If Two Homes Are Built on This Bernal Heights Property, Will It Explode in a Giant Scorching Fireball?

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There’s a design review committee meeting happening tomorrow night, Wednesday, May 28 at 7 pm at the Precita Center.

The topic on the agenda will be that proposal to build two single-family homes at 3516 and 3526 Folsom on the southeast slope of Bernal Hill, on the undeveloped lot just below Bernal Heights Boulevard at Folsom and Chapman. There are questions to consider. Like, how is the new right-of-way going to work, since there’s no road there now, and the slope is so hella steep? And what about drainage, and the garden that’s now on the site, and the existing character of the neighborhood? Also, if homes are built here, will the site explode in a gigantic, scorching, San Bruno-style fireball?

The mortal peril associated with the giant scorching fireball scenario introduces a dramatic new element to the usual Bernal Heights design review fare. The giant scorching fireball scenario has been popularized by some neighbors around the proposed development site, and they have detailed their concerns in a flyer:

blastradiusposter

Let’s zoom and enhance for better legibility:

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Blast radius! Oh my.

But is this true? Is this pipeline the same type that blew up in San Bruno? How likely is it that a giant scorching fireball scenario will ultimately engulf everything inside the red circle?

Remain calm, Citizens of Bernalwood. Let’s walk through this piece by piece.

The gas pipeline that runs through Bernal Heights is called Line 109, and it is definitely serious business. The 2010 San Bruno explosion is fresh in Bay Area memory, but that was Line 132 — a different pipeline altogether. That said, Line 109 also exploded once, in a giant scorching fireball, right here in Bernal Heights, back in 1963.

So there’s that.

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Bernalwood reported on the present-day status of Line 109 back in 2011. At the time, we said:

The good news is, our section of Line 109 is relatively new [installed in the early 1980s], and thus hopefully does not have any of the shoddy, 1950s-era welds that were blamed in the San Bruno explosion. Likwise, it seems that an active inspection regimen is in place to validate the line’s integrity.

And so, we concluded:

Given the magnitude of PG&E’s recent mismanagement of its pipeline infrastructure, and the tremendous potential for harm, unwavering diligence will be required by both Bernal Heights residents and our local authorities to ensure the pipeline will remain safe for decades to come.

So, diligence.

That brings us to the present day. Bernalwood has been contacted by a group of neighbors around the proposed development who have been raising alarm about the giant scorching fireball scenario and rallying to oppose construction on the site. We also sent a series of technical questions to PG&E, to get additional information about the status of the pipeline at this location.

We will hear from both sides.

Writing on behalf of the neighbors who oppose the project, Neighbor Maiyah tells Bernalwood:

The site is at Folsom and Chapman, right next to the community garden. There’s a huge gas transmission line right next to the two plots… just like the one in San Bruno. It’s the same line that exploded in 1963 near Alemany and injured 9 firefighters (one also died of a heart attack) and blew up a house. I’m now a part of a small group of concerned Bernal residents who are trying to bring to light the facts of this situation and to inform others of the potential dangers.

I saw the developer (Fabien Lannoye) at the East Slope Design Review Board Meeting in April and he seemed to be not very concerned about the pipeline, not knowing the exact depth of it. He sort of shrugged when he said PG&E had no record of it. Bernal residents had asked him for a comprehensive site plan, the exact location of the pipe, the impact on the nearby community garden, and many more questions and his answer was that he didn’t ever receive the letter in the mail. It made me feel uneasy to say the least.

Just thinking about that huge transmission line with heavy construction equipment digging and moving earth over and around it on one of the steepest grades in San Francisco (35%), makes me cringe.

One of our members recently emailed Robert Bea, Professor Emeritus at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley, who investigated the San Bruno disaster. She asked him if she should be concerned about the pipe line here in Bernal. He replied yes, with the facts that have been gathered so far: (1) the pipeline is old (1980’s) installed in an area with highly variable topography, (2) there are no records on the construction, operation and maintenance of the pipeline, (3) there are no definitive guidelines to determine if the pipeline is ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’, (4) there is apparent confusion about who is responsible (government, industrial – commercial) for the pipeline safety, reliability, and integrity.

This list is identical to the list of concerns that summarized causation of the San Bruno Line 132 gas pipeline disaster.

