| May 2011
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By Corrie M. Anders
Residents may see more utility cabinets like these on sidewalks in Noe Valley, if AT&T wins approval this month to install the equipment. Photo courtesy AT&T.
The new communications boxes that AT&T wants to install on city sidewalks are huge—no question about that. The $100,000 utility cabinets, which sit on concrete slabs, are four feet tall, nearly five feet wide, and two feet from front to back.
But if AT&T wins approval from the Board of Supervisors this month, more than 700 of the boxes may be placed on public rights-of-way in San Francisco, including up to 32 in Noe Valley.
The cabinets house upgraded network equipment that AT&T says will provide faster Internet connections, better telephone service, and more competitive rates for consumers.
A company executive briefed local residents on the project during an April 20 meeting of Upper Noe Neighbors at Upper Noe Recreation Center. The representative was peppered with questions and comments, including complaints that the boxes were ugly, too big, and magnets for graffiti.
Marc Blakeman, a regional vice president, told the audience that the cabinets were the same size all over the country and that their light-green color had been dictated by the city. Still, he said, residents would have a say in mitigating their appearance.
“We would do landscaping around the site,” he said.
Residents could choose the type of camouflage—from flowers, shrubs, and trellises, to signage that might serve as bulletin boards, maps, or historical plaques, he said.
Blakeman said the boxes come with a polymer coating that is easy to clean. Each utility cabinet also contains a toll-free number that residents can call—with the company responding with a cleanup crew within 48 hours. He conceded, however, that acid or etched graffiti was more problematic.
Several residents questioned why the boxes could not be hidden underground. Blakeman said it would be too challenging and expensive to bury the containers. To do so would require a space 20 feet deep, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet long—and cost an additional $150,000 per box, he said.
Blakeman noted that a permit from the Department of Public Works (DPW) would still be required before each of the utility boxes could be installed. In each case, he said, AT&T would either post public notices of impending work or mail notices to nearby residents.
The public would have 20 days to comment to DPW. Residents could appeal the construction permit to a hearing officer, and then to the Board of Supervisors.
Blakeman said most cabinets would be located within 300 feet of existing network equipment.
“For the [upgrade] project to work, we need to add a second cabinet,” he said.
State law permits utilities to use sidewalks and other public rights-of-way. AT&T first proposed the project in 2008. The city Planning Department later okayed the company’s plan, saying an environmental impact report was not necessary.
Community groups appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors, which was set to vote on the issue in late April. After District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener requested a delay to allow lawmakers to get additional information on how the public would be involved in the plan’s implementation, the board postponed its vote until May 24.
Proposed Sites for Utility Boxes
Here are the 32 Noe Valley locations that AT&T has targeted for the installation of new utility boxes. However, AT&T says some of the boxes in especially close proximity may be combined into one location. For information, email AT&T representative Marc Blakeman at email@example.com.
3698 22nd St.
3790 22nd St.
3998 22nd St.
4197 22nd St.
4500 24th St.
3651 24th St.
3801 26th St.
3800 26th St.
3933 26th St.
201 27th St.
90 30th St.
898 Castro St.
1295 Castro St.
1551 Castro St.
1701 Castro St.
3690 Cesar Chavez St.
4199 Cesar Chavez St.
999 Church St.
1199 Church St.
101 Chattanooga St.
1192 Diamond St.
1588 Dolores St.
749 Douglass St.
801 Douglass St.
319 Hoffman Ave.
1098 Noe St.
1275 Noe St.
1301 Noe St.
1101 Sanchez St.
1297 Sanchez St.
1597 Sanchez St.
1607 Sanchez St.