History of ONAG:
Oakmore Neighborhood Advocacy Group (ONAG) has a core group of 10 members who actively follow the City of Oakland's approval of cell antennas on public and private property. Their biggest issue to date is the lack of Radio Frequency (RF) /Electro Magnetic Energy (EME) emission site safety reports to determine operating exposure levels and if these exposure levels are within the FCC guidelines for the general public.
A small spark can start a great fire. After posing multiple questions and presenting the numerous pictures of the 27 cell antennas on the roof and on a cell tower as well as the array of roof-top solar panels located at the Altenheim senior living community in the Glenview District of Oakland, one firefighter with Oakland Fire now shares my same concerns about this property and its fire protocols to protect the hundreds of seniors residing in this gated community. This picture above was taken on May 11, 2021 by an RF Engineering company in order test for Radio Frequency emission exposure limits prior to cell tower modifications in order for T-Mobile to be in compliance with a City of Oakland Planning & Building Department requirement.
To continue my inquiries, I also posed my concerns about inspections to a battalion chief who stated that the efforts for compliance in terms of inspections should be directed to the Altenheim’s property owner/manager. These inspections include Fire/Life/Occupancy (done by the Fire Department), Alarm (done by the Alarm Company), Sprinkler and Underground Hydro (done by the Fire Department) and Hazardous Materials (done by ACDEH). Per the Fire Department, the Altenheim is labeled a “Target Hazard Building” given the nature of all the electrical and hazardous equipment operating on or near the buildings. This designation reminds the firefighters to take special precautions given the type of property they will encounter during an emergency. The chief also made it clear that any additions to the cell tower/cell antenna equipment needs to be included on a fire inspection. An equipment swap out does not warrant an inspection by the fire department.
Of major concern was the lack of documentation of a current Fire/Internal Disaster Drill as public records with the City of Oakland show the last drill to be over 20 years ago.
Given the sensitivity of Bay Area residents to fire especially in residential neighborhoods, I offer you something to ponder. Full disclosure – My Oakland home in October 1991 was less than one mile from the last house that burned in the Oakland Hills firestorm (a wildland/urban interface fire) that destroyed over 3,200 residences resulting in over $1.5 billion of damage and 25 deaths.
First, a quick firefighting review. Firefighting is broken down into “inside” and “outside” tasks. Inside firefighters take care of fighting the fire and assisting in the safe evacuation of occupants in the building. Outside firefighters are tasked with cutting a hole in the roof to let the smoke out to avoid a “flash over” which is where the smoke itself becomes combustible and dangerous to the inside firefighters and the occupants of the building. With cell antennas and solar panels on the roof, the Altenheim needs to be extra vigilant about making sure that their property is safe for the seniors who live in this landmarked and gated community as well as the firefighters who will respond to their emergencies.
My house survived the Oakland Hills firestorm but I no longer live in that cute little bungalow house. Now I live in another part of the Oakland hills which is just a mile and half from the Altenheim.
Specifically, the cell tower on the property carries the potential of being a 65-foot matchstick unless there are fire safety protocols in place and regular inspections given the changes and additions to the cell antenna structures currently in the permitting phase at the Oakland Planning & Building Department. A neglected spark can cause a mighty fire.
For more information on cell antenna fire safety protocol, go to the Wireless Issues menu on this website and then go to the Fire Risks tab.
Prior to this posting, Eden Housing, as property manager of the Altenheim, was given an opportunity to submit corrections or comments to this article. No comments or edifications were received.
Submitted October 8, 2021
On July 27, 2021, one of the co-founders of Californians for Safe Technology made a PowerPoint presentation over Zoom to the residents of the Altenheim senior living community as well as to neighboring community members, members of city staff from the Planning and Building departments and a board member from the Altenheim. It should be noted that many of the Altenheim residents were unable to participate due to the lack of translation services. The presentation was followed by 30 minutes of questions and answers. Only the presentation portion is linked here https://youtu.be/ppKoalIu4vA.
After this presentation, we have learned the following after asking the leadership of the Planning and Building Department or the Councilmember’s staff (District 5) and continuing using the City’s website to acquire project information and status:
1. The T-Mobile permit for the three replaced cell antennas on the cell tower has been suspended due to a violation of their Condition of Approval (COA) as of August 20, 2021
2. The Verizon Wireless permit for three new cell antennas has become inactive
3. The T-Mobile contractor was fined $1,281 for their previous violation of the building permit which was assessed and then paid
4. No antennas were removed prior to the pre-installation report dated May 17, 2021 from T-Mobile’s contractor
5. The Fire Marshal met with the Planning and Building Department and did not note, report or forward any building code issues for the cell tower
6. Per the RF Engineer of record regarding the T-Mobile project, “modeling reports are typically run with the carriers transmitting at the maximum rated power at [sic] the radios can operate. This is to provide an upper-limit threshold of the potential exposure at a site. These systems do not operate at these power levels for any sustained period, and carriers do not operate at maximum power simultaneously. The current FCC methodologies for determining exposure levels, which the RF’s software tool utilizes to perform the exposure calculations, are conservative estimates. Combining the conservative calculation methods with the systems all operating at maximum power results in figures that are much greater than typically generated accounting for the disparities.” Note: Even if the maximum rated power operates at least once, then the residents are still subject to this exposure and its emissions from the cell tower. This methodology should be not considered be a conservative calculation as the maximum exposure cannot be ignored or down-played. The theoretical report shows very high Maximum Permissible Exposure levels at the antennas and building.