I live about a block from the proposed construction site, so I’m not too worried, but those of us who live right next to the pipeline are thinking twice about their safety right now.

That’s the argument against building two homes on the lots at 3516 and 3526 Folsom.

To better understand the technical issues, Bernalwood reached out to PG&E with a detailed series of questions related to Line 109 in Bernal Heights and potential construction hazards at the proposed development site. PG&E was very responsive, and we received answers to our questions late last week.

Bernalwood’s questions, and PG&E’s responses, are provided here in their entirety:

1. When was the section of pipeline under the the proposed home site installed? When was it last upgraded?

The line was installed in 1981. PG&E has a comprehensive inspection and monitoring program to ensure the safe operation of this line.

2. How often is this section of 109 inspected? What does the inspection entail? When did the last inspection take place? What were the results of that inspection?

This section of L-109 was successfully strength tested (via a hydrostatic pressure test) at the time of installation. PG&E records show no history of leaks for L-109 in this area.

PG&E has a comprehensive inspection and monitoring program to ensure the safety of its natural gas transmission pipeline system.  PG&E regularly conducts patrols, leak surveys, and cathodic protection (corrosion protection) system inspections for its natural gas pipelines.  Any issues identified as a threat to public safety are addressed immediately.  PG&E also performs integrity assessments of certain gas transmission pipelines in urban and suburban areas.

Patrols:  PG&E patrols its gas transmission pipelines at least quarterly to look for indications of missing pipeline markers, construction activity and other factors that may threaten the pipeline.  L-109 through the [Bernal Heights] neighborhood was last aerially patrolled in May 2014 and no issues were found.

Leak Surveys:  PG&E conducts leak surveys at least annually of its natural gas transmission pipelines.  Leak surveys are generally conducted by a leak surveyor walking above the pipeline with leak detection instruments.  L-109 in San Francisco was last leak surveyed in April 2014 and no leaks were found.

Cathodic Protection System Inspections:  PG&E utilizes an active cathodic protection (CP) system on its gas transmission and steel distribution pipelines to protect them against corrosion.  PG&E inspects its CP systems every two months to ensure they are operating correctly.  The CP systems on L-109 in this area were last inspected in May 2014 and were found to be operating correctly.

Integrity Assessments:  There are three federally-approved methods to complete a transmission pipeline integrity management baseline assessment:  In-Line Inspections (ILI), External Corrosion Direct Assessment (ECDA) and Pressure Testing.  An In-Line Inspection involves a tool (commonly known as a “pig”) being inserted into the pipeline to identify any areas of concern such as potential metal loss (corrosion) or geometric abnormalities (dents) in the pipeline.  An ECDA involves an indirect, above-ground electrical survey to detect coating defects and the level of cathodic protection.  Excavations are performed to do a direct examination of the pipe in areas of concern as required by federal regulations.  Pressure testing is a strength test normally conducted using water, which is also referred to as a hydrostatic test.

PG&E performed an ECDA on L-109 in this area in 2009 and no issues were found.  PG&E plans to perform another ECDA on L-109 in this area in 2015.  This section of L-109 also had an ICDA (Internal Corrosion Direct Assessment) performed in 2012, and no issues were found.

Automated Shut-off Valves: There are two types of automated shut-off valves recognized within the natural gas industry: Remote Controlled Valves (RCV’s), which can be operated remotely from PG&E’s Gas Control Center, and Automatic Shutoff Valves (ASV’s) that will close automatically as a result of rapidly falling pipeline pressures and/or increased flows at the valve location. There is an RCV on L-109 in Daly City that can be used to isolate the section of L-109 that runs through this neighborhood.

3. Is this section of pipeline 109  “the same type that blew up in San Bruno?”

No. Line 109 operates at a much lower pressure and is smaller in diameter, and is of a much more recent vintage.

4. What safety procedures does PG&E put in place when home or street contruction occurs on the site of a major gas pipeline like 109?

Anytime a contractor or resident makes an excavation on franchise or private property, they must call 811 (State Law for Underground Service Alerts [USA]) in advance so we can identify and properly locate our UG facilities.  When our Damage Prevention group gets the USA request and identifies a critical facility like a gas transmission line in the scope of work, they notify the caller that they must contact PG&E for a standby employee.  PG&E must observe a safe excavation around our lines if any digging is within 10’ of it.  We must be present when they dig around this line.  Our standby inspector will instruct and guide the excavating party to avoid damage.  Excavators who violate this Law are subject to fines.

