The San Francisco Bay Guardian makes no secret of its antipathy toward large businesses, and hasn't hesitated to bash the corporate titans operating in the Bay Area telecommunications market. More than once, its editorial pages have lamented politicians' "giveaways" to firms such as AT&T, Cellular One, and Verizon. But it seems that Guardian publisher Bruce Brugmann is willing to make his own giveaways to this industry — just as long as the price is right.
Brugmann LLC, the real-estate holding company that owns the building on Mississippi Street that houses the Guardian offices, has agreed to let the international cellular service provider T-Mobile seek permits for a cluster of cellphone antennas on the building's roof, according to San Francisco Planning Department records. Planner Diego Sanchez told SF Weekly that the project, a group of 5-foot-tall antenna panels erected 53 feet above street level, will go before the Planning Commission for approval once T-Mobile representatives complete their neighborhood outreach process.
Neither a representative for Brugmann nor a T-Mobile spokesman would say how much money Brugmann LLC stands to bring in from the project. But David Wendlandt, co-owner of TowerSource, a Colorado Springs–based company that tracks cellphone antennas around the country, estimated that the Guardian project could bring in $1,500 per month or more.
Cellphone towers have never been popular among San Francisco residents, many of whom denounce the antennas as ugly and subscribe to dubious scientific theories about health hazards from their radiation. In 2002, the Guardian itself ran a story on a "study" that purported to show a link between radio waves emitted by telecommunications equipment on Sutro Tower and cancer rates.
So it's not surprising that the newspaper now has some pissed-off neighbors who think that, where this project is concerned, Brugmann has relegated the public interest to a backseat.
"I think it's highly hypocritical, I think it's outrageous, and I think it's a complete shunning of this neighborhood," said Kepa Askenasy, who lives about a block away from the Guardian office and worries about the antennas' health impact. "I know it's a hard time for newspapers, but you don't sell your neighborhood out, and your constituency out, for a cell tower." Yvonne Gavre, another resident who shares Askenasy's fears, said she had stopped by the newspaper's office and left a message about the proposed installation, but never heard back from anybody.
Brugmann's cellular aspirations stand curiously at odds with the efforts of one of his newspaper's favorite politicians, Supervisor David Campos, who last week advanced a resolution urging the federal government to further study the health effects of wireless facilities. Campos and fellow liberal supe John Avalos have also proposed legislation that would "create new aesthetic standards" for cellular antennas.
In a telephone interview, Brugmann dismissed inquiries about the cellphone tower and accused a reporter of calling at the behest of Michael Lacey, executive editor of Village Voice Media, which owns SF Weekly. "You're really on a big story here, huh? Trying to get the Guardian? You're a Mike Lacey protégé." (Disclosure: The Guardian filed a lawsuit over ad pricing against SF Weekly and its parent company in 2004; litigation in the case is ongoing.)
His son, Guardian vice president of operations Daniel Brugmann, told us that he wasn't aware of neighbors' concerns. Asked what he thought about health hazards from the equipment's radio waves, he said, "My understanding, everything T-Mobile is doing is within state and federal guidelines."
Apparently this is one out-of-town corporation the Guardian can trust.