7. The City of Oakland is working on a reconciliation plan so that all those contractors with open telecom permits will be in compliance with pre-installation RF emission reports and at-operation RF emission reports.
8. Eden Housing, the property manager of the Altenheim, is now in communications with the City of Oakland’s Planning and Building Department about telecom projects at the Altenheim.
The general public continues to monitor the site for violations of the permit and unusual construction activity around the cell tower and its antennas and will notify their District office who will then forward these concerns onto the Planning and Building Department.
Bottom line: The telecom contractors need to be watched closely by both the general public and the City of Oakland in order to ensure that they follow the detailed Conditions of Approval and the City’s Telecommunication Ordinance.
Submitted on September 2, 2021
This week, the City of Oakland’s Building Department removed a “stop work” order from a telecom (T-Mobile) permit after the applicant submitted a “pre-install” Radio Frequency Emission Site Compliance Report for the Altenheim cell tower located at 1720 MacArthur Boulevard.
This report stated that “The site is compliant with FCC rules and regulations based on physical measurements.” This submitted report was found by the City to be adequate in order to allow the permit to be issued again and antenna work could commence. During the permitting process of this cell tower there were violations that were never addressed:
The measurements in the report meet the FCC guidelines for the areas on the ground and on the roof. But what about those seniors who live in the upper stories of these two buildings that surround and are closest to the cell tower? Were there any measurements taken from their rooms that face the towering cell monopole?
The FCC guidelines use measurements that consider heat-based adverse effects; not non-thermal bio-effect or long-term exposure. The United States maximum exposure limits are set at 1,000 uW/cm2 (microwatts per centimeter square). In contrast, the next lowest countries are India and Israel at 100 uW/cm2 and Salzburg Austria at 0.001 uW/cm2. But currently, this measurement is being challenged by Environmental Health Trust to force the FCC to re-evaluate this level based on the newest science showing health impacts at levels far lower than current FCC levels.
Based on my conversation with an Industrial Hygienist with extensive training in electro-magnetic field measurements, it appears that it might be unsafe to live in either of those two buildings that nestle the cell tower. As an elderly community, these seniors are more vulnerable to environmental pollutants which includes their exposure to constant RFR (radio frequency radiation) emissions. The cumulative antennas put them at high risk for serious health consequences.
Unable to make change at the local level, the suggestion was made by the consultant to make change at the federal level. Given this monumental hurdle for the public to conquer and a strong telecom lobbyist presence, this change will take time and considerable amounts of human energy. But, because Congress preserved general authority to regulate the placement, construction and modification of wireless facilities within local jurisdiction, subject to five finite constraints, local communities are the stop-gap for this infrastructure.
Add to this that the FCC exercises no meaningful regulatory oversight over the location or operation of personal wireless facilities or the levels of radiation to which these facilities expose members of the general public. This is because (a) the FCC does not require wireless facilities that are less than 200 feet in height to be registered with it, and (b) unless they receive a complaint that a facility is emitting radiation levels that exceed the permitted limits, the FCC never tests the emissions emanating from wireless facilities.
This lack of meaningful regulatory oversight is exacerbated by the fact that the FCC has never updated its review of RF radiation levels it deems safe, which, as relayed, has precipitated a pending lawsuit seeking to force the FCC to review its antiquated RF radiation safety standards.
As such, local governments are their citizens' first, and only, line of defense against exposure to illegally excessive levels of RF radiation from non-FCC-compliant facilities.
Given that the human exposure to these emissions is also happening near our homes, schools and greater community establishments (churches, retirement homes, libraries, city halls, hospitals) with side effects of fatigue, headaches, cognitive impairment, sleep disruption, malaise, etc., change will be a major challenge to make until the United States and its leadership understand the true costs of these emissions. If we can make stronger and environmentally sound legislation for fuel emissions, why not for cell antenna emissions?
Submitted on May 26, 2021
Note: All of the May 11, 2021 photos in the gallery below were submitted to the City of Oakland's Building Department as part of a pre-install RF Emission report to insure compliance to FCC guidelines for a T-Mobile cell antenna project.
To continue the story about the cell antennas at The Altenheim in Oakland, California. Finally on April 7th, an Oakland resident was able to meet with the City of Oakland’s Building Department with the assistance of District 5 (Councilman Noel Gallo) staff to bring to their attention the excessively high theoretical RF emission levels from the antennas at the cell tower and at the buildings at The Altenheim (1720 MacArthur Boulevard). These initial reports are what are required in the City of Oakland's Ordinance 17.128.130 Section A when an application is submitted to the Planning Department prior to moving into the permit phase within the Building Department. Above is a snapshot from a Section A requirement: Page 8 from a RF Emission report submitted to the City's Planning Department for this specific location.