5. Does the steep grade of the Folsom site have any impact on Pipeline 109? Given the grade at the proposed site, are any special provisions or procedures required to ensure the safety of the pipeline during construction?

The grade of the street have no impacts on the operation of the line.  If the cover is not removed or disturbed within 10’ of the line, there are no special precautions needed.

6. Are there any specific technical or safety challenges posed by the proposed home site, and if so, how does PG&E plan to address them?

As long as the structures are built within the property lines similar to the existing [homes on Folsom Street], they will not pose any issues for us patrolling and maintaining that line.  The proposed home sites are not on top of line 109, and are no closer to the line than existing homes in the neighborhood.

Additional Background: In the area outlined in the map [Bernalwood sent PG&E, shown above], PG&E’s natural gas transmission pipeline L-109 runs down Folsom Street and turns east to follow Bernal Heights Blvd.  Line 109 in this area is a 26-inch diameter steel pipeline installed in 1981 and has a maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) of 150 pounds per square inch gage (psig), which is 19.8% of the pipe’s specified minimum yield strength (SMYS).  This provides a considerable margin of safety, since it would take a pressure over 750 psig to cause the steel in the pipe to begin to deform.

Whew. Someone should turn that into a TED talk.

Bernalwood’s conclusion from the above is as follows: The handbill that has been posted around Bernal Heights by concerned neighbors contains several errors. Line 109 in Bernal Heights is not the same type of pipeline as Line 132, which exploded in San Bruno. The inspection history provided by PG&E undermines the assertion that “there are no records on the construction, operation and maintenance of the pipeline.” Line 109 has been the subject of a recent and ongoing inspection regimen, and if the developer follows the required safety protocols, the hazards associated with construction on the proposed development site should be routine and manageable.

Here too, rigorous diligence will be required to ensure the project is executed and managed properly. If such diligence is applied, the Citizens of Bernalwood may soon enjoy the company of a few new neighbors on the upper reaches of Folsom Street, without having to endure the hardship and mortal peril associated with a giant scorching fireball emanating from the new home site.

Reasonable minds might reasonably view this matter differently. Either way, see you at the design review meeting, 7pm on Wednesday, May 28 at Precita Center.

Neighbor Attends Design Review Meeting, Gets Depressed, Sees “Dark Heart” of San Francisco Housing Crisis

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Neighbor Jenna attended last week’s neighborhood review meeting for the proposal to build new homes on the “secret lot” at York and Cesar Chavez. Bernalwood noticed a few tweets she sent during the meeting, so we invited her to share her notes with us. Neighbor Jenna reports the meeting was somewhat depressing — though it helped her understand why San Francisco’s housing crunch is unlikely to go away anytime soon:

As you know from this post, there is a proposed 6-unit development attempting to go in at two of the empty interior lots inside York, Hampshire, Cesar Chavez & Peralta. I live on the 200 block of Peralta, not immediately bordering the land, but up a bit.

This meeting was bigger than the last I went to, which was also very frustrating. (That one was about the house on Alabama near the cafe that’s currently under construction. The woman that owns that Alabama house left the meeting in tears because she was being hated on for wanting to renovate and move into her own home).

This proposed development is mainly reasonable. Offering four single-family homes with 3-car parking, water capture & recycling and solar panels and 2 unit townhomes on the 25′ lot / access way on York. While the final “design” hasn’t been done, what was shown looks fine, if generic.

As far as I understood, both by the committee’s acknowledgement & the owner & architect, this is the fourth or fifth visit to the NE slope special committee with as many different proposals. The most recent previous proposal was for 12 units total, instead of six.

The entry to the interior lot containing the 4 single-family homes is through the garage on York shared by the townhouses. So, in theory, if each unit had two cars, there would be a total of 12 cars coming and going every day from a single 12′ garage. In my opinion, this is the most troublesome part of the proposal, but that’s part of city life. I can’t imagine if they had the 12 units with 2 cars per (24 cars!) going into one garage on narrow York.

