SF considers taking action on utility boxes

San Francisco cannot ban the big utility boxes AT&T is installing on sidewalks, but city officials hope they can help beautify them.
May 5, 2014 11:04:57 PM PDT
San Francisco is considering tweaks to the rules that let AT&T put hundreds of big utility cabinets on the city's sidewalks. The city can't ban the boxes, but they are trying to soften their appearance.

Kearstin Krehbiel from San Francisco Beautiful describes AT&T's utility cabinets as big and ugly. The boxes filled with electronics for high speed Internet are dotting San Francisco sidewalks. Two hundred of them are already in place, despite protests dating back to 2011 when the rollout first began.

"The proliferation of these boxes we do believe constitutes a blight on the city," said Krehbiel.

San Francisco Beautiful sued and just last week lost its attempt in state appeals court to force a more thorough environmental review. Under state law, the city can't ban the boxes from the sidewalks, but Supervisor Scott Wiener believes it's time to impose tighter regulations. At a hearing Monday he spelled out measures that would require more robust outreach to neighbors about potential locations and a provision to beautify those boxes.

"We would like to see AT&T do more, whether it's allowing murals to be placed on the boxes, whether it's planting and then maintaining greenery around the boxes, we'd like to see them make a better effort to find private property," said Wiener.

"We do believe that unfortunately the legislation as it's written violates AT&T state rights, so yes, we do have some issues with that," said AT&T Regional Vice President Marc Blakeman.

He says the utility is working with the city. But in the meantime about 400 more of those big utility boxes could be coming to a sidewalk near you by the end of 2015.

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