The Building Inspector said that they would enforce Section B of the Ordinance which is to get base-line RF Emission reports prior to any more work being done on the cell tower at The Altenheim (a low income and gated senior living community) given such high hypothetical values and being nestled between two multi-story buildings. On April 19th, the two projects in the Building Department for this location were put “on hold” until there was compliance in base-line reporting. On April 23rd, even after being put “on hold,” a contractor erected scaffolding starting on this late Friday afternoon.
And then on May 4th, a contractor crew started removing antennas from this cell tower. Since the applicant had still not completed the building department requirement of the permit of providing a base-line RF emission report, this contractor was reported to the Building Department. On May 5th, the building inspector issued a stop work order. Were they removing the antennas prior to taking a base-line reading? The public does not have an answer to that question yet. We will keep you updated.
City of Oakland’s District 5 staff and Building Inspectors should be recognized for their steps in enforcing compliance to this Ordinance since resident safety is at risk. As an additional side note, the final part of the City of Oakland’s Ordinance 17.128.130 is Section C which is RF Emission reports at the time of operation.
Submitted on May 8, 2021
Two cell tower antenna projects have been put "on hold" in the building department pending a member of the public's request to have the contractor/applicant(s) provide baseline RF Emission reports for cell antennas operating at the Altenheim to the Building Department.
Unfortunately, five days after the projects were put on hold, a contractor/applicant erected scaffolding around the cell tower. There was no notification to the residents about this construction and this scaffolding blocked resident windows for some bottom floor residents. Inspectors from the City were sent to investigate this violation and work has now ceased around the cell tower.
Not to be deterred, there has been an investigation into whether the applicant had a valid City of Oakland business license at the time they signed under penalty of perjury in their Contractor Declaration that they did indeed have this license in place.
And there has been some questions raised about the financial assistance and federal tax credits that the Altenheim receives as a provider of housing to low income seniors. A condition of these financial benefits are inspections that prove that the occupants are provided safe living conditions.
Given the nature of the hypothetical RF Emission reports for the cell tower, the property owner should have requested RF Emission reports to determine if the exposure limits are within the guidelines that insure "safe" living conditions especially for those seniors who live in the buildings that nestle the cell tower.
submitted on April 28, 2021
The Altenheim, a German word meaning “elder’s home”, is a senior residence on a six-acre campus in Oakland’s (California) Dimond district. Founded in 1890, this property is a landmarked treasure and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2007, the Altenheim was chosen to receive the Partners in Preservation Award from the Oakland Heritage Alliance.
The Altenheim’s historic rehabilitation project restored the beautiful campus and three-acre gardens respecting the cultural legacy of the home and neighborhood as well as creating 174 modern, affordable apartments for low-income seniors.
However, this gated property is marred by the installation of a cell tower and rooftop cell antennas. Since 1993, the Oakland Planning and Building Departments has allowed the construction of these emitting structures near the buildings that house these elders in our community.
Telecommunication applications for new and replacement cell antennas include Radio Frequency (RF)/Electro Magnetic Energy (EME) Emission reports that are based on modelled scenarios. These reports (after an independent review by both a building biologist and RF Engineer) indicate that the surrounding buildings, roof top workers and their upper floor residents are at high risk from excessive (over 15,000 % over the FCC Maximum Permissible Exposure [MPE] limit) emission. These reports should indicate to the City that an actual test at the time of operation is warranted. The City should demand these tests.
Unfortunately, Oakland’s Building Department does not collect or maintain these records, even though applicant’s Conditions of Approval require an RF/EME Emission report at the final building permit sign-off. The City has an obligation to keep its residents safe.
After identifying this omission of safety compliance, a concerned Oakland resident starting working with the City’s Public Ethics Commission to get compliance to the Records Retention process under the Oakland Sunshine Act. She then brought in District 5 Councilmember Gallo to investigate and then ensure that the seniors at this property are guaranteed a safe and habitable living environment.
Radio Frequency Emission testing by an independent party on the upper floors and surrounding areas should provide indicators to the current owner, property managers, cell antenna operators, rooftops workers, and most importantly, the seniors who rent these apartments, that these antennas are/are not operating within the guidelines set by the Federal Communication Commission regarding general public and occupational safety levels.
submitted prior to April 19, 2021
More to the story about cell antennas all over Oakland
On utility poles, roof-tops, sides of building and cell towers
Online Permitting Center
Cell Antenna Projects
City Council Member Finder
Planning Commission Meetings
Planning and Building Department
Planning Code – Telecommunications Regulations
Update to Zoning Standard for Telecommunication Facilities in the Public Right of Way
Public Records Search and Request
RF Emission Report in order to be Site Compliant at 1720 MacArthur Boulevard dated August 22, 2020 - find the RF Report at this link below under Record Info and then the Attachments menu. See page 8 of the report itself (or page 9 of the pdf at this link).
Altenheim Presentation - July 27, 2021 https://youtu.be/ppKoalIu4vA