According to the owner, he bought the land in 1979, and has been “trying to build ever since.” Wow.

After presentations from the owner, the architect, the fire deputy for our part of Bernal, and the geology expert who did the land and grading surveys, questions were flying.

The stuff you’d expect to hear was in abundance: Blocking light & views, the entrance on York, traffic behind people’s houses on the “driveway”, where will the garbage bins go, how will they prevent landslides, how tall are the units, how tall are the retaining walls, where will the water go, etc.

While I understand that people’s most valuable possession is their home, the objections to this eminently reasonable proposal began to feel more and more outrageous. People were saying, they bought their houses because of access to the “nature” lot behind their houses, the trees and quiet, concern about electromagnetic sensitivity” to a proposed car turntable, etc. Legally, homeowners have no right to “light, views, or nature” of undeveloped lots. This should have been part of research done during the purchasing phase and a risk taken by homeowners purchasing homes bordering undeveloped, but owned, land.

To me, it was a lot of “we like it the way it is” even though the development, in my opinion, would bring much needed housing to desirable Bernal and create more neighbors to add to our community of awesome folks.

There were objections to the (legal) heights of the roofs, the height of the retaining walls, fundamental misunderstandings about the way cisterns and water recycling works (I can’t tell you how long we spent on fundamental mis-understanding of the water re-direction) , and objections to things that are relatively new or rare like the car turntable (we spent a good 15 minutes on making sure everyone understood it was an electric turntable, not a turn around circle).There were even more objections about the construction noise, parking during construction, and the construction starting just after the Cesar Chavez construction was ending.

There were people challenging the experts on their reports. Particularly the fire marshall and the geologist. Challenging him on what was bedrock, exactly. Saying that the excavations would cause the collapse of the hill and surrounding retaining walls (many of which were hand-made by the owners). Challenging the fire marshall on the ins-and outs of his experience fighting fires at properties like this one.

All of this, in my opinion, is fine to bring up as a concern. But once the question was answered by an expert, it was challenged and re-challenged. There were people saying it was wrong to remove mature trees, chasing off the “nature” permanently. (If anyone wants extra squirrels, they can have mine!) There were even people simply saying “we like the way it is” and the standard “it doesn’t fit the character of the neighborhood” argument – which seems to be a catch-all when reason fails. (There were even jabs and jokes made about how “rowdy” the patrons of Precita Park Cafe were, twinged with resentment. I’m so grateful for that cafe, it changed in a huge way, how we live and participate in our neighborhood).

In my opinion, we are in a desperate housing crisis in SF. There are not near enough available units to cover the number of people trying to live here.

As a homeowner who recently purchased a home (4 years ago) that 20 years ago was in an IDENTICAL situation, with two interior lots that their owners worked for YEARS to develop, I can feel the pain of the owner and architect acutely.

I’m SO grateful for my home, and my neighbors, and we watch out for them and they watch out for us. But our lot was the same as this one before the development. The neighbors used to run and play in our lots with their dogs and plant plants and treat it like public land, even though it never was. This created deep resentment during planning and development, which lingers to this day.

We fell in love with Bernal Heights because the neighborhood felt like a community. We could go the park with our dog and have people asking after us and catching up. For me, this meeting was extremely frustrating because it seemed like people felt entitled to things that ultimately weren’t theirs. It felt very uncompromising, negative and un-neighborly.

Is the owner going to get rich over this? Probably. Are we going to get six great new neighbors to watch out for our ‘hood? Likely. Are six families going to get to move to the neighborhood of their dreams? Yes. Will people’s lives be impacted in the short term? Definitely. Is everything ultimately going to be fine? Yes. Better, even.

One friend later told me I had seen “the dark heart” of the housing problem. Other friends said they stopped going to their neighborhood meetings because they couldn’t take it. The folks at these meetings are driving new and different perspectives away through their sheer endurance.

We live in a city. Cities are dense. We need to progress. This is not the face of progress.

Weekend Reading: Savvy Perspectives on a Changing San Francisco

Spiral Sunset

Let’s take a moment took to survey the City of San Francisco, which we can see so clearly from our elevated perch in Bernal Heights.

As you know, San Francisco is a place that was, in no small part, created by great economic booms. (We even named our NFL team after one.) We are now in the midst of the latest boom, fueled largely — but not entirely — by the growth of our local technology industry.

