Inverse Square Law Lost Upon Board of Sups

Bernalwood has done a fine job highlighting the NIMBY, faux-science opposition to new cell and data towers in San Francisco, and the rather pathetic response by our Board of Sups, using graffiti as NIMBY cover:

All it takes to kill an effort to provide Bernal Heights and our surrounding neighborhoods with some 21st century wireless technology is a group of addled NIMBYs and a thin veneer of recently applied graffiti. But improving service requires a master plan. Which may get written. After some research. Someday. Perhaps.

And there’s a hearing today on cell phone towers and “the City’s beauty”:

The next battle will take place in the lame-duck chambers of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, where progressive Supervisor John Avalos will hold public hearings today on a piece of legislation he introduced (with backing from Bernal Heights Supervisor David Campos) to “regulate the placement of [mobile antennas] in order to prevent telecommunications providers from installing wireless antennas and associated equipment in the City’s rights-of-way either in manners or in locations that will diminish the City’s beauty.”

Even if you don’t read the rest of my diatribe, at least go to Bernalwood to see what you can do.

Unsurprisingly, stupid spreads. Note this recent entertainingly hysterical petition against a proposed cell tower on 24th & Harrison:

To:  San Francisco Planning Commission
24th Street Neighborhood Against Cell Tower on 24th & Harrison

T-Mobile is trying to install an Industrial 6-Panel Facility (Antenna Tower) that is unnecessary, undesirable and not compatible with our predominantly residential neighborhood.

This type of antenna tower contains hazardous materials and equipment. This equipment is going to be installed on a residential building in this densely populated neighborhood.

The backup batteries are made with hydrogen gas, a very explosive substance, and under certain conditions can ignite and explode.

Lower 24th Street Association has done field studies in the surrounding area and has found the coverage is already “good” to “excellent” in our neighborhood, therefore this facility is unnecessary.

The Planning Commission Hearing is scheduled for Thursday, January 13, 2011 beginning at 1:30pm or later in City Hall, 1 Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 400

For more information please email Beth at

ZOMG EXPLOSIVE GAS.  And SIX panels!  The end is nigh. (I suggest that you go to this petition and indicate your support for the tower.)

Uptown Almanac recently smacked their collective foreheads upon T-mobile’s spinelessness upon encountering fake-science NIMBYsistance:

Remember back when we laughed at a completely ludicrous protest of NIMBY neighbors claiming that making cellphones work in the northwest corner of the Mission would hurt the children?  Well, guess what, the protest actually fucking worked.  In spite of the fact there is no scientific proof backing their claims that the celltower would cause you to turn into a swamp monster, T-Mobile backed down and withdrew their permit application.

As for AT&T, their poor reception in the Mission is legendary.  A modern day Data Bermuda Triangle, it’s the Sargasso Sea for 3G. I created this animated map from an app that measures signal strength on the iPhone.

Note how the towers are few and far between compared to the rich electromagnetic fields of La Lengua.  (I tried this around Dolores Park and down 18th but it was pointless as I could barely get any meaningful signal.)

Here’s the deal, NIMBYs.  I know you didn’t pay any attention in high school, but it’s been well known since the 17th century that electromagnetic radiation (which has nothing to do with scary Three Mile Island radiation, you nitwits) dissipates according to the inverse square law.

  • Unless you are standing right next to the tower, the “radiation” pales in comparison to the energy transmitted by your cell phone.
  • The fewer cell phone towers there are, the harder your cell phone has to work to talk to them.  Which means your phone starts beaming EVEN MORE ENERGY INTO YOUR SKULL.
  • More cell phone towers means your phone uses LESS energy to transmit (and your battery lasts longer too, which does me little good as I then am more likely to have to listen to whatever hypocritical conversation you happen to be having on your radiation transmission device).

And Board of Sups, be forewarned: San Francisco has 7081 bachelor and college degrees per square mile, the highest in the country. Even in your district, Mr. Campos: the 94110 holds over 18,000 residents (34%) with at least a 4 year degree that are capable of the most rudimentary critical analysis of your record and not voting for you again. (Not that you need a degree to figure this out.)

