti, despite AT&T’s claims of graffiti resistant surfaces.  Many of AT&T’s existing boxes are covered with graffiti that AT&T does little to remove.


  • Many neighborhoods, like the Inner Sunset, have spent years under grounding their wires.  This was done in the spirit of community improvement and with good faith that utilities would be under grounded and out of sight. Residents paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this work done and dealt with years of torn up streets.  But it was worth it to make their neighborhood more beautiful, more pedestrian friendly and safer.  Now, after having spent money and time to do this, AT&T wants to reverse these efforts.  AT&T should be required to make their plans conform with our efforts, time and money to improve our neighborhoods.


  • These boxes are incompatible with the aesthetics of our classic San Francisco neighborhood.  Many of the homes in our neighborhood date to the early part of the 20th century.  The Inner Sunset, for example, is a gateway to Golden Gate Park, the De Young museum, and the Academy of Sciences.  These proposed boxes would run counter to the look and feel of our neighborhood.


  • These cabinets run completely contrary to efforts by city residents to beautify their neighborhoods and make it safer, by under grounding our electrical wires, planting trees, installing speed bumps, bulb-outs, and instituting other traffic calming measures.  For example, the city recently targeted the Inner Sunset as one of four neighborhoods in San Francisco that could benefit from urban planner’s Jan Gehl efforts to make urban areas more pedestrian friendly.  Yet this is one of the neighborhoods greatly impacted by AT&T’s proposed boxes. Large street obstacles are unsightly and directly contradictory to the City’s efforts to improve our City’s physical environment.


  • There is an alternative – the technology is available for communication boxes to be installed underground like our other utilities.  AT&T is opting for the lower cost option but there are very real costs to the City and to the residents.  Residents and the City end up paying for the graffiti, trash and vandalism attracted by the above ground boxes.


(Be sure to add personal comments and reasons why you oppose the utility boxes, and try to keep letter to one page)


Contact Information for the Board of Supervisors & The Mayor

The mailing address is the same for each Board member:


City Hall

1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 244

San Francisco, CA 94102-4689


Supervisor Jake McGoldrick         Supervisor Bevan Dufty

District #1                                 District #8

(415) 554-7410                           (415) 554-6968

Jake.McGoldrick@sfgov.org        Bevan.Dufty@sfgov.org



Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier    Supervisor Tom Ammiano

District #2                                 District #9

(415) 554-7752                           (415) 554-5144

Michela.Alioto-Pier@sfgov.org    Tom.Ammiano@sfgov.org



Supervisor Aaron Peskin             Supervisor Sophie Maxwell

District #3                                 District #10

(415) 554-7450                           (415) 554-7670

Aaron.Peskin@sfgov.org             Sophie.Maxwell@sfgov.org



Supervisor Carmen Chu              Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval

District #4                                 District  #11

(415) 554-7460                           (415) 554-6975

Carmen.Chu@sfgov.org              Gerardo.Sandoval@sfgov.org



Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi           Mayor Gavin Newsom

District #5                                  City Hall, Room 200

(415) 554-7630                           1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place

Ross.Mirkarimi@sfgov.org           San Francisco, CA 94102

                                                  (415) 554-6160


Supervisor Chris Daly

District #6

(415) 554-7970




Supervisor Sean Elsbernd            Clerk, Board of Supervisors

District #7                                  Board.of.Supervisors@sfgov.org

(415) 554-6516