Fun Fact: Did you know that since 2007, the City of San Francisco has generated more new private sector jobs than 47 out of 50 states? Only Texas, New York, and North Dakota created more jobs than San Francisco. Wow. That’s kind of nuts.

Yet as every true student of San Francisco history knows, prosperity is an awkward thing. Prosperity brings new problems in San Francisco — most of all in the domains of housing and urban culture. Our current boom is no exception, and there has been ample grousing about the perils of gentrification, evictions, displacement, cultural homogenization, and the goddamn kids these days. Bernal Heights often appears as a backdrop in these teeth-gnashing pieces about the changes taking place in San Francisco, and some of the most cranky grumbling has even come from our very own Bernal neighbors.

So what is to be done? How did we get here? Who is to blame? What are we becoming?

Thankfully, a few thoughtful essays have been written recently that transcend the ideological hysteria and self-absorbed nostalgia that have dominated the conversation thus far. If you’re in the mood, they make for good weekend reading.

The first is a must-read piece of analysis by Kim-Mai Cutler, entitled “How Burrowing Owls Lead To Vomiting Anarchists (Or SF’s Housing Crisis Explained).” It’s a longread that masterfully combines quantitative data with historical perspective, economics, and policy analysis to clearly explain how and why San Francisco ended up being so darn expensive right now:

Everyone who lives in the Bay Area today needs to accept responsibility for making changes where they live so that everyone who wants to be here, can.

The alternative — inaction and self-absorption — very well could create the cynical elite paradise and middle-class dystopia that many fear. I’ve spent time looking into the city’s historical housing and development policies. With the protests escalating again, I am pretty tired of seeing the city’s young and disenfranchised fight each other amid an extreme housing shortage created by 30 to 40 years of NIMBYism (or “Not-In-My-Backyard-ism”) from the old wealth of the city and down from the peninsula suburbs.

Here is a very long explainer. Sorry, this isn’t a shorter post or that I didn’t break it into 20 pieces. If you’re wondering why people are protesting you, how we got to this housing crisis, why rent control exists or why tech is even shifting to San Francisco in the first place, this is meant to provide some common points of understanding.

This is a complex problem, and I’m not going to distill it into young, rich tech douchebags-versus-helpless old ladies facing eviction. There are many other places where you can read that story.

It does us all no justice.

If you read nothing else on this topic in 2014, Kim-Mai Cutler’s essay is the one to curl up with. The smartness will make your brain so much bigger you may need to buy new hats.

On the cultural side of the ledger, left-leaning San Francisco journalist (and former Bernal neighbor) Gary Kamiya just published a refreshing perspective on San Francisco’s current circumstances, and the phenomenon he calls The Change:

The Change is an unconquerable force of nature, like death. And much of the reaction to it recalls the first three stages of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grieving: a combination of denial, anger, and bargaining. If we yell and rage loudly enough, if we find someone to blame, if we replace reason with hyperbole— [Leftist writer Rebecca] Solnit memorably compared newly arrived techies to ivory collectors in China—then somehow the city we know will come back. This reaction is not surprising. Cities are always dying—their phenomenology is harsh, irrevocable, tragic. The building or business that you saw yesterday, that was an old friend for decades, today is gone forever. Enormous changes are never easy to deal with, and it’s human nature to want to fight back, to assert control. So it’s understandable that many progressive San Franciscans, people whose values and vision I share, are kicking and screaming and spray-stenciling sidewalks as they watch their city turning into something they don’t recognize.

But cities are also always being reborn. And as I wander through our new city, I find myself open to it. I’m not convinced that it is really going to become a soulless simulacrum of Manhattan (or worse, Atherton). I’m curious to know what San Francisco in 2025 or 2050 will look and feel like. I’m interested in the young people who are pouring in. When I wander through Dolores Park on a hot Saturday afternoon and watch the throngs hanging out, talking, drinking wine, smoking weed, and listening to music, I don’t examine them suspiciously, trying to figure out which ones are the bad techies and which ones are the good baristas (except for the people playing that inane toss-the-beanbag game—they gotta go). As I walk through Nob Hill or the Mission or mid-Market and see the fancy single-family homes or the sleek high-rise apartments that are sprouting up here and there, I don’t inwardly groan (except with real estate envy). Mostly, I view them with equanimity, as if they’re seedlings growing in the forest.