(image via Bernalwood)

As Senator Daniel Moynahan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Corollary:  Science: it works, bitches. (XKCD)

As for what you can do, follow the lead of Bernalwood:

Supervisor Avalos will hold a hearing on his proposal today at 1 pm in front of the City’s Land Use Committee. If you can’t attend the meeting (because you have, you know, a job and a life) public comment can be submitted via Alisa Somera in the Clerk’s office at 415.554.4447 or (NOTE: Be kind to Alisa, please. The legislation isn’t her idea, nor her fault.)

Diatribe off. Back now to your regularly scheduled hipster news.

18 thoughts on “Inverse Square Law Lost Upon Board of Sups”

  1. Warning: People with college degrees are not as educated as you think they are. I don’t have time to go into details, so I’ll just point out that George Bush won 2 terms for the office of President of The United States of America — one from The Supreme Court (all of whom are college graduates), and one from the voters.

  2. Right on! Deutsche Telekom and Burrito Justice agree! No risk from non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation! So plug it in! I want the white one!

  3. “The inverse-square law generally applies when some force, energy, or other conserved quantity is radiated outward radially from a point source. Since the surface area of a sphere (which is 4πr 2) is proportional to the square of the radius, as the emitted radiation gets farther from the source, it must spread out over an area that is proportional to the square of the distance from the source. Hence, the radiation passing through any unit area is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the point source.”

  4. Yo,

    The major issue here is the the phone company does not have to notify residents or provide any information on what they are installing. Last week AT&T, through NextG, put a wireless antennae on top of a light post right outside my fucking window. I happen to own my place, so I can’t say “what the fuck” and move. Not to mention my wife and I are trying to have a baby and our baby’s crib was supposed to be approximately 20 feet from that fucking antennae. Is it an issue, probably not, it is probably perfectly safe, but the wireless companies are not necessarily being forthright with what they are installing. How about give the person who has to stare at your fucking wireless antennae all day a little information. Can I put my baby right next to it for 10 years with no harmful effects. Maybe, but let me know how much RF radiation it emits. As opposed to taking the approach that we are not going to notify residents and we are going to put this up in one day (they worked til 10Pm on night) and hope nobody fucking notices. I am kinda pissed. How can NextG pull a permit to do work on MY FUCKING ADDRESS and not fucking tell me about it?

    Otherwise, love you blog.

    Cheers and carry on.

    1. We all have higher exposure from our handheld radios than something mounted 20 feet away.

      T-Mobile is licensed for the AWS A and F blocks in this area, along with PCS E, F. Both only allow for public exposure of 1 milliwatt/cm^2 by federal regulation. The antenna would need to transmit at ~1800 W EIRP to reach that standard. I’m guessing in an urban area its more like 20 W (0.01 mW/cm^2), but I dont have any idea offhand.

      Cell phones? When using them it could be up to 190-400 mW/cm^2 up against the head. I’d figure the users would be worse off than those living near towers.

      Also recommended reading:

      Click to access oet56e4.pdf

      1. Scott, thanks for the info. It is actually quite helpful. I agree it is probably safe and I do admit that I am a heavy tech user, so probably have more important stuff to worry about.

        My understanding of the Avalos legislation is that it requires wireless companies to provide notification and information. This seems like a good thing. I know I should just “trust” that the wireless companies will “do the right thang”. I guess we should also trust the oil companies to do the right thing in the gulf and in Niger Delta. And trust our leaders to do the right thing in the middle east. The point is, we are hating on the Avalos legislation because it forces notification requirements. I do believe I should be notified if someone pulls a permit on my address. Transparency is usually a good thing. When a corporation relies on secrecy to get things done, it worries me. The current approach is to pull a permit without telling anyone, wait 15 days which is how long residents have to protest, then begin installation. Once a resident learns about it, because there are truck outside your house, it is too late to protest. Seriously, how can you pull a permit on my address without telling me.

      2. Okay, so you admit the antenna will cause you no problems. So why do you want to be notified when it goes up?

        I’m suspicious. I think you’re harboring a bit of the tin foil hat mentality but backing off when confronted by actual math.

  5. Campos will win again, he should not but he will. I would not be surprised if continues from one termed-out position to the next. The track is well worn.

