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5G Fight Heats Up: Will Berkeley be Next Town Swept by Wildfire?
by jenny miller
Thursday Nov 5th, 2020 2:16 PM
We’re all familiar with the terrible wildfire devastation that has occurred in the towns of Paradise, Napa, Santa Rosa and elsewhere. You may also be aware of the “wildfire evacuation warning” recently issued by the city to people in the Berkeley hills. But what do these out of control wildfires have to do with the planned rollout of 1000 4G/5G installations in Berkeley?
Unless you have been paying very close attention to the fine print in what Berkeley’s city officials are planning, you may not be aware that they are intending to allow hundreds of small-refrigerator-size cabinets of heavy equipment, filled with highly flammable material (such as diesel or propane or lithium batteries), to be hung perilously from utility poles--or placed on the ground, or underground—-closely spaced throughout our neighborhoods. In news reports of the recent wildfire sweeping through Santa Rosa, it was noted that propane generators were exploding everywhere. One can’t help but wonder if any of those highly-flammable generators were the ones put in place to provide back-up power for 5G installations?

We already know that overloading utility poles can be the cause of a wildfire that can destroy a community, as happened in Malibu in 2007.

Those poles in Malibu didn’t even contain the ticking-time-bomb fuels that the 5G installations have. What if there’s an earthquake, car accident, or period of high winds? Even before the rollout of these hundreds of thousands of new “mini cell towers” throughout the U.S., cell towers have often been the source of fires.

You can see numerous articles about dangers of cell tower fires and collapse here:

Add to that the very high fire risk caused by the wireless smart meters that the city is planning to place on the poles, as part of the new 4G/5G installations. Just as an aside, the purpose of the smart meters is to measure the installations' electricity usage, not to measure the amount of radiation being emitted, as one city official mistakenly informed a neighborhood resident who was concerned about potentially massive amounts of radiation. No, it turns out, the city lawmakers have a much superior way of figuring out whether the levels of radiation being emitted are safe. They will ask the telecom representatives to cross their hearts and swear that it's all within legal limits. (OK I lied about them having to cross their hearts.) If they wish, city officials can also decide to do independent radiation testing, an option which they have always had available, and declined to make use of, despite repeated requests by community members for them to test already-existing cell installations.

As described in a letter by an observant Berkeley resident to Fire Chief Brannigan and Council Members Hahn, Wengraf, and Droste, on the occasion of a fire safety workshop, smart meters are a well known fire risk:
“I would like to make you aware of an excellent, most comprehensive report (50 pages long) on the fire hazards presented by smart meters, published in July 2019. Here is the link to it:

In this report, you will learn of the many reasons smart meters can lead, and have led, to fires. Most notably, unlike analog meters, smart meters do not have surge protectors or any connection to ground (pp. 4-5). When a power surge hits them, which often happens after PG&E re-energizes electrical lines after a power shut-off (more and more common now), these meters can explode and cause a fire (p. 6 and 8). When they explode, they do not prevent the electricity surge from flowing into the building, destroying appliances and often causing fires (p. 5).

Palo Alto (2011), Stockton (2015), and two cities in Ontario, Canada (Summerland in 2014 and Forest in 2013) have all experienced incidents where ‘many smart meters failed simultaneously and spectacularly due to a surge.’(p. 7)” End of quote from letter to the Fire Chief.

Apparently Berkeley’s response to the extreme fire threat posed by the hundreds of additional smart meters planned for the new 4G/5G installations, is to include flimsy-looking grounding rods on them-- instead of the more logical approach of using analog (that is, non-wireless mechanical meters) instead.

Analog meters do not pose these kind of fire risks, and equally important, they do not present ADA violations for people with sensitivities to electromagnetic fields (emfs)-- which is an ever-increasing percentage of the population. Some emf-sensitive people are already being forced to flee Berkeley as a result of the new 4G/5G installations, which are already being installed near schools and health food stores, despite almost continuous protests from a significant number of neighbors and community members.

One such peaceful and non-violent protester, Phoebe Sorgen, was arrested and jailed in the middle of the night on Oct. 28, for allegedly interfering with construction activities at a utility pole where antennas were planned, although there were no workmen present, no signs indicating construction at that site, and construction activity is forbidden by Berkeley law in the middle of the night.

Although Berkeley’s 5G Ordinance and Guidelines (passed in July of 2020) may sometimes appear to provide for undergrounding of the dangerous backup generators, there are various loopholes that will instead allow utility poles to be heavily loaded with all the equipment, including the backup power generators and smart meters. In many cases in Berkeley,, these utility poles are already weak and starting to lean to the side.