For even if it were possible to keep San Francisco exactly the way it is—and it isn’t—why would anyone want to? Any such attempt would be antithetical to the very things that I value most about the city: its youth, its vigor, its ability to reinvent itself. Responding to the Change by calling for a culture war—as several leading voices of the left have done—is a recipe for personal bitterness and public divisiveness. Ultimately, it transforms tragedy, which is painful yet fruitful, into politics, which is painful and fruitless.

The intelligence and perspective Kamiya provides will have you thinking for days.

Happy reading, and have a great weekend.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

UPDATED: Space-Hogging Car Attracts Multiple Parking Notes of Rage

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Tensions were running high on Manchester Street last week, thank to a Mitsubishi SUV that was parked for a long-term stay while taking up two (2!) street parking spaces.

The car was finally moved over the weekend, but not before Neighbor Chris reported that the natives had become restless:

Anyway, on Friday I saw a funny scene of a car that’d obviously been parked waaay too long on our block, and taking up 2 spaces as well, adding salt to the wounds of those circling the block looking for spaces:  I can’t decide if we are just way too lenient over here on Manchester for a vehicle to acquire that much literature, or if this car had some special anti-towing force field that can only be neutralized with more notes.

Let’s zoom and enhance to get a closer look at the messages, shall we? On the passenger side of the vehicle, we had one (possibly) official warning and an angry note that ended with a wholly insincere expression of gratitude:

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On the driver’s side, we had one confirmed angry note that clearly included exasperated underlining, a second likely angry-note candidate (folded), and a pink item on cardstock that could have been a business card solicitation from a handyman or house-cleaner:

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Since the car is gone as you now read this, our hope is that the neighbors on Manchester are now free turn their attention to other literary pursuits.

UPDATE, 29 August: On behalf of the Citizens of Oregon, The Oregonian has issued an apology to all the Citizens of Bernalwood for the behavior of this vehicle. In return, Bernalwood would like to convey our most sincere air-kisses and good cheer to The Oregonian.

PHOTOS: Neighbor Chris

Fearmongering NIMBYs vs. Bernal Heights iPhone Owners

Ugh. Here we go again.

AT&T would like to offer some relief to those long-suffering iPhone owners in southeast Bernal Heights, who have long had to endure dropped calls and poor reception. This relief would come in the form of a new antenna installation atop the building at 3901 Mission Street (at College).

But before the antenna can be installed, AT&T must first secure approval from the City’s Planning Commission. Yet glumly and predictably, the usual crew of fearmongering, science-hating NIMBYs are already lining up to oppose the project.

This email was recently posted to a neighborhood mailing list:

Subject: Stop Cellphone Tower Installation @ 3901 Mission
(Mission and College)

Why?

The proposed installation would emit radio-frequency (RF) radiation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This site would be within a 300-foot radius of numerous residential homes and close to St. Mary’s Park.

Considerable debate and uncertainty exists within the scientific community about the potential health effects to individuals, especially children, from exposure to electromagnetic and RF radiation. Some adverse health effects show up immediately, but it can take 3 to 10 years or more for the longer-term effects of RF illness, such as cancer, to appear. More research is needed to provide a definitive answer. We should not be forced to act as guinea pigs in a bio-effects experiment.

We value our neighborhood as a safe, community-oriented place to live and raise our children.

How?
– Attend the Public Hearing on Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 12 p.m. (noon) at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 400
– Contact the Planning Commission:
Diego R. Sanchez
The Planning Department,
650 Mission Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103
415-575-9082
diego.sanchez@sfgov.org

Radiation! Cancer! Uncertainty! AND WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN???!!!! All the hot-buttons are pressed here, in lurid, sensationalist, and grossly misleading form.

But is any of it true? Well, it is true that the antenna would transmit RF radiation 24-7. But then again, so does the KQED antenna atop Sutro Tower, the many geosynchronous telecom satellites high above, and the WiFi router you probably have in your home. OMG!!!

As Bernalwood has patiently explained before, RF is not the kind of radiation that causes cancer. And unless you want to be an intellectual bedfellow with Climate Change Denialists and those who refuse to believe in Evolution because it is “just a theory,” the overwhelming scientific consensus on the safety of this technology should be enough to put your mind at ease.