    Anybody who spends time with audio or photography understands the inverse square law. But this isn’t about understanding, it’s about being a reactionary. Bernalwood argued this point exquisitely.

    There is a great deal of fear of supposed unknowns, even though much is known very well, and there is a failure to comprehend risk and probability. Whenever supposed dangers are put forth, be them terrorist ass bombers, child molesters, or the bunny man, most people cannot get a perspective and the usual counter argument is to say you are more likely to be in a car crash. Yet no one flips out about car crashes, they accept this danger.

    In fact cars are an interesting thing. My neighbor flipped out when I left an empty propane tank in the garage. The garage is storage for roughly 90 gallons of gasoline. Gasoline, extremely volatile and packing a great amount of energy is more dangerous then UPS battery banks.

    And just so folks know, there is protection, it’s called a Faraday cage. I suspect you could line your room with a few layers of chicken wire and block most of anything coming in from the scary outside. BTW, this topic was hashed out at length on slashdot a while back. Dude, like the commenter above, was real close to a microwave antenna. He could look out his window next to his bed and see it right there, like within 10 feet.

  6. Just to add there is also that small thing called jobs. Lest anyone forget we around here in the bay area make a huge amount of our livings off this thing called technology. It’s what that company Google and Twitter make, that help pay the rent and property taxes and $7 coffees.

    Given that the next big thing in this whole technolgy racket is something called mobile, maybe we should have some of it around here, so we can all keep working, and afford to pay to buy our babies cribs from Ikea, and cocktails at Berreta.

    So now we have science and economics. But as Glenn Beck and his ilk will atest too, you just can’t beat making scary s**t up.

  7. @Jeff,

    The thing is, requiring people to notify others that they are doing something legal is really a sneaky way of making it difficult to do that legal thing. It’s much easier to get a notification law passed (in the name of transparency) than a ban, but often the people behind it really want said activity banned. It’s like the signs on every parking garage and restaurant that grills their food that something on the premise is known to the state of california to cause cancer…except radio transmitters aren’t known to have adverse affects (other than visual clutter.) What if you were required to notify your neighbors that you were operating a wireless router? There’d certainly be neighbors who’d object somewhere.

    1. I understand the concern. But I have to notify my neighbors if I do construction on my house. And yes, if that work creates visual clutter, then I am sure neighbors would object. And I would also assume that there are panels and committees that determine which complaints are legitimate and which complaints are bullshit. I get it that notification may slow the proliferation of wireless antennas. But why are we giving this industry the green light to proliferate unchecked? Is the wireless industry particularly responsible? It is legal to put an American Apparel on Valencia street? They had to notify residents. Or what about a mcdonalds next to dolores park. Affordable food options for the masses! I am sure there are lots of examples where you would support public notification for something that is legal…

      1. I have a daughter who sleeps a similar distance from a cell tower — completely understand why you might have reservations but fortunately there is nothing to worry about. (I remember in the 90’s a childhood friend whose mom wouldn’t let him into public bathrooms in the city or anywhere near the Castro or SOMA for fear of AIDS — then as now it really helps to understand the science.) These stations are pretty low power, my guess is that at 6 meters the outside of your building would be exposed to something like .005 watts per square meter. For comparison sunlight hits us at about 1000 w/m^2, all over the electromagnetic map and including some dangerous frequencies, and your wife gives off electromagnetic radiation at about 100 watts, mostly in the infrared spectrum. But you will never get cancer from sleeping next to your wife, even though you are exposed to 10,000 times the radiation of a cell tower from her, because the radiation has to be sufficiently energetic to break the bonds in your cells. (ie, it has to bump some electron off to infinity, and longer electromagnetic waves simply can’t do that.) Mostly what happens is she warms you up, and that’s all cell tower waves do too.

        The reason this means you are not allowed to object to a cell tower is that you have to have a good reason to tell people they can’t do what they want to do. It isn’t enough to say, something bad might happen, if Einstein and Bohr turn out to be wrong. Everybody gets to proliferate unchecked if they want to and it doesn’t harm anyone, that is rule 0 of San Francisco values. (Rule 1 is that we index from 0, and rule 2 is no MacDonalds in Dolores Park.)

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