The letter to the fire chief and council members continues, “These overloaded 5G poles are at risk of falling in the strong Diablo winds we get during high fire hazard periods. Fallen poles could bring down power lines that could start fires in the dry conditions that will prevail this summer and fall.

In short, for a variety of reasons outlined above, the way the 5G infrastructure is currently being planned will greatly increase the risk of fire in Berkeley, during times of high wildfire threat.”

(For anyone interested in how smart meters cause fires, I highly recommend reading through the exhaustive 50-page report linked to above.)

When worker-whistleblowers have attempted to alert the power companies to the problem of smart meters causing fires, they have been fired. At a CPUC hearing held in Santa Rosa in 2012, a former PG and E worker named Patrick Wrigley testified that he noticed frequent fires related to smart meters, when the power was turned on after it had been off for a while. When he reported this problem to his superiors, instead of acting to protect the community, they fired him. (His testimony can be seen in the superb documentary “Take Back Your Power,” available online.)

You may have been informed that city officials are not legally allowed to make decisions about cell tower placement based on impacts to the environment or to human health (according to court interpretations of the 1996 Telecommunications Act).
However, there is nothing in any federal law or court decision that prevents the city from considering impacts to health and property when it comes to requiring adequate insurance for companies doing business in Berkeley, including the telecom companies are who bringing us the 5G rollout.

According to medical writer Susan Foster, who did a study in 2004 of firefighters who worked at a station with a 2G cell tower placed nearby (a much less powerful frequency than the proposed 4G/5G installations), after five years, all the firefighters studied suffered major neurological damage. Some of the impaired firefighters, on more than one occasion, were unable to find their way around town in response to a 911 call, in the town where they had lived all their lives. (Foster describes her study in a letter dated August 14, 2017, to Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, Chair of the Appropriations Committee, regarding the proposed bill SB 649.)

Foster also notes in her letter what an invitation to lawsuits against the city or state government this presents. (Since the bill to greenlight 5G that Foster was opposing, SB 649, was vetoed by Jerry Brown, that lets the state government off the hook, but not obviously the city governments.)

As result of very strong protests from firefighters, no cell towers or installations are allowed next to fire stations in the current California state law. Next to schools, daycare centers, toddler playgrounds, nursing homes and senior housing? All perfectly legal, and already approved for Berkeley installations.

Berkeley officials have thus far declined to include the wording in the law requiring emf pollution insurance, as urged by attorneys hired by neighbors and emf-safety activists (Wireless Radiation Education and Defense is the name of their group).

Although city officials can close their eyes and pretend that massive emf pollution will not have any serious consequences on the people of Berkeley, the insurance companies are not willing to feign ignorance. They are extremely aware of the hazards, and generally are not willing to provide emf pollution coverage for 4G/5G installations. Under current law, the feds may force the cities to allow 5G (FCC regs make it illegal for cities to ban these 5G “small cells”), but there is nothing in federal law that forces cities to omit proper insurance coverage, in a situation where lawsuits are virtually inevitable.

Why would the city’s leaders, all good-hearted and intelligent people, perpetuate these incredibly mis-guided policies? So far, it’s only been the heroic Cheryl Davila on the Berkeley City Council who has abstained from voting for them. Possibly it’s because the federal government is pushing so hard to have these new installations rolled out everywhere, regardless of the consequences. They may have an underlying feeling of “It’s out of our hands, we have to follow the law.”

In addition to that, and probably the key factor, is that city councilors are not professionals trained in fire safety or telecom law. They are relying on others to do that work for them. But what if those trained professionals, like the outside legal firm that the city hired to write its Guidelines and Ordinance for the 4G/5G rollout, is more supportive of the telecom industry than it is of the safety and well-being of the people of Berkeley?

One of the main consultants the city hired to write their laws openly admitted (in a training video for 5G installers regarding how they can squelch community opposition) that he is on their side--that is, on the side of companies who are installing 5G, regardless of whether the people who live there want it.

Berkeley’s small cell Guidelines (passed on July 7, 2020, which may be read under the “Agenda” heading for that 4 pm meeting) and Ordinance (passed on second reading at the July 28, 2020 City Council meeting, also viewable under “Agenda” on that date) have no significant fire safety provisions. Some other cities, such as Encinitas, have policies that specifically require shut-off valves and other protective mechanisms, and thorough fire inspections by the fire chief, or a designee who is an expert in fire safety.