Calling My City Supervisor

I could go on in this vein. But instead, I’ll just hand the microphone over to Neighbor Fiid, who recently cc’d Bernalwood on a letter he wrote to Supervisor Campos to weigh in on the proposed AT&T antenna at 3901 Mission:

Subject: New Cell phone tower on Mission St. & WiMax project on Bernal Hill

Greetings Mr Campos,

I’m writing to express my ambivalence to the addition of additional cell phone towers in the neighborhood. I know there are a brigade of people around Bernal that go around protesting any kind thing that looks like an antenna on the basis of “junk science”. You might think that I would write in support, but I don’t care enough about a particular project to do that; what I care about is that companies trying to provide better services to our community aren’t hampered by unnecessary burden.

As I’m sure you know, everyone expects cell phones to cause cancer, since they are transmitters that are very close to your head. It is surprising therefore, that a clearly demonstrated scientific link still has not been established. On the other hand, cell phones save millions of lives every day because they enable people to communicate in times of need and generally allow people to communicate better. Better communication hopefully allows people to be more efficient in environmentally destructive resource usage, like using cars, airplanes, or even coordinating food consumption.

If evidence comes to light that provides more clear evidence of health problems being caused, I will be the first to lobby in opposition, or to regulate any wrongdoing. But this simply is not the case at the current time.

The technology industry is a big employer in our area, and seems right now to be one of the only industries that are doing well in our incredibly tough economic climate. The economy is detrimental to everyone; government, that provides less and less of the facilities that support society as we know it, like social safety nets, infrastructure, and education. The private sector outside of technology is also suffering.

I believe the benefits that these projects provide both in terms of direct help, and indirect help via employment and economic and infrastructure support far outweigh the “maybe” risks that a minority of people use the threat of to torpedo the common good.

I wanted to mention also my dismay that the WiMax project on Bernal Hill was cancelled, for the same reasons; although I realize there may be other planning issues involved there.

I hang out on some mailing lists in the neighborhood; and I try to provide scientific and non-biased factual guidance for people on those lists. The anti-antenna lobby emails to that list have caused people to request me to weigh in on this issue with some science and fact, which I try to provide. I have received many thank you emails from other neighbors after doing this, so I think there is a majority of people that will not write to you in support of a cell phone tower, but who nonetheless reject the junk science offered by the vocal minority. I trust that you assess and take this into account when you establish your position on these issues.

Thanks for your time and your ear, and if I can help in any way, please let me know.

Nicely said, and eminently neighborly and reasonable, eh? So what can you do to help? Here are a few ways:

  1. Don’t let the tinfoil-beanie crowd get the last word. Attend that Public Hearing on Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 12 p.m. (noon) at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 400.
  2. Write to Supervisor Campos (David.Campos@sfgov.org) to let him know that you want better telecommunications services in Bernal Heights
  3. Sound off in the comments to this post, to make a public statement about your desire for better wireless service (or just to vent about fearmongering NIMBYs).

PHOTOS: 3901 Mission, by Telstar Logistics

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My New Smart Meter

Smart Meter

Smart Meter

One day, it just happened: I came home from work at the end of a hard-earned day to find a new PG&E Smart Meter blinking at me from the front of my house.

Sure, I’d been warned that this would occur via some slick mailings produced by the PG&E Propaganda Department. But it all seemed so… sudden. For years I’ve bumped along with one of those old-fashioned meters with spinning dials and complex mechanical innards, and then in a single day I was transported into the 21st century by a new meter with LCD readouts and wireless data transfer capabilities. Oh my!

So how is it going? Admittedly, I have been experiencing some bizarre health effects ever since the Smart Meter was installed. Specifically, I keep having hallucinatory dreams about a Zombie Ed McMahon ringing my doorbell to drop off a gigantic check for $13 million from Publisher’s Clearinghouse Giveaway. But correlation is not causation, so I’m trying to separate the spooky substance of my undead nightmares from the arrival of my Smart Meter.

The same cannot be said for a few nervous souls on the bernalheightsparents mailing list, however. They worry that the new wireless Smart Meters emit radiation, and radiation is bad, so these meters must be bad. Because, you see, they emit radiation. And this radiation can have (as one commenter put it) “toxic effects.”

Now, one can reasonably argue that Smart Meters erode personal privacy. Likewise, it could be argued that Smart Meters are a diabolical high-tech tool that will enable PG&E to jack up your electricity bills. Personally, I don’t think either of those things are true, but on these points at least reasonable people can reasonably disagree.

Yet on the topic of “toxic threats,” the arguments don’t hold up well to rational analysis. Bernal resident Fiid Williams is a member of the bernalheightsparents mailing list, and yesterday he weighed in on the debate with a simple primer about wireless technology and radiation hazards that should be required reading for anyone who has concerns about the safety of Smart Meters, cellphone towers, or any of the other wireless data transmission systems that pervade our contemporary, glamorous, jet-set lives.

Neighbor Fiid’s comments are reprinted in their entirety, by permission:

There are two principles that matter here.

1) Non-Ionizing vs Ionizing Radiation

Ionizing radiation = nuclear reactors, radioactive materials, x-rays. CAUSES CANCER.

Non-ionizing radiation = radios, cell phones, smart meters, wireless routers. There is no currently understood biological pathway for non-ionizing radiation to cause cancer.

2) Inverse Square Law

Say you have a 40 Watt traditional lightbulb in a closet. I’d submit it’s enough light to see.

Put it in a 10 foot square room, and it’s pretty inadequate, correct? This illustrates the inverse square law. As you move away from a transmitter, the power that you get from it goes down the cube square of your distance away from it.

This is why everyone expects cellphones to cause cancer. The transmitter is _RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR HEAD_. Oddly though, the studies that are coming out on cell phones continue to be inconclusive.

As it pertains to Smart Meters, the transmitters are far away from you, so you’re getting minuscule fractions of watts from them, and the radiation they emit they only emit for short periods of time, (because they don’t transmit much information), and it’s the wrong kind of radiation for a provable cancer risk.

If you walk to the Good Life once a week, your traffic accident risk dwarfs this. I was concerned that my bill would go up (which is didn’t), but not at all about the RF element.

Nicely said. Yet if you have further doubts, consider reading this eminently balanced article about the safety of Smart Meters written by the Environmental Defense Fund, which says much the same thing.

All I need now is for someone to tell me how to make these vexing hallucinations about Zombie Ed McMahon go away. A tinfoil beanie, perhaps?

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

Why Bernal Heights iPhone Owners May Cheer AT&T Oligopoly

While perusing the City’s online Library of Cartography recently — don’t ask! — I discovered a new map that does a lot to explain why my iPhone gets such crappy reception inside my home, and why AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile might actually go a long way toward making it better.

But before we get to that, please allow me a few minutes of cathartic iPhone ranting. Oh. My. God. It’s bad: I can’t make wireless calls at all from the garage or ground-floor office of my North Bernal home. On the second floor, the phone only works in the front of the house or in my back yard. It’s so bad that even my text messages fail to send about 75 percent of the time. The phone works great on the top floor of the house, but… seriously?!?

Calling My City Supervisor

Now, back to that map I found. It’s an Aprill 2011 visualization that shows the location of every wireless cellphone tower in the City, categorized by mobile provider. When I looked at it closely, I suddenly understood why my iPhone is mostly useless unless I’m on the upper floor of my house: The AT&T cell tower closest to me isn’t that close at all.

AT&T’s antenna coverage of Bernal Heights is sparse, and as much as I’d like to demonize the company, NIMBY obstructionism is partially to blame as well. Truth is, it ain’t easy to erect new cell towers in San Francisco. But when you look at the wireless facilities map of Bernalwood, one thing becomes clear: All those pink dots mean that T-Mobile already has our neighborhood pretty well covered.

And that’s why AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T Mobile might be a godsend for long-suffering Bernalwood iPhone owners. If the deal closes as planned early next year, AT&T will gain access to T-Mobile’s existing network of wireless towers. (Arguably, that’s actually AT&T’s primary motivation for pursuing the merger.) And since T-Mobile’s towers are strategically positioned around Bernal Heights, the net result may be substantially better wireless service for local iPhoneers.

So fingers crossed, and here’s to a self-interested reason to cheer for oligopoly!