Despite the Berkeley Council’s stance that they really wish they could do the right thing, but federal law pre-empts that, other cities (such Encinitas, Mill Valley, Petaluma, and Calabasas) have not broken any federal laws by passing protective ordinances, and they have not been sued.

Do any Berkeley City Council members even know what is contained in the backup power supplies that will be littering our streets? We (the community) don’t, because the telecoms have not deigned to make that information available, but none of the options are good. Diesel is normally the preferred fuel, propane and lithium batteries are other options, all potentially high fire risks.

By now you’re probably thinking “This is impossible. Why would the City of Berkeley allow such policies that threaten the homes and lives of everyone who lives here?” The answer to that is that the 5G policies and ordinance are written in such soothing bureaucrat-ese, that only a trained legal professional would notice that, in almost every instance related to safety, the way neighborhoods are supposed to be protected contains a loophole, or ambiguous word choice, that will have the opposite effect of what is claimed.

It’s very troubling that Berkeley community members and supporters have had to dig deep into their own pockets to hire their own attorney, who is knowledgeable in municipal and telecom law, and who can point out the many ways that Berkeley’s laws are not protective of the community. The Mayor and City Council members did make a promise to try to fix problems with the Ordinance and Guidelines they passed in July, “when we come back from the summer break,” but it is now November, and there remain a number of extremely glaring un-addressed issues, fire safety being just one.

At the very least, Berkeley needs to have 500 foot setbacks (preferably 1500 feet) from all homes, schools, senior apartments and senior centers. Berkeley laws also need to require that the installations be kept away from essential businesses and community services, such as health food stores and bus stops, so that people who have emf-related disabilities will have their rights protected to access those services, as required under the American with Disabilities Act.

Please write the Mayor and Berkeley City Council members (as soon as you’re recovered from watching the election results or participating in election protection protests) and let them know that the current 5G Ordinance and Guidelines need to be revised and made to be at least as strong as the other cities mentioned above.

Also demand that they stop allowing Berkeley’s police force to be used to do the bidding of telecoms by arresting or injuring the elderly and/or disabled “pole protectors,” who are acting on their conscience by engaging in non-violent civil disobedience to prevent the antennae from going up.

There is no space in this article to describe all the many urgent reasons that communities need to fight back against 5G. For a much more comprehensive examination of those issues, see my previous Indybay article “5G Juggernaut: Coming Soon to a Utility Pole Outside Your Home.”
by Phoebe Sorgen
Saturday Nov 7th, 2020 2:31 AM
We so appreciate this shout out from the fine writer, Jenny Miller! What happens in Berkeley sometimes ripples out. We're in contact with like-minded souls in other cities. To contact WIreless Radiation Education and Defense (aka WiRED), email: 5gFreeBerkeley [at]
To donate:
by WiRED member (5gFreeBerkeley [at]
Saturday Nov 7th, 2020 4:24 PM
Urge the Mayor and City Council to emulate Mill Valley’s ban on “small” cells in residential neighborhoods and make our law even more protective than in Encintas: Clerk [at] . Thanks to WiRED lobbying, Berkeley’s new law, though not retroactive (sadly) does require undergrounding of all ancillary equipment, though there is indeed a gaping loophole. Berkeley's Public Works Director may certify that attaching the equipment to the side of the pole or in a metal cabinet nearby, instead of putting it underground, would not adversely affect the safety, accessibility, or aesthetics of the neighborhood. Pls let PW Dir. Liam Garland know that you do NOT want any increased fire risks or additional industrial clutter in our streets. The antennas themselves are ugly. Enough is enough! Access is also impeded by equipment. As do the antennas, wireless so-called “smart” meters impede access for people who are EMF sensitive and for informed, healthy people who care about their health and thus do not want to increase their risk of becoming disabled by EMF sensitivity. Also, poles throughout the city lean precariously, usually towards the side where the heavy equipment is attached. To compensate for the weight of the equipment, poles are often cabled to the sidewalk, which impedes sidewalk access even if the equipment itself is high enough on the pole to avoid cracked noggins (not always the case.) Do NOT allow our Public Works Dept to give away our public rights of way to multi-billion dollar corporations! Facilitated by the City Manager, our safety, health, peaceful enjoyment of our streets, and the character of our neighborhoods are all permitted to be destroyed for Big Telecom profit.

by WB
Sunday Nov 8th, 2020 12:09 PM
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